Thursday, December 24, 2009

On Wishing You A "Merry Christmas"

In recent days, my e-mail inbox has been filling up with holiday wishes from colleagues, students, and others who we encountered during our year of living in China. Invariably, these greetings involve an explicit "Merry Christmas!"

I mention this because it seems clear that I am having more "Merry Christmas" exchanges with my (presumably non-Christian) Chinese friends than with people from around here (many of whom I know are Christians).

I have to admit my feelings on this phenomenon run both ways. On the one hand, I really think it is a shame that "Merry Christmas" is receding as a wish at this time of year. On the other hand, the use of this greeting by most in China is solely a function of admiration for and imitation of all things Western.

It was almost a year ago that the four of us were sitting around a xiao fandian on Saoziying Dajie, trading "Merry Christmas" stories with a fellow American. All of us were griping about the rampant use of this religious sentiment by those who likely had no clue whatsoever that Christmas is actually a religious holiday. (Trust us...It can be very wearying over the span of an entire holiday season.)

What a difference a year makes. Today I'd love to walk down the street and be on the receiving of a random "Merry Christmas" salutation. At least I have those e-mails to tide me over...


PS: Can you guess in which of our capital city homes the accompanying photo was taken?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Lee Sigelman

Lee Sigelman, a colleague, mentor, and friend, passed away the night before last at the age of 64 after a two-and-a-half year battle with colon cancer.

My first-ever conversation with Lee turned out to be one of the most important personal and professional encounters of my entire life. Desi and I were still living down in Durham and I was on the job market. The phone rang...

"This is Lee Sigelman, the chair of the Department of Political Science at George Washington University. You applied for our position in methodology, which has been filled." Hmm...This is unusual...A department chair personally telling me I didn't get the job.

Lee went on. "Don't worry. Things are going to get interesting for you. We also had an open position in public opinion, which you don't study." I'm still puzzled...

Then came the punch line. "We remembered your file and have a ongoing need for a person in public policy, which you do study. We'd like you to come on up for an interview."

Yes, it was a phone call that affected the very course of my life, not just professionally, but personally as well.

But Lee was not done. Once I got up to DC, every time I started a new project, I would walk into his office and run my ideas past him. Invariably, his response would be, "You want to work on topic X? I've written a couple of articles on that very subject. Here they are..." And just like that, my new project was off and running.

For years, I was envious of all of my colleagues, at GW and beyond, who had had the chance to co-author articles and books with Lee. It seemed to me that I was the only political scientist who had not had such an opportunity. But then, one day, Lee walked into my office and asked, "What do you know about legislative earmarks for institutions of higher education?" Not much...But I want to learn! The paper that resulted from that collaboration is apparently still read today, if judged by the number of times I get requests from journal editors to review manuscripts on the topic.

At about the time Lee was diagnosed with cancer, I was working on my Fulbright application. As usual, Lee offered timely and really useful comments that helped shape the application and, over the course of the past year, open the door up to a whole new world for me, Desi, and the kids.

Thank you, Lee, for everything! We are really going to miss you...


Sunday, December 20, 2009

We've Dug Out The House And The Cars...

...And we're all still on talking terms!

~Steve, Desi, Julie, and Z