From Lin’an, China
Hi Everyone: I hope everything is going well for all of you. Barry and I are off on our new adventure. We spent three days at the Expo in Shanghai with huge (500,000 each day), well-behaved crowds. The 102 degrees temperature the first afternoon was bearable because of the covered walkways, fans, and mist machines. The spectacular building designs compete: one is more creative and beautiful than the next!! If you’d like to see an overview of the Expo, go to <www.expo.cn> for a virtual tour. If we had looked there first, we would have avoided the Romania Pavilion, and the reallllllllly long wait there for a twenty minute Fiddler on the Roof concert that told us almost nothing about Romania or about a sustainable future, which is supposed to be the theme of the Expo. But we loved the pavilions for Norway, Ireland, and Croatia all for different reasons. Most pavilions are at least good. The third day we were smarter about avoiding some of the heat and didn’t go until the afternoon; it was cooler and we didn’t get caught in the almost daily downpour. In the seven hours we were there that day, we saw only the US pavilion (we by-passed the line with our passports and the help of two Harvard students working there) and the Chinese pavilion. Each Chinese province has a different exhibit. Of course, I wanted to see the Zhejiang exhibit, the province where we’ll be. But while most of the other Chinese pavilions were open for a walk through, Zhejiang had a two-hour wait with very tired looking people who were camped out on the floor. I learned people were waiting to see the “very unique exhibit” and a film about the water in Zhejian; we didn’t wait. I figured I’d get to see it for myself soon.
Here we are at Zhejian Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin’an, China, thanks to the connections Suzette and Liping made about a year ago linking UHMC and ZAFU as sister schools. We are being treated very well. Mr. Bao and several others met us when we arrived and treated us to a luncheon and an overview of the campus. We have a very nice faculty housing two-bedroom apartment. The view from the front of our apartment is of the student union and the mountains, and from the bedrooms, green bamboo and trees. We hear birds singing. The weather is warm, but not as hot as last week, when Barry’s glasses would fog up each time we left our air-conditioned room in the Shanghai hostel.
We had been told by Suzette and Liping that the ZAFU campus of 22,000 students is beautiful, but it is much more than I expected. There’s a lake, flowering bushes and flowers along the walkways, and a variety of over 200 kinds of trees. So it’s a pleasure to walk around and look at the plants and the people. Because our apartment is close to the A dormitories, the ones for freshmen, we’ve seen many students moving into the dorms. They seem happy and excited; their parents look sad.
Wednesday was a big day for me. I got my class assignments for the semester. I will be teaching eight oral English classes, each meets once a week for two hours. I’ll have thirty students in each class, which adds up to 240 students!! They are at three levels: freshmen, sophomore, and English minor students. In some ways that seems daunting. How will I learn all their names especially since we meet only once a week? However, the students all have to pass an English test to be admitted to the university, so I’ve been told that they have a rather good grasp of English. And I’ll be able to see how creative I can be to get these students who are normally in straight lecture classes to interact and speak English as much as possible. They each need to pass an oral test on a random topic for the school at the end of their sophomore year. My challenge will be to get them to have the experience and confidence to do very well. Tuesdays will be my longest day of four two-hour classes beginning at 8am and ending at 9pm. But I have classes only on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays!! And I’ll have no papers to grade since the classes are oral English. (Everyone in our UHMC English Department will be jealous). I think I have a great beginning assignment here.
And the other big news from yesterday is that I got a bike—in China!! It’s is a second-hand, no gear, blue, step-through bike that has a big basket on the front. I love it!! The price with a good lock was $18. The walk to classes takes about twenty minutes, but with the bike, I’ll be able to zip back and forth.
I get to share an office with Becky, the friendly NH woman who has been writing to me, and her husband Ryan. They offer incredible help.
And to help us get settled, the school has assigned Rahman, a forestry engineer major who loves basketball and whose English is excellent, to take us around to get our Internet hookup and cell phone (and another mattress since the Chinese think a hard bed—one quarter inch foam– is good for you). Rahman is a Uyghur (“we ger”), a Muslim minority group that National Geographic did a story on recently. Ninety-three percent of Chinese are Han. The fifty-five minority ethnic groups in China face many challenges, but Rahman is getting a good education and should have a bright future. Today, when we were in Lin’an (“lee on”), a ten-minute bus ride from this campus, Rahman took us to a Muslim restaurant for lunch, and the owner wouldn’t let us pay! The people who we have met are very friendly, and we are having a great time. I’m looking forward to meeting my students next week and seeing what classes will be like. Barry and I will be taking beginning Mandarin too, which should help us talk to people in this complex language.
We hope everything is going well for you.
Aloha, Renee & Barry