Thursday, August 21, 2008

Week 26 Adieu

Week 26 adieu

Sat. August 9. Return to the dirt market looking for fabric but find none; go to jenny lou’s for groceries and then to hotel pool for a swim. Security is nuts going into hotel and I learn that an American was murdered at the Bell Tower (and ironically my story on NPR that day is partially recorded at the Drum Tower, so I answer a few emails assuring folks that I am not the victim of this bizzarro murder. So un-Chinese….maybe the canary in the mineshaft?

Sunday, Eve and Stephanie take me out to hot pot and yahsow market. I leave them mid-afternoon for a hair cut and then meet Yuxin for dinner at Pure Lotus. Very neat place and we see Yue Saikan and maybe Gloria Vanderbilt? or someone of that ilk at a nearby table. Papparazzi crowd.

Monday go in to NBC but it is slow. Watching the Men’s 4x100 relay with Phelps and amazing close by Lezak -- great to watch with a crowd. Did more research for Brokaw science story and then drove with him from Oly Village back to the bureau and had a nice chat about his life as a young man. Advice: don’t worry about late starters. He says he nearly flunked out of college and could write a book about all the very successful men he knows who had lackluster starts in life. Nice chat. At 5, I met Helen Du re: BU China exchange program in Shanghai. Then I bumped into Nick Kristof of the New York Times outside my apartment and told him my message for his next column: to the Chinese government: do for your people what you do for tourists: clean up the air, fix the traffic, treat everyone with respect, dignity and fairness, not just the tourists.


Tues NBC. Slow…..Sat in on edit of Mark Mullen story. The limitless options for digital effects could make any edit never-ending.

Wednesday August 13.

Up at 5 to head into NBC to watch Nightly go out LIVE. In addition to Brian Williams, Ann Curry and swimming great Rowdy Gaines were also LIVE on the set. A nice time, very laid back crew and talent. Very funny. Brian Williams wondered how Michael Phelps would get through airport security with all those medals around his neck or in his carry on. He said a good producer would be able to get that image, but his staffer reminded him that he didn’t have any good producers….

After that I walked in the humid, milky white haze for an hour around the Olympic Village, but still could not crack the perimeter. Need an NBC person to escort me back in. I watched Phelps pick up two more gold and watched the women’t gymnastics team cave under pressure on the big screen at NBC. It is much better to watch this at NBC in English than at home in Chinese, and I am regretting I had not stayed here for the Opening Ceremonies. Live and learn. After lunch I said my goodbyes to those NBC folks who I worked most closely with and headed home for a nap which never materialized. At 5:30 I headed out to join Mark and Tingting for a final dinner. We are joined by Terry Fry, Amy Klatzkin and their daughter Ying who published a book a while back. A fellow from Vancouver and his adopted 18 year old daughter named Melissa also joined us. The Canadian was really a pioneer in adopting from China and did it all by himself, kind of creating the rules as he went along. It was a lovely dinner of Hunan food. Need to ask Tingting what most of it is called to try to order it again somewhere. More goodbyes and then head home.

Elizabeth arrives home at 11 dressed in an oversized red polo shirt looking very un-Elizabeth. She is getting involved in this Young President’s organization for young president’s of companies….but it sounds like a mixed bag. Good opportunities, but a little like grown up scouts.

Thursday August 14, 2008

Last Day in China. I finish the last minute packing and hope I make the weight requirements. Elizabeth comes home around 10:30 (again in her un-Elizabeth red polo) to say good bye. This has turned into a very nice friendship and I am sorry I won’t be here long enough to build on it. Next time! Eve and Stephanie arrive at 1130 with snacks from 7-11….Eve is dressed in her Olympic volunteer outfit and she looks very un-Eve. I take a photo of the un-Eve and un-Elizabeth in their Olympic garb. We watch Olympics on TV for a while and then its time to go.
We get all the stuff down to the cab and the skies open up. I give them all a teary hug goodbye and hop in the cab. It is pouring outside and yes, inside too. I am happy to be leaving, but I do feel I am leaving a little of my heart in China.

I spend my time at the airport writing about Favorite Chinese Places for China Connection magazine and it seems like a fitting way to end my time here. If Mao was 70% good and 30% bad, as all Chinese kids are taught these days, I would give this experience 60% good and 40% not so good. Maybe those numbers will improve over time. Ambassador Nicholas Platt, one of the first diplomats to China in the 1970s , gave a talk at the embassy in Beijing this spring and his advice was to not assess your experience in China until you’ve been home for six months. So I will let this all marinate and see what I am feeling come winter. Right now, it just feels good to be heading home to friends and family (and a working toilet and comfortable bed). It is amazing how much those creature comforts colored my experience here. But the one thing I would not do again is go away for six months without Stephen and/or a community of friends to share the experience with.

We are flying north of Ulan Bator heading north by northeast and “Under Pressure’ is in my ipod…”this is our last dance, this is ourselves, under pressure”.

Week 25, still here

Week 25, still here

Saturday August 2. Send photos via email to NBC for cover during live shot tonight. Get picked up by two runners at 6:30 for trip to Olympic Village and head to the roof to appear on the Today Show LIVE to talk about adoption. Lester Holt is the interviewer. It is 2:30 seconds long, and get in about three brief answers. A lot of butterflies but apparently it went well. It was a blur. Stayed on the roof to watch fireworks go off for rehearsal of Opening Ceremonies and then get ride back to Elizabeth’s.

Sunday Simon drives us three hours to Stefanie’s family home in Hebei Province. Flat, non-descript drive, through a major furniture making area. Wished I’d known this before I bought my stuff. We visit her father’s trucking company and then her spacious courtyard home where she grew up with her grandparents and two siblings. This is the upside of economic reform: clearly her parents have a successful business. We have a nice lunch in a local restaurant, learn about the hungrier days of her parents’ youth. Her grandparents have only a grade school education, her parents finished high school, but she is the first to go to college. Long drive home, get stopped at security roadblock. You can feel the tension building. Had a quick dinner at Paul’s diner, then head to silk market for final purchase. Then watch silly movie with Will Farrell, blades of glory.

Monday – Head into NBC Olympic Village and hear about attacks in Kashgar that killed 16 police. Talk with Richard Engle and give him Abdul’s # to see what is really going on. I log more of Dashan, the Canadian who is famous in China. When I get home I need to refeed some material for the wushu story that got garbled in transmission last week. And then I get the edits from the World on my two pieces and they want to run Legacy that day, so I feed those elements first and in a hurry. Its nice to work on a deadline. Gets the adrenaline flowing and keeps me up half the night.

Tuesday stay home and file the second story for the World on visas and hotel vacancy. home. Later I watch “There will be blood”. Eve and Stefanie come for Eve’s birthday and I give her the laptop. She seems quiet but pleased. We first go to Lan for a drink and they think it is totally over the top, which it is. We then head to Made in China for dinner and it is somewhat disappointing.


Weds the Today Show producer Mary Alice invites me to join them at Summer Palace where the Today Show will go out LIVE for two hours tonight. Celine and two other girls are decked out to be valentines because today is the Chinese equivalent of Valentine’s Day. There is a woman from Florida, who has been at several Olympics and somehow finagles her way to the Today Show set. My camera died, but her’s worked so hopefully there will be good photos of the evening. It was a warm summer night with a breeze off the lake, a lovely peacock dancer, fan dancers, and a band playing traditional Chinese instruments with contemporary beat. Very nice. Tom Brokaw came by for a cameo appearance.

Thurs. NBC helped Brokaw with research on story on science education USA vs. China. . Evening, got word that hotel piece had not been aired yet on the World, so I reworked the tracks to freshen it up and re-fed it.

Friday 8-8-08 the day we’ve all been waiting for….I left NBC at 3 cuz of security sweep – if you came back in after 3, you were locked in for the next 12 hours, so I opted to go home. Hung around at home, went to Pete’s for margarita and enchilada all by self. Streets are eerily quiet, no one is outside. I head home and then watched the too long opening ceremony alone, in Chinese, and fell asleep. Awakened at midnight with fireworks going off over our building and all of Beijing. I had every intention of going out to Tiananmen Square and seeing the festivities and recording reaction but slept right th

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Week 24 in brief

Week 24

I’ve been too busy to keep up with the blog on a daily basis, but the highlights and lowlights of this week are here:

On Wednesday I woke up to emails informing me of the death of my colleague, former boss, and former professor Jim Thistle. It was expected but it still took the wind out of me. I had a good cry and then decided to spend the day doing journalism, which is what Jim would have done. I figure any money I make today will go to the Thistle scholarship fund. I hope he and Tim Russert and Trevor Nelson are all up in news heaven having a good ol’ time working on the “Pearly Gates News at 11”.

I finished up two stories for Only A Game; my former student Jessie helped translate an interview with the editor of the largest weekly news magazine in China and we recorded sounds of Peking Duck (they don’t make much noise by the time they are served to you…) and sent those remaining elements to Boston. So I have one more story for them on protests, if/when they happen.

I’ve picked up more freelance work with The World at WGBH/BBC. I’ll do two stories for them, one on visa hassles for people trying to get into the country and the other on the legacy of the Olympics and whether this might spawn a more liberal, democratic China (as it did in Korea) or make the country more totalitarian/nationalistic if things go wrong and they lose face. For one of the stories I try to talk to some of the thousands of Olympic volunteers scattered throughout the city….under tents that say “translation services” but I find very few who speak English, including no one able to tell me where the Forbidden City is located….at a volunteer station about a block away from the most popular tourist site in Beijing….

I went into the NBC bureau for parts of a few days, logging very interesting interviews, Jasper Becker about the destruction of old Beijing, a Human Rights Watch guy talking about the Uighurs. Logging is one of the lowest stations in any news organization, but if you can’t actually go out and DO the interviews, I am more than happy to log and learn.

I also finally got a pass to enter the NBC work space next to the Bird’s Nest at the Olympic Village but I have been told “no blogging” about what goes on there.

But I have been invited to be a guest on the Today Show, LIVE today, to talk about adoption and I assume I can blog about that. Stay tuned.

For fun, um, not much. One of my interviews was with a hotel manager right next to the National Art Museum and I have never been there, so I checked it out. The first floor was this massive exhibit of contemporary Chinese art….so contemporary there were several images about the May earthquake, and tons with Olympic themes. The other two floors of the museum had displays of Ming and Qing scrolls. But for a National Museum the whole thing seemed sparse.

Wednesday my student Michael came by to bring me some gifts from Tibet and share his thousands of photos. I am so jealous that I never got there. Next time. It really looks like a beautiful untouched landscape. I took him out for his first meal of Mexican food. He fared better with knife and fork than the girls did.

On Friday, I met Mark Ma and Tingting for dinner at TGIF (they chose it!) and Mark let me buy some Olympic tickets off him for the women’s soccer final August 21. I will give those to Elizabeth as well. But no appliance or tickets can compensate for her incredible generosity and hospitality.

Saturday, I broke my tooth eating my cereal…and am debating whether to see a dentist

Monday, July 21, 2008

Week 23

Week 23

Sunday July 20. Katie’s birthday. I have brunch with her unofficial “godfather”, Mark Ma and his wife at Grandma’s Kitchen, right around the corner. Wonderful American brunch, pancakes, eggs, and good company. Mark has Olympic tickets, lots of them, so hopefully he will have a few for me to give to Elizabeth. From there I head to the Silk market and a construction site to get some more Sounds of Beijing. Then I come home and write up the script for the story. I thought Eve and Stefanie were coming for dinner, but Eve called, after 9 to say she wanted to come then, but I said too late. Turns out, this English language village where she’s working has been infiltrated with Christian missionaries, who did not show up to work on the Sabbath, so Eve was left running the whole camp for the day on her own. She asked if I could come and give a guest lecture and of course, I said sure. I feel so bad that these students at the English Village have paid money to go to a camp to learn English, but they are instead being read the Bible. Apparently this is a very typical situation and strategy for missionaries to come in under the radar screen. Another story idea. At 9 I call Katie at the beach to wish her a Happy Birthday. She is off to Camp Huckins today, and I am very jealous.

Monday I go to the Drum Tower to get another Sound of Beijing. I take the subway and learn that at LAST, the line to Renmin is open and the Olympic line is also open, but apparently you need a special pass to go on the Olympic line. At 3, I take the subway way out on Line 13 to Eve’s English Village. I give a lecture on adoption and the students, college aged, are all bright and engaged. One student announces that her sister was adopted, her father found her on the street, and raised her until she was five, and then gave her to his sister who was unable to conceive a child. So I guess this really is how it happens sometimes. After the lecture I meet the assorted American church ladies who want to hold my hand and pray with me but I decline. They pray for me anyway. I hang around there until 8 and then they drive me half way back to the city and put me on the subway home.

Tuesday, I go into NBC and log tapes, one of an interview with a Feng Shui master who is a specialist in numerology. 8-8-08 at 8:08pm the Olympics start, but there has been all this chatter on the internet that the earthquake, the snowstorms, the Tibet riots, all happened on dates that add up to 8, and that 8-8-08 is a very unlucky day and bad things are going to happen. The longer I listen to this guy, the more I worry that by using, essentially, superstitious astrologers to represent China, we feed into the stereotypes that this place is so weird. It would be like a Chinese journalist going to Salem on Halloween and saying this is American culture. (It is -a tiny slice of it, but it is NOT exactly representative). I feel like we are both getting only the corners of the picture of each other, but not the whole image.

Wednesday. Into NBC, log more tapes, get some help setting up a few freelance stories from the very generous NBC staffers. At 3 I leave for an interview with lawyer PU. He was one of the 42 intellectuals who signed a letter to the government after Tibet, arguing that the government was handling it all wrong, needed to stop the nationalist rhetoric, open a dialogue with the Dalai Lama. I had been hoping to meet him for months, because my grad student Jessie said she knew him. Well we finally connected, and for the first time since I’ve been here, I felt I met a Chinese who was my hope for the future of this country. First, I thought I’d meet a much older man, who had little to lose by signing such a controversial letter. But this guy was young, early 40s. He had been a student in Tiananmen 1989 and after the crackdown, he refused to sign a letter of apology (as most participants were forced to do). Because of that, he was denied his ability to get an advanced degree, so he taught himself law and passed the bar. He’s built like a football player with huge dimples in each cheek and a child-like smile. A Chinese Barrack Obama? He says the only difference between him and the new president of Taiwan, Ma, is that Ma went to Harvard! After a wonderful two hour discussion, my student Jessie, who translated this, and I met up with Jessie’s husband Jason for a cup of coffee. Jason has an MBA from Leeds in England and works for the candy company Mars in Shanghai, while Jessie lives in Beijing. And in September, Jessie will go to the London School of Economics for a year. Newlyweds, but not spending much time together. From there I thought I was going to dinner with some NBC folks, but got left behind, so went home and worked on freelance stuff.

Thursday, into NBC and log a great interview with Dai Qing, a sixty-ish, passionate environmentalist who came into the NBC bureau for the interview. She is so angry about the Olympics and Beijing putting on a show for outsiders while their own citizens need help…. and diverting water from poor farmers in Hebei to water the golf courses and build water paradises for Olympic rowers and on and on and on. Right ON! Two days in a row I’m meeting my kind of people. Where have you been all my life here? Log a few more tapes until my ears feel like they are falling off and head home at 3 to take a nap. I’ve been up until midnight almost every night working, and being attacked by kamikaze mosquitoes all night long (that come in through the air conditioning vents) so I am wiped out. Eve and Stefanie are supposed to come for dinner. I need sounds of Peking Duck being cooked, so I want to take them to a nice place, but they are woefully late, arrive after 9. So after they kill a massive, 2-3 inch cock roach, in my gorgeous, clean, upscale kitchen (first one I’ve ever seen here) we head out for Mexican food. They have never had Mexican food, and have no idea what to order so I get a sample of tacos, burritos, and enchiladas. They are each given a knife and fork and proceed to try to cut the hard corn tortilla with a knife and eat it with a fork, before I realize what is going on. They have almost never eaten without chopsticks, so Eve asks the waitress for chopsticks, but there are none, so she gets a spoon instead and eats it that way. Very, very funny.

Friday, stay home all day and work. Here and Now wants my story on wushu, and The World, inexplicably, has sent me back an edited version of the Kashgar story, that they nixed last week. So I am guessing that one has been resurrected, but in the meantime I’ve sent a print version of Kashgar to the Christian Science Monitor, so I am not sure I can sell this to both. In the good old days, this is how freelancers survived, selling essentially the same story to a few different clients. But now, with the internet, the Monitor contract has me sign away all the rights for audio, video, stills, and copy, forever. So I think I need to clue everyone in and see if this is kosher. Friday night Celine and I go to return an appliance that someone has given Elizabeth, a mixer, food processor and blender all in one, that doesn’t work. So we schlep the appliance across town in a big box, only to have the salesgirl flick one piece of the machine and it works fabulously. So we schlep it home, and stop at Annie’s for an Italian dinner, with the blender occupying one seat at the table for four…

Saturday – Stefanie comes by to retrieve the cell phone she left here, and I enlist her to come with me to buy Elizabeth a microwave in lieu of rent. And I also get her to help me buy a laptop for Eve, to thank her for all she did for us in Yiyang. Stephen and I wanted to get a gift for her parents, but now we think Eve will give her computer to her parents and use the laptop herself so everyone benefits. But when I go to by this stuff, my credit card does not work, and then I go to the ATM and am rejected there. After hours of haggling with the bank over the phone via skype, and being reassured that the fraud protection hold was lifted and walking back and forth to ATMs to only get rejected again, I give up and hope it will work in the morning.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Week 22

Week 22

Have I really been here this long?

Sunday July 13. We do the final packing up an Simon comes at 11. Katie is surprisingly emotional, saying goodbye to each room in the apartment and kissing her favorite pink, plastic chopsticks goodbye. I am really surprised she is feeling so sad. I guess this adventure made a deeper impression on me than I gave her credit for. Stephen and Simon fit in his car with all the luggage. Katie and I take a cab, and we meet at Elizabeth’s. I move in one suitcase and one computer and the computer works fine, so we have a few hours to kill before their flight. We all go to TGIFriday’s for lunch. From there, Stephen Katie and Simon go to the airport and I return to Renmin. Katie is sad and so am I. I really wish I were on that plane too. I take a cab back to Renmin and spend from 3pm until 4am(!) intensely working, getting all the freelance material logged, written and organized.

Monday I work all day cutting up Kashgar audio for a geo quiz for the World. The Changsha audio is less exciting. I eat what is left of the food for dinner and feel like I’ve had two days of a truly Spartan existence. I like being a monk, at least for 48 hours. Very productive.

Tuesday do a final clean out of the apartment. Sue and Dave help me get my stuff out the front door and then I walk to the West Gate for the final time. I am not shedding a tear. I am sorry this university relationship was less than ideal. I really wished I had had better luck getting involved. As a final postscript, I had asked about a month ago to meet the Dean of Journalism before I left. On Saturday, I get a phone text message from Mercy- I can’t meet the Dean but another professor is happy to meet me Sunday at 3:30, precisely when I am downtown sending Stephen off to the airport. Way too little, way too late.

I arrive at Elizabeth’s lovely apartment at 11, unpack for an hour and then head to the next building over to the NBC bureau. The producer that “hired” me is not in today, so I spin my wheels until someone announces that a driver is going to take a few people up to the new workspace at the Olympic Village, so I jump on that one. NBC, which consists of NBC News (nightly and today show, and weekend), MSNBC, CNBC, ITN, and a slew of NBC affiliates, has rented out the Convention Center next to the Village. The rooftop provides a spectacular backdrop for stand ups, overlooking the Bird’s Nest. There will be about a thousand news staff, mostly technical, at the space….and none of this includes the NBC Sports staff which is the main event for the Games. They are waiting for cargo containers full of equipment to arrive, and some of it has been stuck at Chinese customs for a couple of weeks and folks are getting nervous. Quite an operation. Tuesday after work Celine and I go out to dinner for duck at a nice place near NBC, and then I go to the grocery store to get a few things for life at Elizabeth’s. This neighborhood is full of places to explore, and a lot more to my liking than the Renmin neighborhood.

Weds go to NBC and I am the first person there. No one seems to show up until 10am or later. I help log some tapes and Adrienne, the senior bureau producer, shows me how to capture segments of tape to feed to London for editing. I master this task and immediately am busy with work. I need to leave around 4 to go to a school on the far northwest of the city for a freelance story. Eve has set it up. Ironically, I need to meet her and her wushu friend at the Gate of Renmin…..and I thought I was done with this place! One of her classmates is the wushu (Chinese martial art) national university champion, and we are going to what I think is his wushu school. Well it is more than a wushu school, it is one of the Soviet style sports academies that identifies and trains little kids to become future Olympians. There are about a thousand students here 5-15 who are spending many, many, many hours a day, all year long, mastering wrestling, gymnastics, pingpong, track and field, and wushu, 11 sports in total. The third class of the day begins at 6pm with a warm up that would leave me in the dust after the first five seconds, running, jumping, stretching for a half hour, in 100 degree heat. Little 5,6,7, year olds bending their bodies into also sorts of shapes and then the wushu moves begin. The kids can kick their legs behind their heads, one step after the other, turn, stab, twist, leap, fall on the floor, arch their backs and leap back up into another pose. Wild! We are out in the boondocks surrounded by spectacular mountains, and we are glad we asked the taxi driver to stick around for the return trip home, otherwise I think we would have had to sleep in the wushu kids dorm. Nothing out here. We return to Renmin and Eve and I decide to have some dinner, but first she needs to get some things in her dorm room. So I go with her and I am dumbfounded. First, the hallway is the clothesline/closet for every girl on the floor. There are six girls to a room that is as long as two bunkbeds and as wide as three bed widths. And the girls are assigned there as freshman and never move out, not at the end of the semester, not for the summer. So this room has three years of six girls detritus, wall to wall junk, the entire floor space is covered with shoes, sneakers, bottles of shampoo, food, stuff. You cannot even move. Each girl has a box/desk type thing that rests like a hospital table over the foot of her bed. So if you have restless leg syndrome, your entire desk gets catapulted over the top of the bed. I will never, ever complain about my “lousy” Renmin housing again.. I am in a palace compared to what they are living in. It is disastrous. After our brief but enlightening visit we head out to a restaurant and have a very nice sandwich, at a western restaurant I never knew existed in my old neighborhood.

Thurs I go into NBC, and the feeding system that I mastered yesterday is not working today. The tape freezes and cannot be sent to London. The only person in who knows how to do it is also stymied, so we have to call in one of the techs who is working on setting up the Olympic village workspace. He is none too thrilled to have to come in. I apologize profusely for having to drag him down here, and initially he responds, ‘even a trained monkey could do this’. I am sure he will push one simple button to make it work, and be even more pissed, but alas, he too encounters the same gremlin and has to install a new converter to get the system to work. I send what I need to send and all is well. After work I am supposed to talk to someone at the World about ftping my tape. I call and the tech is not in. I talk with Joyce for a while and then figure out all by myself how to send it. I spend the next several hours watching this tape, slowly crawl itself through cyberspace to Boston.

Friday, I wake up to make sure all the tape was sent, and instead there is an email from Joyce saying “take a deep breath”, but the story I spend a kazillion hours recording, logging, writing, and feeding is DEAD. They already had a similar story in house. I am about ready to pass out. So I go back to bed, and an hour later, fuming, send an angry email to Joyce. She assures me I will be paid in full, that it was a communication breakdown and she is very sorry. I calm down a tad, and move on with my day. But I am so sorry my Kashgar tape will not be heard.

Go to NBC and happily log some tape and work with producer on her story on pollution and health effects. I finish two weeks of the blog and head to bed, missing a party that Elizabeth invited me to.

Saturday, I head out in the morning to gather more for the Sounds of Beijing, story for Only a Game. I head to the Ghost/ Dirt market at Panjujian that I have heard so much about. I wish I had gone there earlier, a really interesting collection of junk not found at the other markets. From there I head to a construction site to get some tape. At 4pm, Elizabeth has invited me to the premier of her friend’s film, “My Beijing Movie”, a film about a New Yorker who came to Beijing 12 years ago to learn Chinese comedy, Xiangsheng, or cross-talk (kind of like ‘whose on first’ routines). He took he comedy class with little kids, and now twelve years later comes back to see what they are up to. It is a great little film. See it if it gets released in the US. At the screening I meet Jim and Deb Fallows, and Charles Hutzler. Deb and I talk about her research on Chinese internet use and we agree to talk again. After the film, I go to Houhai, the bar area, in search of “sounds of Beijing” and have dinner.

I am feeling better about the decision to stay on. It has been productive and interesting.

Week 21

Saturday July 5

Up before 6, exhausted. Stephen calls the beach to wish his family a happy 4th of July. Rory now has his insurance to drive and drove himself and Jeremy to the festivities. Really homesick now. Head back to Urumqi airport. Fly to Kashgar and immediately feel like we have left China and headed for the middle east. Signs in Uighur language look more like Arabic than Chinese. The men are wearing the round hats, women are veiled. Our guide is a devout Muslim. He has a young daughter, 11 mos old, but does not want her to work with men when she grows up it would be unpure. He takes us to Mausoleum that looks like its in Saudi, tiled pillars, Islamic architecture. The Chinese version is that some Han dynasty emporer’s concubine is Uighur and buried here. The Uighurs don’t believe it and think it is propaganda to stake a claim to the region. There is a real segregated society; Chinese and Uighurs do not mix much. The locals work on Uighur time, even though the official time is set in Beijing, Kashgar operates two hours later. The sun is up until very late at night, Beijing time. The government has been knocking down the old mud walls in front of people’s homes and telling people to build with bricks for earthquake prevention, yet not giving them enough bricks to rebuild… but critics say it is to homogenize the architecture, to “appear” other than Uighur. Kids are told to go to school during Friday Muslim prayers. The laws and agreements between the Uighurs are apparently good but unfortunately not enforced. So the sino-fication of Uighur areas is well under way. Little meaning to the ‘autonomous Uighur Province” – kind of like Tibet, but with much less western support or awareness. In part it is because a few Uighurs showed up in an Al Qaeda training camp, which didn’t win them many friends in the west. We walk around the old town, narrow alleyways like a Morrocan medina, women stay at home and work inside their front door. Men are all in trades -- tin, copper, woodworking, in shops that are a throwback to another century. We end up at the largest mosque in China, a yellow building with a very quiet cool courtyard. I recorded lots of great sound for The World radio show. We had lunch and dinner at the same place, BAKED goods! Lamb kebabs, lamb “Pizza” that is delicious, baked nut dumplings, noodle soup with spicy sauce, pilaf, yogurt, we’re not in China anymore! Great day!

Sunday July 6.

Head to the Sunday animal market where livestock is traded. The roads are clogged with donkey carts and other makeshift vehicles bringing animals to market. I have stepped back in time. Donkeys, goats, sheep, cows, horses…noisy but surprisingly not smelly. All men doing the trading. All wearing caps. A few women come in herding goats or cooking soups on the outskirts. One woman is in charge of the donkey parking lot and saves me from being kicked! Middleman helps negotiations between the traders and at times it is quite a heated exchange. At one point the guys are having a hard time getting a cow off the back of a truck, but after a lot of shoving, the cow falls off and starts to bolt. He gets wedged between two trucks and they lasoo him and tie him around the horns. I have new appreciation for the term ‘cattle prod’. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit, although we did not buy a horse, much to Katie’s chagrine. From there we head to the main Sunday bazaar, which is a vast market with glittery fabric (which all the women seem to be wearing – I feel very underdressed) and dried flute, and musical instruments and a lot of junk. Our guide takes us upstairs the carpet store and we spend quite a bit of time there, buying two rugs, figuring out shipping, finding enough ATMs to get cash to pay for them. It has been a long hot day, and after a brief rest at the hotel I go out at 8 to record the Muslim call to prayer at a local mosque and then head out to dinner.

Monday July 7. Karakorum Highway. It is the highest paved highway in the world connecting China with Pakistan. It is also vividly written about (at least the Pakistani side) in Greg Mortensen’s book “Three Cups of Tea”, so read that if you want to really experience it! Leaving Kashgar we drive through some smaller villages which to me look like what New Mexico must have looked like a century ago – mud adobe small houses, dry, brown dirt, with little oases of greenery. But there is a definite Muslim overlay here, veils, hats, little mud mosques dot the road. But soon we are in no man’s land, driving along a rocky gray river ravine whose water power seems mighty strong. In places, the water has washed out the road and we drive over some pretty bumpy, rocky or pot-holed patches. At one point we see a huge truck overturned on the side of the road. On either side are jagged, brown, bare, gargantuan snow capped peaks. About the only activity out here is mining and we see caves where coal, iron ore and copper are being mined. We have to go through a passport check point with some surly and trigger happy looking Chinese officials, and from here we can easily head over the hills to Pakistan, Afghanistan and some other Stans. We are about 65 kilometers from the Afghan border so I joke that maybe Osama is in one of these caves. Our guide says he would never sell out a fellow Muslim and there is little evidence that Osama was behind 9/11. Since we are several hours from any other humans, I decide this is not a good time to get into a political debate with him. About three hours out of Kashgar we come to a drying up lake, surrounded by sand dune mountains. It is the most unusual landscape I have ever seen. And then four hours out of Kashgar we reach our destination, Karakul Lake. It is a still, glacial turquoise-blue-green lake surrounded by snow capped peaks, with a near perfect reflection in the lake. We eat lunch in a little roadside restaurant with a few other tourists and then Katie sees some horses and wants to ride. So we drive down the road, away from the few tourists that are there and have the lake all to ourselves. It is the first TRULY QUIET place in all of China. Still, calm, tranquil, peaceful, heavenly. We enjoy the serenity and take a little walk around the lake, through a little area where some Tajik or Khazak folks are living in yurts with solar panels! Al Gore and Stephen’s dream home! And before long a few men come along on horse back and we pay a few pennies to have a horse ride. Well, my horse decides he’s thirsty and proceeds to walk right into the lake. I cannot get the horse to turn back to the path. I have the camera in my hand and I’m trying to decide how deep I am willing to go with this horse into the lake before I bail, and how am I going to save the camera with hundreds of pictures when he tosses me overboard?!?! Fortunately, the man who owns the horse decides to ruin his shoes and wades into the water to rescue this damsel in distress. Katie is laughing hysterically from her horse and Stephen is happily oblivious back in the parking lot with the car – no horse for him. Sadly, we need to get back into the car and re-trace our four hour trek down the valley back to Kashgar. On the way back we get caught in a donkey traffic jam in the town of Opal. Our guide says donkeys are better than cars because donkeys know their way home, so the driver can sleep on the back of the donkey cart on the way home from the town. We have a quick dinner and pack up for our morning flight.

Tuesday We go to the airport and the flight from Kashgar to Urumqi is delayed, but eventually we get airborne, and arrive to meet Ricky, our new guide. I am beginning to feel sick but we have little time to rest at the hotel before we need to be at the Urumqi Museum by 3:30. The museum is really another attempt at Chinese propaganda, to cement the fiction that Xinjiang Uighur region has been an “eternal part of the motherland”. One gallery conists of four dead bodies dug out of the sand and it gives me the creeps. These aren’t mummies in sarcophaguses, these look like someone you know, frozen in time on their death bed. Katie and Stephen are somehow enjoying it but I am outa there. I wait for them at the gift shop that you must go through to exit. We also check out a rug display that the guide neglected to tell us about and it’s the only decent thing in the museum. The guide is tedious and hovering and I just want to be left alone. There is also a display of costumes of region that he talks endlessly about, but adds no insight. From there we head to the Urumqi Baazar but it is more junk. The guide then takes us to a yukky restaurant and I am turned off by the food. Then, for the highlight of the day…the guide wants us to get up at 6am for an early start. The road to the lake we are going to is under construction and “because of the Olympic” we need to be at the airport 3 hours early for our flight to Beijing. Well, Stephen and I both protest, the schedule makes no sense, and we are not happy. After a protracted negotiation about start time and cutting the wait at the airport, Ricky comes clean: he has an appointment at his school at 4 and needs to dump us at the airport at 3 for a 7pm flight. Stephen is way kinder than I am (but you already knew that) and thanks Ricky for his belated honesty. We say we will drop him and his school by 4 and get ourselves to the airport. What a snake! And for this we are paying money? I have had enough travel and am tempted to bail on the whole next days excursion, but we decide to suck it up and go to the “Lake of Heaven” the next day.


To call the “road” to the Lake of Heaven a road, would be an exaggeration. It is in fact under construction as billed, but the construction has not yet begun. It is a rock pile, for nearly an hour, in a van with no shock absorbers. My nerves are shattered, my stomach has turned from bad to worse. I am holding down my belly to keep from heaving.

But, at last we arrive and I am looking forward to some peace and tranquility. NOT! Immediately we hear muzak coming from the tourist stalls near the parking lot. We walk to the lake and it IS, in fact, absolutely gorgeous, but it echoes from the performance stage music nearby. The shore is lined with tacky costumes that you can try on and have your photo taken with. And we are marched by our favorite guide Ricky down to a boat, where two bullhorns blare at us incessantly as we ride around the lake. Not an ounce of peace and tranquilty here. I have my fingers in my ears, I feel like I am going to vomit and I know we have to rush back to the drive-from-hell to get Ricky home in time. All I can think about is the title of the golf book “A Good Walk Spoiled”. This is nature, spoiled. I feel even sicker on the return trip, and feel like I am going to DIE on the eternally long flight from Urumqi to Beijing. I spend the flight sitting in the vacant seat next to the toilets (when I am not in the john itself). The plane arrives early so I am ready to bolt to the nearest land toilet, but we are told to sit back down, there is a delay getting to the gate. I march up to the first seat in first class, barf bag in hand, and dare anyone to try to remove me! I am the first person off the plane when it finally gets to the gate.

Thursday 2am: The only thing worse than vomiting, is going both ways at once, and the only thing worse than that, is to do it in a toilet that does not flush, at 2am, in China. I cannot plunge in my current state of health, so I wake up Stephen, poor guy, who plunges us back to a functioning toilet. Three hours later I am now fainting in the bathroom, am running a delirious fever, and just want to die, right there and then. I cannot imagine what I would have done without Stephen. From 5-7am he gave me sips of water every few minutes to keep me from getting totally dehydrated, and then I slept most of the next day while he packed us up to get out of there.

Friday I still feel weak but fell well enough to start packing some stuff. We need to make sure we can fit it all in six suitcases, and we need to segregate the stuff heading to Belmont vs the stuff I will move with me to Elizabeth’s. I am shockingly unsentimental about this move. The only thing I regret is not going home with Katie and Stephen on Sunday.

Saturday. My student Eve comes by with details on her further explorations in Yiyang. There was some disturbing and inexplicable news from Eve that we needed to sort out privately. She was there most of the afternoon, and later her friend Wang comes for photo shoot of us that went on for more than an hour. Eve is an extraordinary person, wise beyond her years, and has risen above her circumstance to an exceptional level. I keep thinking of David Copperfield (the Dickens character, not the magician) somehow, with all the coincidences and relatives and small world happenings that seem to surround her.

Week 20

Week 20

Sunday June 29

Simon is supposed to pick me up at 9 to go to my student Michelle’s house, but he calls at 9 (!) and says he can’t make it, has a headache. So Michelle and I take a taxi, which is just as well, she lives very nearby, less than a half hour south of campus. Michelle was a child actress, starred in a hugely popular children’s show called “Little Dragon” and several other movies. I expect that her parents will be Hollywood types, but they are very humble and welcoming. Her dad makes several pots of different types of tea (China’s “Tea Street” is one block away). Her apartment is small, two bedrooms, a galley kitchen and a small entry room where they have their dining table and a TV. Michelle’s room has a few photos of her acting days. Her dad’s job is to notify people that they must move out of their homes because their buildings are going to be destroyed to make room for new buildings or a road. He was involved in moving the residents of Qianmen, a neighborhood just south of Tiananmen Square, which is now supposed to be re-built to look like an old neighborhood. Apparently it was a very controversial project. The residents of this very centrally located area were moved about 4km away. He often gives people 3-6 months notice that they must move. He likes his job and says he’s good at it.

After the interview with the parents, her mom presents me with several very nice silk gifts, a scarf, a jewelry case, a tissue box cover, and a few other trinkets. I feel like a heel, two very generous families and I arrive empty handed.

During the visit to Michelle’s, Katie calls and she does not want to be picked up until 5. I negotiate and say 3 (I don’t want to be in 5pm traffic retrieving her). I head home, and at noon, Simon calls, very apologetic and wants to drive me for free to get Katie. Since he lives very close to where Katie is staying, I suggest he just go get her and bring her home and leave me here and he’s fine with that. I have the afternoon to eat peaches, and read, without interruption. Katie arrives home around 3:30, very sad to have said goodbye to her good friend Louisa (and I think tired from a late night). Louisa’s mom called to tell me that the mom had slept in and woke up horrified to find a note from Louisa that she and Katie had ridden her bike to Jenny Lou’s, a store about 3 km away, on very busy roads….with Katie riding on the cross bar and Louisa peddling (and of course, no helmets). Glad I didn’t know about this until they were safely returned home!

Around 5 my student Sophia comes over to give me her final project. I say that I will see her again, but I don’t know if I will see any of them again, and I’m sad about that.

At 6:30 Stephen arrives, windblown and delayed 3 hours, but he’s here and Katie and I both are glad to see him. He stays awake until 9 and then crashes.

Monday. I interview Susan Brownell for another OAG story on the culture of sport in China. She has been studying this subject in obscurity ever since she was an exchange student at Peking U in the 80s. Now, she is getting calls far and wide for her expertise. Very interesting take on Chinese culture. On the way home I record a basketball game and wild cheering, and try to record a group of elderly folks doing a fan dance, but a jackhammer constantly interrupts. At 2 Michael comes over and Stephen gives him the Celtics championship T-shirt. Michael says he’s been reading my blog (hi Michael!). Later, Eve comes over to go over plans for our trip to Hunan. We pack up for the trip and head to bed early.

Tuesday July 1, we meet my student from Yiyang, Eve, at the west gate at 6:30 a.m. and fly to Changsha. We are met by Eve’s uncle Zeng Jiande. We stop first at Hunan TV where Eve has a friend who will give us a tour, but security does not allow us to go in. We are told we might be there to steal their show ideas (!)…like their version of American Idol, “Super Girls”, (which we first stole from the Brits). “Super Girls” had to change its name because “super” was seen to be politically incorrect, after the show garnered more votes than the government was comfortable with…And now there is a show called “Happy Boys” because “China is a happy place”.

We go across the street to a huge traditional Chinese (reproduction) building and had lunch, but after more phone calls and discussion, we still weren’t allowed into Hunan TV. We are also told that the road going to Mao’s college is closed and it will be a long hot walk to get there. Strike two for Changsha plans. We then decide to go to the Hunan museum to see the many thousand year old mummy that I saw ten years ago, but had ZERO interest in returning to see. But Katie wanted to go…, we get there, but there are no tickets until 3:30. Strike three. We go to a nearby park and have a pleasant walk. It is very hot, easily in the 90s, but not so bad in the shade. Martyr’s Park has a sign telling us how to behave: “don’t paint confusedly” (presumably no grafitti?), “do not be offish and unmoved, do not be coarse-grained and malicious”….please tell it to the Chinese government! At 3:30 we return to the museum and it is much nicer than I recall from ten years ago…in fact it is a whole new museum. The mummy I remember as being a white floating whale of a woman, with her organs floating in formaldehyde, was now a shriveled old gal with a full head of black hair. Memory is very imprecise….or we are seeing a “new” mummy! But the rest of the museum was quite well done. From there we head to the river where Mao swam and then decide to check and see if the road to Mao’s college has opened up. It is after 5pm, hot, we are tired, and it is still another hour or more to our hotel in Yiyang. I am concerned that we cannot do it all, when Eve says her “sponsor” Uncle Li, the man who has helped her financially through college, has a banquet planned for us that evening. I try to convince her that we are too tired, we need to do it another night, or we can’t go to Mao’s college, but her real uncle, the driver, says we must go to Mao’s college, so we go. The First Normal School of Changsha, is a teacher’s college still in operation. It was accessible by car, over a road completely torn up. The building is a European inspired design, dark gray walls with white trim. It is a lovely building, with serene courtyards and lovely gardens. It is here that Mao transformed into a Communist. We spent quite a while there, looking at Mao’s homework and classroom and learning that he was good in Chinese, but not so good in math. And despite the need for a bathroom, Katie and I decide the open pit toilets are not going to do. So we head out of Changsha for Yiyang. After 7 we arrive at a toll plaza and Uncle Li is there to greet us and lead us directly to the banquet. I put my foot down and say I have GOT to go to the hotel first, check in, pee, breathe, change my clothes, wash up. We have been up since before 6, in 100 degree heat, going all day. So we go to the Yiyang hotel for a half hour and arrive at the banquet after 8. We open the door and there is a room full of men, all men, smoking, drinking, watching TV with a full spread of food getting cold on the table. I am totally embarrassed that I made this whole group of people wait. And I feel horrible that I had been pressuring Eve to try to get us out of this. Clearly, she was caught in the middle, trying to please everyone and I was completely insensitive to the situation.

It is the type of night out that I have read about, but never participated in. All the guys, toasting each other, drinking and smoking too much. I was blown away by Eve, all of 20 years old, holding her own in this room of community leaders. She was charming, funny and an amazingly talented at keeping everyone up to speed on the conversation in two languages. Our limited Mandarin was useless - they all spoke the local Yiyang dialect. I have no idea how Katie processed all this, but the men treated her as a curiosity. I am sure she has never seen so much alcohol consumed in one meal. At the end of the evening we bid adieu to Eve’s real Uncle Zeng Jiande, the driver for the day, who headed back late to Changsha.


We are met in the morning by one of Uncle Li’s employees, who is also his brother-in-law, Mr. Liao who will be our driver for the day. We head to the new Children’s Welfare Institute, where director Zhu is waiting for us. After a few opening remarks we get a tour of the facility. There are now less than 60 children here, down from several hundred just a few years ago (lots more on why this is so, check Brian Stuy’s blog). Most of the kids are special needs. The nannies are wearing clean (maybe seldom worn?) Half the Sky t-shirts. The kids are on the mats, although one boy is stuck in a cardboard box. Some had head deformities, one infant had major cleft palate. We stayed for a few moments and then went upstairs where some toddlers (mostly boys -- or girls with real short hair) were playing. They too had special needs but all were walking and able to line up and respond to their names. We also saw an Albino teenager, but not either of the two teens I remembered from 2005. Aftter the tour we went back the conference room and asked for access to Katie’s files, (as well as two girls in our travel group whose parents expressed interest in us finding any new information). There was nothing much we didn’t know except for one page with the name of the man who found Katie at the orphanage gate and a photo of the orphanage director at the time she was abandoned. The current orphanage director provided a few other details on the other two girls but I don’t want to share much of any of this until I talk to the other families. After that, director Zhu invited us to lunch and we agreed. At lunch we realized that there might be other info that we needed from the files and they agreed to let us return to take another look. I can’t quite remember the sequence of events, but we got some more info on Katie’s finder and on the other girls. Then Stephen offered to help the orphanage with some item it might need and Director Zhu suggested we get a solar hot water heater so the older residents could take showers. So we all pile into two cars and head to the solar hot water heater store. On the way, we drive by the old CWI and hear that the building and almost every other structure on the north side of the river, will be razed by the end of the year. We drive through block upon block of rubble that looks like a war zone, as this whole old community falls to the wrecking ball. The only structure still standing is a Norwegian Christian Church, established at the turn of the last century and still in operation. The minister, a Chinese woman, comes to greet us. She says there are about 500 members of the congregtation and says there are hundreds of Christian churches in Yiyang, which both Eve and I find to be a bit suspect. We then head to the center of Yiyang, purchase the solar hot water heater and part company with Director Zhu. From there we head to a memorial that has been established in Yiyang for a local resident, “China’s Schindler”. Dr. Ho Fengshan was orphaned and raised in the Norwegian church we had previously visited. He attended Yale-in-China in Changsha before going to grad school in Munich. He later become a diplomat in Austria and issued visas to Shanghai for thousands of European Jews. His daughter lives in Boston or Maine and works for a newspaper. Another extremely hot and full day. We head back to the hotel to cool off and clean up before heading out to Eve’s familiy’s home for dinner. We take a taxi and Eve is waiting for us on the street. It is a six floor walk up, enter into a room with a round table, frig, wooden couch, and posters of Mao and Deng Xiao Ping on the wall. There are two bedrooms off to the right, and a dimly lit cooking area to the left. There are windows on both sides of the apartment and from the back we can see the river and the steeple of the Norwegian church on the far side of the river. The sun is setting. There is no AC, but a ceiling fan keeps us comfortable. Eve’s father greets us with a great big smile and handshake. He looks very young, handsome, well dressed in a polo type shirt. He reminds Stephen and I of our old friend Couper Gardiner. Eve’s mom also has a great smile. Her hair is neatly pulled back into a bun. Clearly, she has been cooking all day. There is a lovely spread of food, sticky rice, corn on the cob, sweet fresh tomatoes, chicken, and other assorted home cooked delights. Eve’s father seems very quick, bright, direct. The mother seems quiet and sweet. Neither of her parents have had steady work since Eve was 12 and her dad is quite candid about their income and their humble offerings. I ask many of the questions I’ve asked the parents of my other students, one of which is, if it hadn’t been for the cultural revolution, what life would you have had, what job might you have had, what dream job would you like? Eve’s father dismisses the question quickly. Clearly he does not want to entertain thoughts about “what might have been”. Maybe it is what Eve has told me about him, or a sixth sense, but I feel very sad about him, about what so many of this lost generation must be feeling, missed opportunities, don’t look back. We stay until after 9 and I am sorry to have to leave. They have raised an extraordinary daughter, in spite of their tough situation. Stephen and I both want to do something to thank them, but don’t know what is appropriate.

Thursday. July 3

Uncle Liao meets us at the lobby of the hotel and drives us to his village just north of Yiyang City. He has a lovely house, modern, two story, abutting a rice paddy. He no longer farms the land (works for his wealthy brother-in-law and clearly is doing well himself), but everyone around him is a farmer. Today there were local elections for the village chief and we go down the street to meet a group of men, who have just been involved in the election, including the village boss, a tall man who looks more Mexican or Latin American than Chinese. I say I’d like to meet some local women to talk about the birth control policy and we are driven down the road to a pig farm. On the driveways along the way, everyone is drying rice in the sun. It is hot, there is little shade, but I am in heaven. We are surrounded by rice paddies and farmland and pigs! Cute little squealing babies to enormous oafs. The pigs are wedged into two shelters on either side of the road and the women who run the pig farm are doing quite well financially. There are probably a dozen people sitting in the room adjacent to the pig sty just hanging out, shooting the breeze, laughing. No one seems to be working too hard, and several of the women are quite overweight, so I am surmising that pig farming is a heck of a lot easier than stooping over a ride paddy. I ask a lot of questions while Katie and Stephen take a walk to visit some new puppies across the way. The village chief is sitting just outside, within earshot, so I’m not sure I got fully honest answers. And of course, I’m a stranger, a westerner, and no one is going to get into controversial topics. But no one knew anyone who abandoned a baby, or adopted another villager’s child or paid a fine. They say the one child policy is being strictly enforced. But many of them have more than one child. (in rural areas, two are allowed if the first is a girl). They don’t know of any rewards program for bringing a baby to an orphanage. They want to know if Katie wants to know who her birth parents are and I say yes, and they all look serious and solemn for a moment. But then they all say Katie is so lucky and go back to yukking it up. I do notice a few beer cans around and an open bottle of booze on the floor…and it is before noon. A little bit later, I sit in the next room over, with just two women, one of whom has just come in from the ride paddy, and she says the one child policy is not being enforced strictly…not sure what stories to believe. This woman is fawning over Katie, and when her teenage son comes walking down the street she yells out to him, “hey, come meet your sister” and the boy looks at Katie with a disgruntled look on his face. On one hand, I think Katie must be bothered by all this, but on the other hand, she is beaming. She loves being out here with the animals and the farmers. She took a zillion pictures of dogs, pigs, farmers, and seemed to relish the whole experience. After the village, Uncle Liao takes us to a local restaurant where Stephen gets to pick out which live chicken and which live fish they will slaughter for lunch. The village chief and Uncle Liao’s wife meet us at the restaurant. After lunch we take a long drive to see Uncle Li (Eve’s benefactor) at his new factory. We drive through old country roads, beautiful farmland, ponds, woods, hills, idyllic! I have been dreaming of doing this for ten years, ever since we first drove out to Yiyang in January of 1998. We arrive at Mr. Li’s enormous factory. It is several acres in size, and when it opens in six months will employ 800? people. He takes old plastic woven bags (that fertilizer or seeds come in) and recycles them. I think this is only one of his businesses. Mr. Li is the most unassuming guy you can imagine, plastic flip flops, rolled up cuffs on his too-long pants, buck teeth but a great smile….and he is a multi-millionaire in the middle of Hunan Province. Li says he has no use for money, he just gives it away. He tells his workers he’s going to take a drive and puts us all in his Mercedes for wild ride around Yiyang’s rural areas. He takes us to a lake where we skip rocks. On the lake is the modern mansion and a closed down deluxe hotel as well as some sort of fish farm in the middle of the lake. It is very peaceful. We then get completely lost, meandering through village after village, but I am thoroughly enjoying the whole scene. We end up back in Yiyang City at a restaurant. I am now not feeling great, too much driving, and Katie is nauseous too. The fact that the window display is of snakes in jars, and we order turtle soup with the turtles floating around in it, has me losing my appetite rapidly. Uncle Li is now insisting that he drive us to Changsha that night, and we sleep at his house there and he will take us to the airport in the morning. We are feeling like this guy has been incredibly generous already, all our meals, driving and we suspect hotel room, has all been paid by him. How can we say no? But the thought of packing up and driving again is too much so we respectfully decline. Uncle Li is totally enamored with Katie, as is Mr. Liao who has joined us. They want to arrange for their kids to go to school in the States and for Katie to return to Yiyang to stay with them, Kid Swap. We laugh, but I think they are half serious. We finally say goodbye but I will miss both Li and Liao, but especially Li. It was a very, very, very wise choice to NOT go to Changsha. I was up all night with the beginnings of a very nasty stomach bug.

Friday. Armed with a bottle of Immodium AD, we head out to Changsha. Sometime after we were refused entry to Hunan TV they decided that I wasn’t going to try to steal their show ideas, and invited me to come back today, to give a lecture to their news operation. I needed to get the embassy and the consulate to send an email verifying who I was first. Security bizarreness! So I get a quick and not too detailed tour of Hunan TV and then give a brief talk and QA to their news staff. We then part company with Eve and head to the airport. I am so impressed with Eve, what she has come from, her difficult family situation, complicated by warring relatives, yet, she is wise and charming and sophisticated beyond anything I might have been at her age….or am now!

The flight to Urumqi, makes a stop in Xian (this was not indicated on our itinerary!) so it is a long flight on a sick stomach. But the scenery outside the plane is spectacular, barren dessert, the Kalakalam is the second largest desert in the world, bordered by snow capped spikes to the south. We arrive after 9, but the sun is still bright out here in western China. We go to the hotel, no dinner, about 45 minutes away, only to be picked up early the next day to return to the airport for the next leg of the journey to Kashgar. Why the travel agent did not book us at the airport hotel I do not know.

This has been a full week. In retrospect, I wished I had allowed more time in Hunan, but we will return!

Week 19

Saturday June 21.Guangzhou.

The plan to day is to go to Hong Kong and get my visa renewed. We get up early and go to breakfast at the lovely hotel buffet, but feel a little queasy. Then I start to get really sick as a dog. There is no way I can get on a mini-bus to the train to spend a day walking around in Hong Kong. I have to get off and on the train in Hong Kong to re-activate my visa, but I know I need to be within inches of the porcelain throne. I have tickets for the 9am train, so I call the concierge from the bathroom phone….and he says I’ll forfeit the tickets, they’re not good for a later train. But I have no choice. No way can I go to Hong Kong. By 9 I have lost all that I can lose and fall asleep for a few hours while Katie happily watches TV. Around 11, I wake up, take as much stomach medicine and antibiotic as is tolerable and head down to the concierge. I cross my fingers and get tickets for a 1pm train and plan to return on the same train if my stomach is lousy. All I need is the stamp on my visa saying I have re-entered China for another 180 day stay. Well, thank God for immodium AD! I have no trouble on the train and feel almost normal when we arrive in HK. I realize we need Hong Kong dollars, they don’t take the Chinese RMB (one country two systems really means two systems!). I hail a taxi (thinking they must speak English in a former British colony….but they don’t). I point to a map, to a tram that takes you to the top of Victoria Peak on Hong Kong island and off we go. We wait in a long line for a tram, but the ride up the mountain and the view are spectacular. BLUE SKY! OCEAN! CLEAN AIR! It is a lot different than I remember it from 30 years ago. There is a giant mall at the top of the peak, for starters. And the view north, facing mainland China is chock full of skyscrapers, but the view to the south is gorgeous, mostly undeveloped, with lots of islands dotting the South China Sea. We take the tram back down, hop on a city bus which takes us to the pier and take a ferry across the harbor to Kowloon. From there, a very helpful tourist info person points us to another city bus (a double-decker that Katie loves) which returns us to the train station, with minutes to spare before the last train of the day leaves for Guangzhou. A lot done in a four hour visit. And, at last, I get the all-important stamp on my visa, allowing me to stay in China for another 180 days. The day certainly ended better than it began.

Sunday, We try the hotel brunch again, but I avoid eggs or anything else that might have contributed to my stomach woes. We then take a walk outside the hotel and do a little shopping. We spend about a half hour in the hotel pool and then go to the airport. The flight home is a hassle. We wait at the gate and then get smushed into this insanely hot and over-crowded bus, people stepping on your feet. I was literally afraid Katie would not be able to breathe at her height, being so sandwiched in between people. We drive across the tarmac forever and board a plane that is connected to the terminal at another gate. So why didn’t we just board at that gate? Then we get on the plane and go from sweltering to freezing. When I ask for a blanket, they say they have none, but as I am leaving the plane I see dozens of unopened blankets on seats. Katie watched the on plane movie, Golden Compass, and was engrossed in it until the screen went bust. They then offered her another seat, which she took. But before the movie was over, they came and took the headsets away. I was glad to get home. It is reallllly muggy and hot in Beijing.

Monday. Katie’s camp has been cancelled because not enough kids signed up, so she is stuck with me and I have a lot of work to do this week. We first go to her school to get the camp refund and her tuition deposit refund. Then start my quest to find an English speaking taxi driver for story on Only A Game. We go the the Olympic Village and it is still not looking ready. Lots of heavy equipment, laborers and piles of construction and landscape debris. We then head to travel agent to pay for Kashgar trip and then grab an early lunch. From there we go to the subway to try to find a way to get to the Olympic Village via subway. But those subway stops are still not open either. When will all this be ready? Soon, I am told. Then we take the subway to the embassy to get reimbursed for Guangzhou trip. Finally, return to Renmin. ? We notice they are painting the ugly dilapidated building next door and it looks a thousand times better. I suspect they’ll fix this building because it is visible to folks driving to the Gym during Olympics. The other hell holes on campus will be neglected, I suspect.

3pm meeting. I have been asking to meet with the new media folks here since the day I arrived. FINALLY, the meeting. Just before three, the skies open up and there is a torrential downpour, so I walk the 100 yards or so from my apartment to my office and am completely soaked when I arrive. There were several inches of water on the ground and my shoes were completely submerged in this mucky goo….hope it was not sewer back up – but the odor is telling me it might be. The new media guy is very interesting and I would like to have built a relationship with him earlier. Frustrating. He tells me what courses they are teaching and also explains a bit about who gets blocked and why. He says he thinks there are commercial reasons not just political reasons that some sites get blocked. He says the Chinese version of YouTube has pressured the government to shut down YouTube to help draw audience to their site. He also says the Chinese govt attempt to force folks to use their Real Name on blogs was a non-starter. I clean out what is left in my office, give Mercy a few gifts and say goodbye to Renmin office…and do not shed a tear. My lasting impression of Renmin is that it was an opportunity largely missed, part of it my fault for not speaking Chinese and unable to find out who was who. But a bigger part is their fault for leaving me here with minimal and lame attempt to include me in the university, department, etc..

Head home and have a quick dinner of Annie’s Mac. I spend the night logging tape and rewriting script for OAG story. Now that I have my extended visa, it is now safe to book my return flight….but there are OUTRAGEOUS PRICES TO CHANGE AIRFARE..$2291 to fly home August 21 but August 14 only $465. Insane. Leave early? Try to get OAG or other clients to pay a portion of the fee? I call Stephen and travel agent for advice.

Tuesday. Load in audio for OAG, cut down soundbites, and figure out how to ftp files. I am feeling more tech-savvy than ever….so something must be wrong!

Katie and I head out to the grocery store late afternoon. I have been reading Richard Ford’s “The Lay of the Land”, the last in the Frank Bascombe trilogy. Bascombe refers to this phase of his life (he’s 55, divorced twice and has cancer) as the “Permanent Period” (some time after the mid-life crisis). As Katie and I navigate the grocery store, I decide that I have entered the “Permanent Pissed-Off Period”. What little patience I ever had (there was never much) is gone. I cannot listen to another person hawking yogurt at me from an over-modulated microphone attached to their head. I cannot watch people cut in line, or slip into the five-items-or-less aisle with a full carriage of food. I will not tolerate another shove or push by an eager beaver trying to get at the same bit of produce that I have my hand on. And I am dumbstruck every time someone hucks up a big wad of phlegm and spits it inches from me. I know I am being culturally insensitive, but common courtesies that I take for granted, are greatly in need here. One of my Chinese friends has made it her personal crusade to admonish every spitter she encounters. I wish her great success.

I use Skype to call Only A Game at 9pm for the final edit on the script and and instructions on ftp-ing the files….only to find out that my effort to send the stuff this morning worked, and they have all the files. All systems are go. Stay tuned to your radios for a very corny story about navigating in English around Beijing.

Meanwhile, I am in a panic that I will get stuck paying thousands of dollars if I wait another day to book return flight. So I book the return flight….and feel totally relieved. I hope any fireworks that happen during the Olympics will occur in the first week before I take off.

Wednesday. Record voice tracks and ftp them to OAG. Also send some not great audio to The World. Can’t seem to pin them down. Monitor wants every story I’ve suggested, but so far no final edit on migrant school. Clean out tons of files, fill the garbage can. Try lining up another story. I thought Eve was coming to take Katie to a movie but I guess I misunderstood. Katie is glued to YouTube cartoons until I force a bit of reading and journal writing. New York Times reports tonight that Tibet is now open to tourists….but I’m booked for Xinjiang and can’t get out of it. I am totally bummed.

Thursday. Work all morning, organizing files, researching stories. Katie’s friend Louisa is supposed to come for an overnight but she calls and says she sick. Katie is really bummed now. So we decide to go see Kung Fu Panda at the nearby theater. Not bad. This film has become the latest insanity in China’s nationalistic blogosphere. There are calls for a boycott of the movie cuz it is about pandas –i.e. Sichuan, and thus insensitive to earthquake victims, or boycott cuz it was not made by a Chinese film maker, or boycott cuz there aren’t enough Chinese stars. This irrational, nationalistic strain in the Chinese populace scares me deeply.

Friday. We make a plan to meet Celine for lunch and get my haircut. Katie had a lousy night sleep, was attacked by mosquitoes (even though the windows are all closed – they must come in through the AC vents). She is miserable, but seeing Celine she perks up. We eat pizza at Kro’s Nest and then Celine takes me to this outrageously expensive pamper salon where I get a great haircut, compete with head and neck massage, for less than I’d spend at home, but still way more than the average Chinese shop. We then walk around the Sanlitun area and then head to Silk Market yet again…..this time Katie wants a pocketbook and flipflops and I figure I owe her that after a week of mom’s little junior reporter. Celine heads off for a dinner date and Katie and I manage to find Annie’s Italian restaurant on the 3rd ring road. Reallllly great food. Nice place. When we leave, it is pouring and getting a cab is tricky. It has been raining a lot lately – of course we never have an umbrella when we need it. Everyone is saying this is a much cooler and wetter summer than normal around here, but I’d prefer this to the heat.

Saturday: Last night at 11 I plunged the toilet and got it to work. But Katie’s first flush of the day doesn’t work. And all the plunging and snaking tricks that usually work, don’t. Simon arrives at 10 to take us to my student Pensy’s house. Before we leave Simon and Pensy try to get the ladies at the front desk to call the plumber but they won’t unless I stay to let them in. I try to give the ladies my keys but they won’t take them. Don’t want to be responsible if things are stolen. We argue back and forth and then give up. I’ll deal with the toilet later. We drop Katie at Louisa’s on the way for an overnight. It is a two plus hour drive to Pensy’s and we are still technically in Beijing! Pensy lives in the peach capital of the world and it is peach season so there are peach stalls all along the roads. The rotary in the center of her city is a giant multicolored peach designed by Tsinghua University art students. Pensy’s family’s apartment from the exterior looks like your basic four story apartment building. But inside it is lovely, shiney, modern and comfortable. Her mother is cooking up a storm, two kinds of homemade dumplings, my (and Mao’s) favorite red pork dish hong su? rou, tons of green vegetables, chicken stomachs in a hot pepper sauce, chicken and cilantro soup, and diet coke. Clearly Pensy was paying attention to what I liked at our lunch last week! On the coffee table in the living room were huge bowls of fresh peaches and apricots. Delicious. Her parents were lovely, very talkative and funny. I wish I understood more of what they were saying. Simon and Pensy did their best to translate, but I lost a lot of good laughs. Pensy’s mother needle pointed and framed this adorable picture of two Chinese kids playing and gave it to me as a gift (I had her sign the back) as well as two huge boxes of peaches, and a bag of apricots. I was so touched by their generosity. I will never be able to eat all of these peaches! On the way home, Simon tells me he is in touch with some very interesting people who might be good sources for journalism. Unfortunately, I don’t have my recorder or we would have stopped to interview one of these guys. I get home around 5. Everyone is moving out this weekend and the lobby and elevators are chock full of people with boxes, furniture, etc. This building was not designed to move in and out of. The narrow passage between the front door and elevator is impossible to get through with anything bigger than a bread box. But they manage. I am holding two huge boxes of peaches, the framed picture, a bag of apricots and some of Katie’s papers and am squished in the back of the elevator that stops at every floor….Finally, get home, unload, and continue the cleaning and packing of our place. And eat lots of peaches for dinner. Sue comes over with chocolate cupcakes and I offer her some of the peaches. Stephen emails. His flight is delayed and he won’t be in until at least 5 tomorrow night.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Week 18 Guangzhou

Week 18

Saturday June 14. Flag Day

Stephen wakes me up at 9am with a phone call from home. I haven’t slept this late in a long time. He tells me that Tim Russert died. I read more on line and it is really hitting me hard. I never knew him personally, but I can’t imagine an election without his zeal and almost giddy thrill of the whole process. A real loss.

At eleven I head in to pick up Katie from her overnight. She calls me while I am in the cab about 90% of the way to her location, and asks if she can stay longer. I say I’ll kill another hour, so I have lunch at Starbucks and poke around the Friendship store. It is raining and I walk in sandals over to Aditi’s apartment complex and can’t find her building. I call and Aditi and Katie come to find me in the rain, carrying all of Katie’s last day of school desk contents, a backpack, an overnight bag and a box of home made Indian samosas, all getting soaked in the rain! We grab a cab and Katie and Aditi say farewell. I hope Katie will stay in touch with these kids…We are stuck in rainy traffic and it takes more than an hour to get home. I am glad, in a selfish way, that Katie did not have many playdates downtown because my entire day, from 11-3 is consumed with the logistics of going to get her and bringing her home…..only to turn around at 5:30 and head back into the city to meet Celine for dinner. We get there at 6:30 - a lovely place called Face near Worker’s Stadium, an old schoolhouse converted into a multi-story restaurant, Thai on one floor, Indian on another and Chinese on the first floor. Lovely, classy decour, but the food was just OK, or at least what I ordered, and very expensive. Celine had some interesting news, heard about her travels back to Boston. Funny that she has been to our house more recently than I have. It was nice to catch up with her. It will be odd to essentially be her intern in a few weeks as I get up to speed at NBC.. I hope NBC gives me some useful assignments, but if not, I’ve got enough freelance work to keep me occupied.

Sunday. Cleaning out. I start to go through all the accumulated papers, files, drawers of junk. It is amazing what you can collect in five months. I fill one giant suitcase with stuff to go home and fill a box with stuff that will stay for the next Fulbrighter, and third pile of what I will need to keep with me when I move to Elizabeth’s. Late afternoon Katie and I return to Subway, our new favorite restaurant, and check out the movie theater to see when “Kung Fu Panda” is showing, but it doesn’t start until next week. We buy a few groceries for lunches at modern plaza and then get some fruit and ice cream from Shen Shifu’s store. I wish I knew he was there all along, we could certainly given him some business.

Monday. Try teaching myself Soundtrack Audio editing. Too complicated. Download Free Audacity software and the computer starts revving up like a jet engine about to take off. Everything is frozen. I fear I’ve fried computer. Turn it off, try again, and it works! I actually send a soundbite to Joyce and David at The World and they get it. Major challenge met. Yuanyuan comes over with Katie after camp and they are outside the whole time. What I would have given to have found some kids in this neighborhood! Intense rain storm floods the porch…..we did leave the window open, but it wouldn’t have mattered since the water comes in all around the window anyway.

Tuesday --11 a.m. lunch with grads. Good discussion. Should have given them food long ago to make them talk. Louisa comes home with Katie and is staying overnight. Celine helps me line up tourism official for story for “Only A Game” on NPR. Judy leaves me her students’ papers. Unbelievable. The papers are all over the map in terms of quality of writing, research, analysis. The common thread is that they all think the western media is biased against China for reporting “bad news” such as: Beijing is polluted, inflation is increasing, the Olympic torch relay was disrupted. So the only news that is unbiased are stories that fawn over the wonders of the Chinese government. It is clear that they believe the purpose of journalism is to help improve the image of China, not to tell the TRUTH, whether it is good, bad, or indifferent. But as infuriating, faulty and depressing as their analysis was, I was touched by several students who thanked me in their papers for coming to speak with their class and helping them to understand how western media functions and how Americans, or at least this American, think about China. One student really bought what I had to say, and told his classmates to stop playing the victim of the western imperialists and begin to recognize that China is not perfect and can and should listen to criticism. For that reason alone, to think that I actually did add to a few students understanding of American journalism, makes this whole adventure worthwhile.

Wednesday -- go to BISS to resolve camp $ and reimbursement and neither gets resolved. They are still not sure that there are enough kids to hold camp next week, and the accounting office still does not have our tuition deposit reimbursement ready. A wasted trip. I have my last class with the undergrads and they present their final stories and they were reallllly good. Eve especially, revamped her 9 minute opus into a much better 4 minute story on China’s family planning policy. Hannah, Rosa, and Sofia all did very touching stories on earthquake aftermath, and Michelle did a nice job on traffic problems in Beijing. After, we all go to lunch with the auditing undergrads. I take them to the Qing Dynasty place and they are afraid to order because it is all so expensive. Lunch for 11 of us was not even $100. Right after lunch I run to interview tourism official for Only A Game story. All is perfect in Beijing according to this guy. New signs in English with Olympic logo pointing to all the venues, including Renmin Gymnasium – apparently it is an official Olympic venue. After dinner we take a walk and watch the women in the park doing their fan dance. A black women and two veiled women join the Chinese women and all get applause for trying it out.

Thursday. Morning flight to Guangzhou. Enroute to the airport, I need to call Celine and wake her up since cabbie appears to be going the wrong way. Arrive at White Swan around 1pm. Looks remarkably the same as it did ten years ago. We get settled and then change clothers and head to the US Consulate Public Affairs Section. It is a good talk on who do you trust in the media. The audience is the most openly critical of the Chinese system of any group I have met with. After the talk I meet privately with two reporters from a Guangzhou newspaper which I have been told is doing some “envelope pushing”, trying to do more investigative work. But after talking with them, I am even more confused about what can and cannot be published here. Essentially, I got a lot of evasive answers and told every story is dealt with on a case by case basis in consultation with the government. They assured me that even though they were commercially run, the company is the government, and censorship is as alive and well at their paper as it is at the 12 main central government media organs. They say it takes a lot of wisdom to know where the always moving line is, and how not to cross it. Katie has been hanging out at the consulate playing on the computer and is ready to head back to the hotel. We have dinner at the lovely main dining room overlooking river.

Friday up and out by 9am to Jinan University. Student meets me in the lobby to take me to the 10am lecture. It is muggy. Guangzhou is way bigger and dirtier than I remember and no bikes. Ten years ago thousands of bikes were at every intersection. The morning lecture on whether western media is biased against China is great; students are very engaged, defensive, combative. After, I have lunch with Ellen, the professor who invited me and a very young Dean of the communications. Katie calls and is bored with the hotel babysitter I’d arranged and wants to join us for lunch. Katie arrives with sitter. She is bored and wired, precocious bordering on obnoxious, but the Chinese faculty, staff and students are all enamored with her and treat her like a princess, calling in an IT person to help her play her computer game!!! My afternoon lecture on new media is a snooze. I think the students had used all their energy in the morning. Katie listens in to the QA portion which is pretty lame. We head back to hotel for a long swim in the pool, and dinner of pizza in the hotel bar.