My 4 week trip to China is a week done, and I thought I would document the trip to date (you know us old guys have trouble remembering the details!).
Four years I received a request to host and sponsor a PhD student from Bejing Normal School. Zhijun Wang soon worked her way into our hearts and proved to be a very helpful and capable student. After her thesis on connectivism and her graduation, and a new baby, she accepted a faculty job at Jiangnan University. A year later she invited me to teach her Masters degree students for a month in the Department of Educational Technology, where she has just recently been appointed a very young department chair. The course I am teaching is called Advanced Research Methods – but it isn’t that advanced (which is fine, as neither am I!). We are focussing on the hot methodology of ‘design-based research’.
Wuzi is located about 70 km west of Shanghai and is one of those Chinese cities of 6.2 million people that almost nobody I know had ever heard off. This is (I think) my 6th trip to China and I have to say that Wuzi is by far the prettiest large city that I have visited. The City is located on the ancient Grand Canal on the edge of Tai Lake one of the largest lakes in China. The relatively new University campus is on the lakeshore on the Western outskirts of the City. The campus (like the old City Centre is bisected by a number of canals and small rivers – complete with lily pads, fish and the the odd scenic bridge. The day I arrived the air was pretty thick (not nearly as bad as the Beijing soup, but a bit disconcerting). However a rain fall the second day cleared away the smog and has been clear skies the rest of this week.
I’ve been accommodated in “foreign teacher” apartments that are quite spacious, one bedroom suites. The other teachers here are from all over the place, with maybe the largest component from Australia. Today I enjoyed a United Nations type talk over beers in our courtyard – and yes the Trumper was talked about.
I’ve been met for breakfast and most lunches by grad students who want to practice their English and it is really a treat to get to talk and ask questions about the ‘real China’. On Thursday four students took me to Three Kingdoms theme park.
You’ve probably noticed how much Chinese people enjoy watching ancient warriors (with or without supernatural powers) battle each other and win princesses. Well, many of those movies were shot on the 86 acre or site built for that purpose and when not actively making films – the tourists descend. However Wuzi is quite far off the international tourist circuit and I think I was the only ‘big nose’ foreign tourist at the park that day. We toured the palaces (all built of stone) on the model of the Forbidden City in Bejing, the parks, castles and docks. We also watched a pitched battle between sword and various other weapon-carrying soldiers galloping around on horses. The speed and acrobats of the horseman was impressive, but the rides for visitors after the performance were pathetic by Calgary cowboy standards – the saddles all had big steel handles to hold onto while an employee took the reins and led the riders (walking) around the arena.
Last night Zhijung and a colleague took for dinner in the “ancient canal zone” which was very impressive. Lots of restaurants and bars and people out for a Friday evening stroll.
We also saw a group of 20 or so amateur musicians playing traditional Chinese instruments and singing opera ballads. We ended the evening with a 45 minute boat ride through the central part of town and saw the usual spectacular high rise buildings (most lit up) and a new Mosque and a very old Buddhist temple – which still has monks.
My course is going well and they ended class on Friday by bringing in a birthday cake for me and singing (with not quite right tune, nor words)
I finally got it together to buy a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that allows me to use the Internet and makes the sites visited think I am located in a selection of cities around the world- one of which I choose. This allowed me
to watch a couple of NHL games streamed on CBC (which CBC restricts to Canadian sites). Fortunately the Oilers lost on Thursday, so I do not need to be too compulsive about watching the remainder of the playoffs. More importantly, the VPN allows me to access the numerous sites that are blocked in China – including Google, Google Scholar, Facebook, Twitter YouTube, Netflicks and many more. It is interesting to see the extensive use of WeChat and I am told many other equivalent net applications that are Chinese – no Google and Facebook domination here!
I have been delivering my classes in English(of course), but I cut and paste Google translation of the text into Chinese characters beside, the English text. And having Zhijung as a ready translator really helps as well.
This morning one of the Faculty took me to visit historic town of Dankou. Near the entrance a little boy asked my Chinese Colleague if I was a ‘real foreigner’ – I guess I must be looking more Chinese now, if he couldn’t tell. The town was nice to walk through – no cars and lots of boats on the canal. I also saw a man returning from fishing with 4 cormorants in the boat. Each of the birds went fishing with string on their leg and a ring around their neck so as not to swallow the catch.
Next weekend, we are off to China’s old capital of Nanjing for a couple of nights as a tourist and then visiting and giving a talk at Jiangsu Open University. All for now