Saturday, September 12, 2009

We're Not The Only Ones Trying To Bring China To The US

For many months now, we've known that Professor Qiu, who graciously hosted us twice at Tongji University in Shanghai, was coming to America for five months this fall, to be a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Meeting Professor Qiu at Reagan National Airport, I was not exactly sure where I was going to be driving him that night. Sure, we had been in touch online in the weeks leading up to his arrival, and had discussed a number of ways in which he might find a place to stay in the Washington, DC area. But, as far as I was concerned, it was not clear that Professor Qiu had actually identified a viable option before getting on that plane and traveling to the other side of the world.

Now, this might strike you as not all that different than the four of us going all the way up to Manzhouli without a hotel reservation. My sense, though, is that it is much, much harder to find an affordable apartment in DC than it is to locate a vacant hotel room for a single night. While the adventurer in me loves the concept of figuring things out as one goes along, the worrywart in me views Professor Qiu as having ratcheted this process up well beyond anything we have ever attempted.

The story will, of course, have a happy ending. On the night he arrived, Professor Qiu directed me to drive him to a nice-looking guest house just off of Rock Creek Park, where he had arranged to stay for two nights while he searched for a permanent solution. And, last I heard, Professor Qiu was using his connections among Chinese government officials here in DC to help him out in this difficult process.

As an outside observer, though, I confess to being more nervous right now than I ever was when we were wandering the streets of Inner Mongolia. Now I understand how some of you must have felt when reading our accounts from afar!


Monday, September 07, 2009

Here's One More Reason I Could Pretend I Was Back In China

Like pretty much every Chinese city, big and small, Toronto has its very own "Pearl Tower," as the four of us have taken to calling all buildings that look like this. They do make for some good photos, whether viewed from up close or out the window of an airplane.


Did You Know That There Is Instant Replay In Major League Baseball?

I know I didn't!

But there it was...Randy Ruiz of the Toronto Blue Jays hit a home run off Andy Pettitte of the New York Yankees. The ball, from my vantage point, appeared to hit the foul pole, which, again from where I was sitting behind home plate (thanks Paul!), seemed to be located entirely in fair territory at the Rogers Centre, the lovely home field of the Blue Jays. (Actually, it kind of felt like a home game for the Yankees. With the Blue Jays being so bad, it being Labor Day weekend, and New York not being all that far from Toronto, the stadium and the city as a whole was a place where one could hear way more "fugetaboutits" than "ehs.")

With the stadium (well, those in attendance who were actually cheering on the Blue Jays) going crazy, the umpires caucused on the field, then dashed out of sight. The jumbo HD screen in center field blared out "PLAY IS UNDER REVIEW."

Sure enough, five minutes later, the umpires reemerged and waved off the run. All I can say is that it was very fitting when, in his very next at bat, Ruiz hit a home run that actually counted.

Final score...Yankees 6, Blue Jays 4.


A Meeting Of The American Political Science Association...In Canada!?

It's kind of funny, I think, for the American Political Science Association to hold a meeting in a foreign country, but that's indeed what took me to Toronto for the weekend. The meeting was a welcome chance for me to reconnect with several other members of the International Working Group on Online Consultation and Public Policy Making. I missed out on the group's get togethers in DC and Paris while we were busy in Beijing and beyond.

The good news for our group's little panel? Audience members outnumbered panelists...barely!


I Just Couldn't Take It Any Longer, So I Went Back To China

Uh, ChinaTOWN, that is...

Presented with the opportunity to travel to Toronto so soon after our return to the United States, I jumped at the chance with excitement. You see, Toronto has one of the larger Chinatowns in North America. Here, then, was an excuse to speak some Chinese, and to let my five sense (with apologies to Desi!) by bombarded by all kinds of welcome stimuli...

Sight. As I walked up Spadina toward Tangrenjie, I kept looking for those familiar signs to appear, even if I can't read every character. I knew I had arrived when I spied places up ahead with names like 市场 (supermarket) and 饺子馆 (dumpling house). It didn't matter that the characters were of the traditional variety used in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and overseas Chinese communities, rather than the simplified ones present on the mainland. (They are written above in their simplified versions, the only ones I know how to type.)

Smell. Ah, the scent of dried fungus! Alas, all of the meats and sea creatures were kept way in the back of the marketplaces.

Hearing. The four of us are so ridiculous in the DC area. The moment one of us catches a single syllable of Mandarin, the word goes out and our collective antennae go up. Being immersed in the stuff in Chinatown alleviated the need for such targeted eavesdropping. If only they could get rid of all that Cantonese! (Just kidding, Guangdong pengyou!)

Feel. I know this sounds weird, but it was great to stroll down the streets with a bottle of my go-to green tea cradled in my hands. Yep, downright weird, Balla...

Taste. This (of course!) was the real highlight of the weekend. When I discovered a place that has tudousi and huanggua on the menu, I wasted no time in ordering these northern China standbys that are hard to come by overseas. (It's hard for us to believe that before we moved to China, we had never eaten tudousi, given just how much of a staple dish it is.) Then, a few minutes later, I happened to catch four Chinese characters written on a sign on the wall...京酱肉丝. I have no idea what the English name for this dish would be, but you might recall it is one of Desi's favorites. Thinly sliced tofu squares, pork chopped into silk-like threads, spring onions. The Toronto rendition? Not as good as Restaurant #3, but pretty darn tasty.

And that's the general take-away message. Toronto's Chinatown gave me a glimpse back into the lives we lived for a year. It certainly wasn't quite the same, but it sure gave me a nice little fix!