Saturday, June 06, 2009

I Am A Professor At Ocean University Of China

No, really, I am! Prior to my lectures at the school of law and politics, a ceremony was held where I was given a three-year appointment as a visiting professor. Here's how the ceremony went...

中国海洋大学聘请Steven J. Balla教授为客座教授


Appointment Ceremony Outlines


Moderator: Xiaoyong Shi (Vice-chief of Division of Personnel, China Ocean University)


Time: 2:00 PM May 31st , 2009


Location: Moot court of Law and Political School


Moderator introduces the guests and the participants.


Moderator declares open the invitation ceremony.

3.中国海洋大学法政学院政治系副主任郭培清教授Steven J. Balla教授宣读简历

Prof. Qingpei Guo, vice-director of department of Politicals, Law and Political School, reads out the CV of Prof. Steven J. Balla

4.中国海洋大学校领导(或院领导) 。。教授颁发聘书

Leader of China Ocean University, or leader of Law and Political School, awards the letter of appointment to Prof, Steven J. Balla.

5.学生代表为Steven J. Balla教授佩戴校徽

Students’ representative fastens the University Badge for Prof. Steven J. Balla.

6.学生代表为Steven J. Balla教授献花

Students’ representative presents flowers to Prof. Steven J. Balla.

7.中国海洋大学校领导或法政学院领导 。。。教授向Steven J. Balla教授赠送礼品

Leader of China Ocean University, or leader of Law and Political School,, presents the gift to Prof. Steven J. Balla.

8Steven J. Balla教授致答谢词

Speech of thanks by Prof. Steven J. Balla


Speech by University leader or school leader.

10 集体合影留念 并宣布聘任仪式结束

Photo-taking and Ceremony ends.


Hong Wan Lv Shu

Qingdao is a seaside city about an hour's plane ride from Beijing. Back when China was weak and western powers were flexing their muscles, Qingdao was a German concession. Although the Germans are long gone (the common foreigners here now are Japanese and Koreans), Qingdao still has the fingerprints of its European past. Most famously, Qingdao is home to the beer bearing the name of the city (you know it as Tsingtao).

But the Germans left behind not only their brewing skills. They also built an impressive collection of houses with red roofs, hence the phrase (above) that translates as "red roofs, green trees." As the city is dotted with small hills, we climbed up to the top of several (including xiaoyushan, Small Fish Mountain) and got a bird's eye view of lao shiqu (old downtown). (As you might imagine, there is a new downtown, and Qingdao now boasts a population nearly the size of New York City.)

One of the byproducts of living in China for such a long period of time is that we get the opportunity to see places, like Qingdao, that are distinctive in some visual or cultural way. Sure, there are strong ties that bind this country together. But China is no one dimensional place, although current government policies continue to push the nation in an ever more homogeneous direction. I only hope that everyday people continue to preserve China's regional flavors, so that cities like Qingdao persist into the future as more than museums to a varied past.


Birthday Party At Pang Shifu

About a month ago, when Hui Min heard that Julie's birthday was coming up, she insisted that we all come to Pang Shifu for dinner on the big day.

Who is Hui Min? Hui Min and her family members operate a small, Hunan-style restaurant (the name of which translates into "The Fat Chef") in an alleyway smack dab in the middle of our neighborhood. We have enjoyed many a delicious meal in this simple, down home place, sitting at the plain wooden tables, sipping cha, and trading stories about our respective families' lives. (Hui Min and company are actually from Inner Mongolia. They shut the restaurant down for a month during chun jie, so they could make the eighteen-hour train journey back home.)

When our dinner was completed, we got out the cake we had just had made around the corner, lit the candles, and broke into a chorus of zhu ni shengri kuai le. What a strange sight that must have been..A waiguoren family, in this obscure alleyway on the outskirts of Beijing, singing the happy birthday song together.

It was enough to make me wonder...Just where on Earth will you be fourteen years from now, Julie?


This Is The Beijing Amusement Park

The image you should have in your head is Dutch Wonderland with Chinese characteristics.

Here's the Dutch Wonderland part of the story...

It's like turning the clock back twenty-five years, to when a roller coaster than turns upside down was a big deal. The rides were of a kinder, gentler sort...Definitely not a place for modern day thrill seekers.

Here's the Chinese characteristics part of the story...

There was no one at the park. In fact, when we pulled up in front of the entrance, we walked around for like five minutes, to look for any evidence that the rides were actually working. It turns out that the operators were in fact on the scene, just waiting for the several dozen of us in the park to come by for a twirl. As for the water rides, it was all about the ponchos. For three kuai, you could buy a plastic cover and stay high and dry, even on the log flume.

The real upside of all of this? We were able to go from ride to ride, with no lines to speak of. Our own, private playground. Now, Julie, you know what it was like when Elvis rented out that Memphis amusement park on Lisa Marie's birthday...


Tian'anmen Square On The Anniversary

Yes, we were there, in Tian'anmen Square, on the twentieth anniversary of the "incident." We can only report what we experienced, as ordinary foreigners checking out the scene on a historically unusual day. We are not reporters, nor are we activists who would attract the attention of public security officials.

As for those officials, you may have read in western news accounts that security officials perhaps outnumbered tourists in the square. We witnessed nothing of the sort. There were plenty of domestic visitors, huddled under umbrellas to protect themselves from the blazing sun and heat. (It was about thirty five degrees that day, the hottest so far this year.)

There were also a number of foreigners in Tian'anmen. Speaking only for these four foreigners, we did not have our passports checked, nor was security at the entrance any tighter than it has been on any of our previous visits.

What we can say is that, scattered throughout the square, there were definitely more public officials than usual, but their presence was not aggressive, in-your-face, or anything like that. And we witnessed no tussles, or anything remotely out of the ordinary.

For us, on June 4, 2009, Tian'anmen Square was a place where you had to look fairly hard for evidence of tension. As is often the case in these parts, things looked pretty good out in the open spaces of society.


This Is What It's Like... turn 14 on the other side of the world. A virtual candle and g-squared in two dimensions.

Happy birthday, Julie!


Friday, June 05, 2009

Jin Gao

Yep...This is another blog about food! But why not when China, and especially Xi'an, are like buffets just waiting for you to put some more food on your plate?

One of Xi'an's tese foods is jin gao, or "glazed glutenous rice cake." The way these cakes are prepared is really interesting. First, the man standing behind the cart asks you what toppings you want. (I normally tell them to give me the tastiest flavor or their favorite.) Then, he grabs something like a clay bowl off the top of a stacked pile.

These bowls of ground sticky rice are being steamed all the time, so when a customer comes by, the xiao tanr owner just grabs the one on top. Next, he takes two sticks and stabs the side of the cake to take it out of the bowl. He "paints" a glaze on each side, flips it in some sugar and seeds, and hands the completed jin gao to you, all in one motion. Finally, you pay the fee...1.5 RMB, or 11 cents.

This little treat is just one of the Xi'an specialties . You can order it with strawberry glaze, grape glaze, or a natural glaze with sunflower seeds.

Jin gao makes the Muslim Quarter just a little bit more exciting, and adds a new flavor to a walk around its streets.



Kevin is my terra cotta warrior. He is about two feet tall, and is a kneeling archer. I bought him on Huimin Jie in Xi'an for forty-five yuan, after a lot of bargaining. The starting price was one hundred twenty yuan. My price was twenty-five yuan. I know, I doubled my price, but I really wanted him.

Along with Kevin, we also bought two small boxes of terra cotta warriors for ten yuan each. The woman wrapped Kevin in a box, and we headed out.

Here was the first obstacle. Kevin weighed a ton! We took shifts until we arrived back at the hotel and went to the airport.

The second obstacle? How would we get him on the plane? After carrying Kevin on the long trek to the terminal, we arrived at our gate. After readjusting his wrapping (which included newspaper, my pants, my shirt, and my shorts), we boarded. Kevin "slept" under my seat on the ride. Back at the house, I set him on the table. That is where he remains today.


Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Follow Me To The Best Noodles In China, Take Two

What America has in pizza, China has in noodles. Different styles, tastes, and, of course, opinions about which are the best. Ask any New Yorker what they think of Chicago deep dish...You get the idea. Square, round, thick, thin, fast food, gourmet...Everyone has his favorite.

It is no different here with noodles. In Taiyuan, we all enjoyed dao shao mian (although a man in the alleyway told us Datong's version is much better). These were neat not only because they tasted good, but also in the way they were prepared...The chef slicing noodles from a block of dough into a boiling pot.

Thin, thick, wheat-based, rice flour-based, even potato flour-based...They're all really delicious. But a few places and types do stand out and "float to the top."

In addition, to our little family owned and operated noodle place in Taiyuan, there's another place not so near but very dear to our hearts (and tummies!) in Xi'an.

Back in September, we came upon a place on Huimin Jie in the Muslim Quarter, and ate there each afternoon...Yes, every day! Once we find a place we like, we tend to make repeat appearances. This time, when we arrived back in Xi'an, this little fandian was one of our first stops. What again seems to be a family business, with mom cooking the noodles, dad preparing the plates by topping them with cubes of lamb, potatoes, carrots, celery, tomatoes, doufu, and lajiao if you prefer, grandpa clearing plates and washing dishes, while a few younger employees (not sure if they are related or not...last time we were convinced that the girl and young man who were helping were definitely the kids of the owners, but they weren't here this time) served the hungry customers.

While it isn't easy to choose a favorite noodle, or a favorite noodle house for that matter, I know that all four of us are willing to keep up the "hard work" of trying to decide!

We'll get back to you...


Eating At A Farm House With The Good People Of Northwest University

After my lectures at Xibei Daxue, the four of us were treated to a nice dinner at a farmhouse located at the foot of the mountains outside of Xi'an. When the group noticed that Z was really digging the bread, they made sure copious amounts were delivered to our table, even though they (as is usually the case) found his eating habits to be, shall we say, unconventional. Some baijiu (Chinese "white wine"...think grain alcohol) even made the rounds, and Desi and I managed to not be party poopers and not do anything foolish. We even understood most of the conversation...With a big assist from He Jing! A really fun evening!


Monday, June 01, 2009

"This Is The First Time I Have Ever Asked A Foreign Professor A Question..."

"...And so I am really nervous." This was how a student at Xibei Daxue (Northwest University) in Xi'an prefaced a question after I had finished my lectures on the politics of the Internet and the presidency. As for his question itself, it went something like this...

"I see that you graduated from Duke University. I know that Shane Battier, who plays really great defense, also graduated from Duke University. What do you think of him?"

Here were some other questions I was asked to respond to...

"What is the most important thing you have ever done?"

"What is your biggest regret?"

Desi, Julie, and Z joined me for a few minutes at the end, to add a family perspective to the cultural exchange that was going on. Z received the following question...

"Did you know that many young Chinese boys are addicted to computer games on the Internet. Is it the same in America?"

All I can say about the breadth of these questions is that I found a way to link Shane Battier to the topics of my lectures, when I replied that I wouldn't be surprised if Shane Battier were one day elected president of the United States.


Sunday, May 31, 2009

If Only They Hadn't Torn Down Beijing's City Wall

On our return trip to Xi'an, we just had to get right back up on the wall and pedal around for a couple of hours. I really like the little neighborhood scenes you can capture from up there...


Back To The Boys

When I was really young, I wanted to be an archaeologist. I loved rocks and digging in dirt (even as a girl!). At one point, I even attempted to create and bury a "fossil" by taking a leaf from a mimosa tree, squeezing it between two rocks (it reminded me of those ancient fern fossils you always see pictured in books), digging a hole, and covering it up.

The reason I didn't pursue this dream became apparent on our return trip to Bingmayong. While the terra cotta warriors we still all in their places, line after line of distinct poses and faces, there was something a bit different in one of the pits. There was actually some excavation being done. While not as awe inspiring as viewing the already reconstructed and well placed warriors, it was perhaps more interesting to watch the process of uncovering this AAAAA national treasure.

Last time in Xi'an, we wondered if there was any work being done to uncover the rest of the predicted six thousand soldiers. While the ones that have been uncovered "blow you away" when you enter the pit, there are several sections where what you see is simply dirt. It seemed to us that the discovery of these guys had happened in 1974, and there was an immediate push to set up a tourist spot fairly quickly (in 1976). But had there been any observable works since?

As we headed around the observation pavilion, we noticed a few women (middle aged and dressed like any other ayi you'd see in Beijing) sitting and chatting within one of the pits. There was a man with them, who sat next to a wooden cart. They all seemed to be content, sitting and chatting (while we were all jealous that they were on that side of the wall...just feet from the warriors!). They were in no hurry to go anywhere, and we wondered what they were doing there.

Around an hour later, and close to closing time, we returned to Pit #1 (the main pit), and slowly made our way around, observing the section which contained what I would call the "terra cotta jigsaw puzzles"...Partially reconstructed warriors, whose numbers seem to be up a bit from our prior trip last September. While there were no archaeologists piecing them together (there never seems to be anyone but a guard in the pit...except for those other people I mentioned earlier), they're interesting to see. I can only imagine the painstaking work that must go into their reconstruction...Probably one of the reasons I didn't pursue this career!

As we walked a bit further, we noticed that same crew again, this time actually in one of the excavation sites. Were they archaeologists or a clean up crew, we may never know, but their job was to remove bags of dirt that had been loosened from atop one of the excavation sites. The women worked in teams of two to transport bags of dirt to the cart held by the man. Bag after bag, they lifted and carried. I was beginning to understand why the entire site has not been uncovered, albeit thirty-five years have gone by! No modern machinery here. Just as with most projects in China, people power.

At one point, I mentioned to Steve my prior career aspirations, and the fact that while it always sounded great, the idea of in fact using toothbrushes to excavate an area of so great a magnitude and sifting through each precious ounce of soil for clues to the past, would drive me crazy!

"You just like the idea of archeology. You're glad that there are other people who are archaeologists," is what his response was. At that point, I realized he was right, and that I should have no regrets for the other path I took! I payed mental homage to all the hands that went into unearthing the warriors, and decided that it is OK to live vicariously through other archaeologists' work, especially one who is our resident "Indiana Jones"...Yes, that's you, Robert!


Dollar Bill Diplomacy

For months, Desi has carried a dollar bill in her bag, waiting for the chance to make good on a promise she made a while back. At our favorite Xinjiang restaurant, the laoban has, ever since we moved to China, been interested in all things relating to American money. How much money do you make? Wow! You are a rich man! How much does a plane ticket to America cost?

When he expressed a desire to have an American dollar bill, Desi was determined to take care of business. And I was determined to capture the moment on film. She may not be the Secretary of the Treasury, but she is bringing our two great nations together, one Uighur at a time...