A Travellerspoint blog

Shame and Glory

Shanghai - January 14-16, 2008

32 °F
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Having learned from the day before, I wore my pajama pants underneath my pants and three shirts under my jacket. Fudan University was the first stop for all of the participating students and staff. We attended a lecture by the school’s Dr. Liu Chunrong on the topic of “The Harmonious Society.” The characters for the word “harmony” translate as “rice” + “mouth,” meaning that “all are fed. The characters also include “speech” + “all,” implying that everyone has the right to speak. These are being touted as the goals for China’s approach to a democratic and prosperous society as propelled by Hu, Deng’s successor.

I had already noticed red banners and billboards promoting aspects or elements of this philosophy. “Harmony” is even the name of the new high speed trains connecting Beijing and Shanghai. The city is peppered with reminders of the cause. My favorite of all of them was the one that says something about how everyone must work together to “enhance [Shanghai’s] shame and glory” – obviously a bad translation in there.

Later that day we went to Daning Life Hub, a commercial live/work/retail space that is the first of its kind for Shanghai. The developer’s VP of Marketing, David Ng, very proudly informed us that the facility became profitable in four months time, which is an amazing achievement indeed. However, they skirted around the issue of displacement, given that this newly urbanizing area was formerly settled by a poverty-stricken populace unlikely to be participants in the economic bloom of this part of the city. Meanwhile Starbucks, Haagan-Daaz, and the like are anchor tenants and the four-star hotel that is the centerpiece of it all is beautiful. One student from our group asked if the developer has any plan to give back to the community in any direct way, but Ng reacted in a way that made me feel like it was a question that didn’t translate in any way, shape or form. I don’t remember the specific amount, but I believe that 33 percent of their profit goes directly to the government, and it’s the government which decides which, if any projects, will be developed. If that’s the case, one could argue the point that social responsibility is built-in.

The following day my Learning Circle – the Global Cultures and Social Change – visited a community center for the elderly, a day care center, and paid a visit to the home of a middle-class woman and her family. The community center certainly seemed wonderful. Located in a "neighborhood" of 98,000 people, it caters mostly to the elderly. They have a computer center, which costs the equivalent of one U.S. dollar per year for a membership. They offer all kinds of arts and crafts and host all kinds of events. There's a choir and a band. The facility is heavily utilized and is one of several in the area. Similarly, the day care center we went to was one of several and is attended by two- to six-year-olds. The kids did some performances for us, and I must admit they were pretty darn cute as well as talented. The home visit was awkward. I think it would have been awkward under any circumstances, but the situation was exacerbated by the fact that one woman in our group kept asking the stupidist questions and making very embarassing comments. The worst was that she asked the translator to tell the woman that "We are just like you. We work, have families, and eat and sleep just like you." It was horrifying. I also felt like the woman was probably coerced by the head of the neighborhood, i.e a Party member, to do this. She didn't seem particularly interested in us, though she was cordial. I think it was a unique opportunity but given the choice I wouldn't have sought it out. I think it's better to meet people out and about and get to know them that way instead of going into their homes as if going to the zoo. To erase the taste, I went out and got an hour-long foot massage during which I fell asleep. This was after an interesting sushi dinner with some TSS folk.

The sum of all these experiences for me was that I think that fear of China’s eminent world-takeover is exaggerated. It's so enormously vast as to be unimaginable. The eastern part of the country is very developed, but the western and central regions are still mired in third world traits - illiteracy, poverty, etc. At the same time a “harmonious society” is genuinely a wonderful thing to strive for; imagine such a thing in the U.S.

The next day was to be our last. I slept in, while others dashed madly around trying to soak up the last of China. Honestly, I just didn't care to be in the cold and would have been perfectly content not to see anything else, but one of the faculty members, Lowry, convinced me to go out with her, and I was glad that I did. We went to a supermarket, where I picked out a few things but I had accidently left the rest of my yuans in my other pants and they didn't accept Mastercard. It was close enough that I could have gone back to the ship, but the cold was bitter and I decided not to, so while all my friends are enjoying their little stash of goodies, I am stuck w/ ship food. Lowry wanted to go to a Starbucks she had seen earlier in the week, so we tried to retrace her steps and that was actually fun. We stumbled into and out of the craziest little nooks and crannies. Shanghai is booming with construction and modern high rises everywhere you go, and yet there are old and/or impoverished areas right next door. Kind of like Detroit in a way. We stumbled into an indoor farmer's market that had an amazing bounty of fresh produce, live chickens and eels, gigantic dried fish hanging from the ceiling... lots of little mom and pop moped and motor bike repair places... a news stand here... a tabacco stand there... and then we emerged into a totally westernized, urban thoroughfare near the Bund with Starbucks peeking at us from across the street. It was the first Starbucks I've been in that wasn't slammed with customers. We ordered our drinks and sat near a window to watch all the traffic - cars, bicycles, pedestrians. It was really nice, and I loathed having to re-enter the cold but it was worth it.

When I got back to the ship, Eric was going through customs again on the gangway. We'd talked about his joining us for a leg or two, but I didn't know if he'd really make it. He'd flown back to Beijing, taken his exams, and flown back, making it an hour before the gangway was retracted. So now the Lorna show - always mostly solitary - is the Lorna and Eric show. You'll forgive me for paraphrasing the Grateful Dead, but what a long and strange trip this is turning out to be.

Posted by mpho3 07:25 Archived in China Comments (0)

BYOT (Bring Your Own Toilet Paper)

Shanghai - January 13, 2008

35 °F
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After his date, Eric came back, and we ended up doing a little bar hopping w/ some of the folks from the ship. We started with a few drinks in the staff lounge and then headed to the grand opening of an expat bar called When we arrived an 80s cover band was doing a slamming rendition of Van Halen’s “Jump.” The kicker was that the band was comprised of 4 Chinese men with blonde hair and a black woman with a blonde wig, all in risqué tiger suits. The bar itself was upstairs – small, intimate, and red. The expat community was out in full force. Though I’m sure they were from different countries, they all looked alike. They had the same hair cuts, the same style of dress, and all seemed excessively boozed up for 11pm. They were great!

One guy began harassing two of the women in our group from the get go, which was a real problem because the bar was so full and so small. We decided to finish our drinks and go, but before that could happen, I saw a guy headed our way. I stepped directly in his path, shaking my head “no” as I told him that the others in our party didn’t want to talk to him. He was quite taken aback, like he didn’t know what to make of my actions or words. He tried stepping to them again, but I moved into his path once more and then we began staring each other down. Meanwhile, Eric, who was about 10 feet away, turned and I nodded toward the problem guy. He came over and repeated my message – that we didn’t want him around. The guy got really really pissed and started slapping his fist into his hand with murder in his eyes. It was at that moment that Nancy leaned down from her perch on the pool table to whisper, “That’s not the guy who’s been bugging us.” Interesting moment. I had a split second to decide that it didn’t matter, so Eric and I hustled the guy off. Fortunately, Nancy pulled him aside as he was walking away and explained that some other guy had been harassing her, which diffused his anger. I say “fortunately” because about five minutes later, the bar blew a fuse, and we were thrust into darkness – a good time to stab someone with a shiv, right? Before panic ensued, we grabbed our coats and took the stairs down and out.

Next we went to a bar called Zapata’s, an expat bar with a “Latin” flavor. I had no desire to be in that scene, but several people from TSS had planned to meet there. We stayed for about 20 minutes and then Eric, a student, and I hopped a cab to a nightclub called Babyface. The patronage was 95 percent Chinese and the size of the club was massive. I’d say there were easily 1,000 people there – wall to wall people. The dj booth was enormous and the front and center of attention. I believe the house djs were spinning, though possibly it was a name event. The laser and fog effects were totally over the top and out of control cool. For those familiar with electronica, the music was quite solidly techno – not quite Euro, not quite rave - sometimes veering into electro techno. I wasn’t that into it though the djs were great mixers. We also discovered a side room, quite packed with about 300-400 old school hip hop heads. A Chinese guy struck up a convo with Eric that I didn’t catch. I never knew what they talked about but at the end of it, he bought shots for both of us. I was a little leary of it, especially because it had something that looked like an egg yolk floating on the bottom. In the spirit of things, I gulped it all down, and then set the glass down only to notice that neither Eric nor the guy had swallowed the yellow orb. That realization made me feel queasy. I asked Eric what I just swallowed, and he said, “I don’t know.” To be honest, I think it was probably a yellow grape or some other kind of fruit – not an egg yolk – because it felt firm against my esophagus on the way down. And the drink itself Eric said was probably rum and tea. He told me that tea is a common mixer with alcoholic drinks. So that was my adventure there.

We got “home” around 4:30a.m., which was particularly painful because I had booked us seats on a bus leaving for Hongzhou at 7:15 in the morning. Eric decided to stay in his hotel room since he’d already paid for it. He’d had much more to drink than I did, and as I observed him, I already knew that if he laid down, he wasn’t going to wake up on time, but I decided to let it go. I figured that the chips had fallen as they had fallen. We hadn’t been able to spend all the time together for which we had planned, but we’d had a mildly eventful evening and that was that. I didn’t say goodbye though I was fairly certain that I wouldn’t see him the next day, and I was right.

The next day there was no Eric when it was time to go. I wasn’t upset about it all, though I did spend the day wondering if perhaps I should have skipped the tour and stuck around Shanghai so that he and I could hang out more. As it turned out, the day provided a lot of lessons for me.

Issue number one – the weather. The fog had lifted, only to be replaced by a massive cold front. We’re talking sub-40 degree weather. The bus we rode wasn’t heated. I did not bring any winter clothing and the weather forecast predicted snow in Hongzhou, of which it is said, “In heaven there is paradise; on earth there is Hangzhou.” I suffered on the way to heaven, and I suffered in heaven. In fact, I suffered during our entire stay in China, but I’ll get to that in a moment….

The three-and-one-half hour trip gave me a good chunk of time to chat with Marcela, who I really like a lot. I would love to say we saw a lot of beautiful scenery on the way down, but the windows fogged up, and we saw very little. This kind of set the tone for the whole trip. Hangzhou is considered one of the most beautiful places in China and supposedly was enthusiastically praised by Marco Polo. Hangzhou was cold, though. So cold that I could not enjoy myself. I really could not, although at this juncture I was still willing to strive for a good time. Our first stop was at the Longjing Wencha (Dragon Well Tea Park), a tourist trap, where we were treated to a fun demonstration of a tea ceremony. Purists would likely have cringed, but I think most of the participants were thoroughly entertained. They were so entertained that more than a few were suckered into buying tea from there. It certainly wasn’t swill, but it wasn’t the greatest tea. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it.

Our guide at the plantation was a young woman – probably in her mid-20s to early 30s. She told us that 500 families live in the area, all of whose subsistence comes from the tea industry. It takes eight women to pick 4 kilos of fresh leaves a day. It takes eight hours for a tea master to dry the leaves. 4 kilos fresh = 1 kilo dried. Of her own family, she said that her mother picks tea, her father dries it, and she drinks it. We were initially poured glasses about one third full. She said that the small amount indicates that your guest is welcome and is also a gift in that the second pouring is usually sweeter, so a short pour the first time around means that a second pour is forthcoming. If you’re poured a full cup the first time around, it’s an indication that the host(ess) is busy and would like you to leave quickly. We were taught how to hold the cup or glass – women with a pinkie raised and men with the pinkie touching the bottom, unless one is “Brokeback Mountain.” We learned to thank the pourer by tapping the table three times in a row with one’s index and middle finger. We also learned a bit about the growing season – the best picking is in the spring, which is akin to the daughter. Summer-picked tea is regarded as the daughter-in-law. Autumn-picked tea constitutes the mother-in-law. The highest quality tea equates to the “empress” or the virgin, so called because long ago empress-quality tea was picked by virgin’s lips. She told us this tea is no longer produced that way because there are no virgins left. So you get the gist – we were given some great little factoids about tea and tea ceremony, delivered in a non-serious, sales pitch style, and that was fine. I enjoyed the show, but the day rapidly went downhill.

Next we were supposed to take a lift to the top of Chenghuangee’s famous panoramic views, but it was too cold and foggy. Instead we were taken to a pagoda – beautiful but cold. (This was also the first place where I discovered that many Chinese restrooms do not provide toilet paper or paper towel. There are also many public restrooms that either have troughs or holes – no actual toilet. The bathroom at fancy Club Babyface from the night before, was a hole, sans toilet paper.)

The next stop – which wasn’t on the itinerary – was a long row of outdoor souvenir shops. We lingered there for nearly two hours. I became so chilled at this point that I no longer cared about seeing or doing anything. I didn’t want to leave the bus even though the bus wasn’t heated. Having no choice, I stuck it out. Our last stop was supposed to be at a “Chinese Traditional Hospital.” This was the key factor in my decision to go on this excursion. I was really miffed then when the “hospital” turned out to be an herbal dispensary – the kind which I’ve seen in San Francisco. I was really bummed out but almost too cold to care.

Boarding the bus for the last time, Ashley and I had a quiet discussion between ourselves. We both prefer independent travel but that that because the shore excursions are organized through TSS, that they wouldn’t be the typical tourist trap vehicles that organized tours often are. We’re both ready to abandon ship at the next port. It was a good lesson learned. We could have made our own arrangements to Hangzhou, and it would have been less expensive, less time-consuming, and less “rigged.” Many of the students did just that, but I also thought that going along with an organized trip would provide more opportunities to connect with some of the other folks. That didn’t turn out to be the case, so now I know that it’s best to strike out on my own, and I will definitely do that in the other destinations. To console myself, I got another massage that evening. The next morning was the beginning of our Academic Field Programs.

Posted by mpho3 07:04 Archived in China Comments (0)

Mother Nature’s Nature

Shanghai - January 12, 2008

40 °F
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Mother Nature has been full of the dickens. 700 ships were rooted in the Huangpou River, when last I posted. The following day the fog was even thicker and a mild panic ensued amongst staff and students alike. Nobody said it but I wondered if I was the only one who thought about the fact that if we’d just gone to Shanghai straight away instead of sailing around in circles for days, none of this would have happened.

The Onboard life people handled things by organizing events to keep the students from going stir crazy. Among the offerings – a talk on global warming, a series of challenges (e.g. scavenger hunt) pegging all the residential communities against each other, salsa lessons taught by a student, and ghost storytelling hosted by an IRC. G. and I maintained limited LRC hours, and the library turned out to be very busy indeed. Though there wasn’t any open whining, the mood was a bit heavier than the day before.

Early in the day, the faculty was called to a meeting to discuss possible contingency plans. One was to conduct regular classes the next day, and I found the discussion of how that would affect morale to be quite interesting. I didn’t realize teaching staff would care about that necessarily. Meanwhile, I was a bit concerned about their morale – nobody seemed pleased about having to teach a class with so little prep time involved. The dean was sympathetic. After about 45 minutes of deliberation it was agreed the classes would be held but that an announcement would be made that the instructors would email the students with very short assignments so that neither the students nor the instructors would feel overwhelmed.

Meanwhile, we also discussed what would happen if the fog failed to lift within a reasonable amount of time and what would constitute a reasonable amount of time. Ultimately it was decided that we’d wait out one more day and hold classes. Beyond that we could try going elsewhere in China but the fog was said to extend more than 3,000 miles! Other possibilities included going into our next port of call, Thailand, early or trying a new location altogether. Ho Chi Minh and Kuala Lumpur were among those bandied about, but as the ship’s captain later told us, ships can’t just show up at a port unannounced; some ports are booked as early as a year in advance. Also, some of these places could have consequences for students who might have visa requirements. Taiwan was suggested as alternate destination, but going there would ruffle the feathers of mainland China, and TSS has a relationship w/ Shanghai’s Fudan University that is essential to the program.

That evening, a community-wide meeting was hosted by the TSS executive officer. They outlined some of the above, and then said that though there was a slim chance that we could move that evening, that it was more likely that we wouldn’t reach Shanghai until the 13th – two days later than planned. Even if we did get permission to head for shore, the captain expected it to take eight hours. This was quite disconcerting to me since Eric was supposed to arrive in Shanghai on the 11th, and we hadn’t been able to connect. I emailed him that night to deliver the news about our situation, with an emphasis that we probably wouldn’t make it to Shanghai until the 13th, if at all.

Imagine my surprise then, when I was greeted in the morning by neither fog nor the murky brown water of the river, but construction. During the night we had received the okay and had arrived in Shanghai! This should have been great news, but I was totally stunned because I had written Eric to warn him from coming at all. The first thing I did was hop on the Internet. Eric had sent two messages during the night – one to say that he was on his way and the second saying that he was here, but was disappointed to see that we were not and possibly wouldn’t be coming at all. He mentioned that he’d stick around for one more day, but he didn’t say where he was staying and he didn’t leave a phone number. I was really bummed out. I was completely demoralized the entire morning. I sent him a message explaining that we’d come in after all and telling him to leave his contact info.

Then I went out to join the queue. The immigration officers came on board and we all had to pass through a quick inspection. Afterward, I joined up with a bunch of people who were heading out. Most of the group wanted to get tailored suits so we went to a fabric market and lingered there for a couple of frustrating (for me) hours. While the idea of a hand-sewn, custom-made wool suit for under $100 sounds great, I have to spend my limited resources wisely, so I had to pass since I’ve no immediate need for a suit. The next stop was food, which was more my cup of tea. We wound up going to a Malaysian restaurant that one of the group had been to before, and it was quite nice. There were seven of us, so we ordered dishes family-style and had a veritable feast – hot and sour prawns, spicy curry chicken, etc. I had a fabulous fresh juice concoction – apple, ginger, kiwi, pineapple – that tasted like dessert. After splitting the bill seven ways, we each payed 120 yuan, or roughly $15 a piece, including beverages. Next we split into two groups – one that wanted to do more shopping and another that wanted massages. I got an hour-long Chinese Finger Pressure massage for about $10. After that, I thought it best to head back to the ship to see if there was any news from Eric.

Now here’s the kicker. When I boarded the ship, one of the crew members immediately rushed to the gangway and asked if I’d been expecting a guest. I had missed Eric by about 20 minutes. He had come by the ship and not finding me there, had left. But he did leave a cell number. I spent about an hour fumbling around, trying to find a way to call him. Just as I was about to leave again, I was paged to the reception area and told that I had a guest at the gangway. Our paths finally crossed. It was a fun little reunion, and Eric’s side of the story was quite funny. He had not been able to check his email before leaving Beijing. When he got the airport, his flight was delayed due to fog. They spent three hours on the tarmac. He had raced into a cab in order to make it to the Shanghai International Cruise terminal and was sorely disappointed to find it empty despite the fact that the newspapers had announced our arrival the day before! He ended up checking into a hotel literally located across the street and then finding an Internet café, where he read my messages that we’d come a day later. After discovering we weren’t around and probably wouldn’t be, he went out to a nightclub by himself and ended up meeting a girl! He was out to the wee hours and didn’t wake up until 2pm. When he rose to look out the window, The Scholar Ship was docked and visible from one block away! Like me, he saw the thing the least expected to see.

Though we finally connected, our time together was further shortened by fact that thinking we wouldn’t be around, he’d made a follow up date with the woman from the night before. We had about 2 hours together before his date; I gave him a tour of the ship and then we went out so that I could grab a quick bite to eat. We ended up at a local streetside eatery full of laborers dressed in their blue jump suits. We definitely turned heads. I think having a white man and a black woman show up in their midst was unusual enough, but when Eric started speaking Mandarin, that really threw them off. We became instant celebrities, which included additional plates of food that we hadn’t ordered. That would have been a fantastic treat except that the longer we stayed the more I noticed things that a health board would never approve in the U.S. For instance, after we initially sat down, I wasn’t sure what to do with the gum I’d been chewing. I didn’t have the wrapper, and there were no napkins. I wasn’t sure if it would culturally rude for me to remove the gum and put it on my plate, since I knew that like in South Africa, people cover their mouths when using toothpicks. As I was pondering my dilemma, I turned my head just in time to see a man who was sitting behind us hork up a huge loogy and spat it on the floor. Though I would have preferred not to have witnessed that, I took it as an indicator that removing my gum in public wouldn’t be a big deal.

Posted by mpho3 06:59 Archived in China Comments (0)

A Foggy Notion

Trapped in the Huangpu River


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The mood is questionable onboard SS Oceanic II today. We were supposed to arrive in Shanghai yesterday but the fog I mentioned in an early post has not lifted, and we are moored as well as bored. All ships await the word of the Port Authority as to when we can move in.

Heavy fog cloaks Shanghai, plays havoc with transport

SHANGHAI, Jan. 8 (Xinhua) -- A heavy fog that blanketed Shanghai since late Monday has forced the cancellation of flights, highway closures and the suspension of ferry services. Shanghai Meteorological Center issued the first fog warning at 9:46 p.m. Monday and upgraded it to a color-coded "red" warning, the highest level at 1:41 a.m. Tuesday.

The fog reduced visibility in the city's Pudong and Hongqiao airports to 100 meters and 900 meters respectively. At Pudong, the worst hit area, more than 100 domestic and international flights were delayed and a few had been canceled since Monday night.

China Civil Aviation Administration's regulations stipulated that an airport's standard visibility for plane's taking off and landing was 550 meters and 800 meters respectively. All flights returned to normal at 9 a.m. on Tuesday at Pudong airport as the fog dispersed.

As of 6 p.m. Tuesday, more than 100 foreign vessels were still awaiting border entry at the mouth of the Yangtze River in Shanghai. Vessels which had planned to sail out were also stranded at the piers.

In addition, expressways linking with neighboring cities of Hangzhou and Nanjing, which were temporarily closed, were now open but a speed limit on vehicles was imposed.

The heavy fog appeared after a warm air mass from the sea encountered cold air in Shanghai. The fog was expected to dissipate in the afternoon, according to the meteorological station.

Very disappointing to say the least, but most of us have been able to grin and bear it. I think that despite the disappointment, it was a relief to have a genuine day of relaxation. It's nonstop here - we don't even break for weekends. This was the first day with close to zero obligations since Dec. 27. Having gone to bed at 4am - because it took me four hours on this slow connection to put together a resource for the faculty members - I was happy to go about the day at a leisurely pace. I showered, choked down the breakfast, strolled to the library where G. was doing some work, so I helped for about 20 minutes, went to lunch, played Scrabble (my new past-time!), went back to the library for the open hours, went to dinner, planned to read and listen to music but instead answered a knock at the door that turned out to be a student who lives near my old cabin. She is a real character. We hung out for a couple of hours before I got a call from reception - N., the IRC who invited me out w/ her friends on New Years Eve - was looking for my new cabin. She came and joined us and the three of us talked and laughed for another couple hours. We all agreed that the relaxed day was fantastic, but we all want the ship to move!

Many of us, myself included, had arranged shore excursions for today, that will obviously be missed. For me, it is okay because I will be reimbursed, having bought my three-hour package through TSS's port programs. But many of the students decided to forgo the Port Program's $US420 offering to Beijing and travel there independently. Some of those students will lose their airfare, trainfare, or what have you. Our time table is always tight, and though we're in Shanghai until the 16th, the first Academic Field Program begins on the 13th, so those students going to Beijing really only had three days to get there and back. Many sad faces (accompanied by good attitudes - at least so far). For the crew it is rough as well because they don't get any time off until we get to shore and many have worked nonstop since August.

I'm also worried because my friend Eric is already in route from Beijing, expecting to stay on board with me. How terrible it would be if don't make it to Shanghai!

During our afternoon briefing with the ship's captain, we were told that we may be able to move in the evening. There are countless cargo and container ships waiting for clearance, but we're the only passenger ship and will probably get first priority when that moment comes. Unfortunately, I am writing this at about half past midnight, and we're in the same spot we've been in for since yesterday morning: 31 degrees 04.77' N, 122 degrees 32.22' E. Spin a globe and you'll find us : ) It's possible that the fog could remain for another day or two, so there is some talk that we might simply move on to Thailand. I, for one, will be vastly disappointed so keep your fingers crossed for us, or whatever it is that you do. We can only hope that when we awake in the morning, we are either moving or in our berth.

Meanwhile, I think I should try to get a full night's sleep. I suspect that regardless of whether we move or not, we'll all be put to task again. Cest la vie.

Posted by mpho3 20:17 Archived in China Comments (0)

Who Put the Cult in Multicultural? (2)

The Continuation

I’ve been trying to minimize this part of the journey without sweeping it entirely under the rug. I suppose the best way to do that is to tell the minimalist version of what happened, which is essentially that I was apparently lumped in with a group labeled as malcontents, and those of us in that group became the target of a good old-fashioned witchhunt over the course of about three days. What made it weird and cult like is that there had been a late night meeting in which several people got upset because the meeting was being run in such a way that no information was being produced. It was a bunch of hypothetical discussion about how to have conversations with the students about having conversations with the students. That last sentence is not a typo. And basically this was happening because there was no good reason to have a meeting; and you’ve got a bunch of exhausted adults in a room who could be sleeping. So some people lost it. I did not express myself verbally during the ruckus, but I’m sure it was clear that I was not pleased to be there.

The following day, I was having a private conversation with someone but in a public place, and I eventually became aware of the fact that I was being overheard. However, I could not stop myself. This began an unfortunate and ridiculous chain of events. The upshot is that there is a small faction of staff onboard who view themselves as the gatekeepers of the program, and they began an investigation of me and a few others. At first I thought I was being paranoid because for a day or two, I became convinced that there were plants at the meetings or that people were watching my every move and yet it seemed far-fetched. I began feeling like I was being watched. Turns out I was.

But so were others. We all kind of figured it out simultaneously. We all also eventually realized that this group of people was not acting on the behalf of the TSS exec team. They’re just a small clique with some hidden agenda but operating on their own. Other faculty began confiding in me that they had the same feelings, and that’s how we collectively realized it was true, and that’s how we figured out who real crazies are, and then we realized that it’s really just that handful of people and not the entire entity, and I guess that’s all I have to say about it because it’s just too weird and difficult to spell out. Besides, it’s not nearly as interesting as other things that have been happening. Still, I wanted to mention it because that I am trivializing it, it had a huge impact on me for a few days. I felt really really bad and even wrote to Shannon that I felt in need of medication.

Much more interesting, we’ve got 180 or so students from roughly 30 countries. Sounds impressive. Hell, it is impressive. But the national roll call revealed the disparity hidden in those numbers. Most of the countries that are represented are represented by a handful or less of people. One person from here, four people from there, a couple people from elsewhere. Mexicans – about 30 of them – comprise the second biggest group. The biggest group is the Americans, who make up just shy of 50% of the student population. This statistic might not be surprising given that the price tag for this whole affair runs at more than $20k. I think most of us were shocked when the “American kids” swirled into the middle of the welcoming ceremony circle and began chanting “USA, USA.” Okay, granted the Mexican kids have an extraordinary national pride that I think far outstrips that of the average U.S. citizen; they were even more boisterous than the U.S. Americans. But the other nationality groups are too small to be so rah-rah. I would hope to see the U.S. participation limited to 25% in the future, but I don't know if that's realistic.

TSS has academic ties to some other universities – I think I mentioned them in a previous post. Many of the students from those other universities, including the University of Ghana, received full scholarships from TSS. But, all students were told to expect to spend anywhere between $5k and $15k extra during the voyage – for textbooks and readers, shore excursions and independent travel, Internet usage etc. Apparently the Ghanaian students came aboard with only $100 each, which makes me really sad. Some of the other students have wanted to have a fundraiser for them and others have come into the library inquiring as to whether we have textbooks that we can give them. I’m not sure what’s happening on either front, but it’s a situation I hope to follow.

Posted by mpho3 09:34 Archived in China Comments (0)

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