Monday, June 29, 2009

Final Post from an Extraordinary Journey

"15th century Chinese landscape painting from Shanghai Museum"

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Day 3 in Shanghai: "On Politics in China"

One of the great lessons that I have taken away from living and traveling abroad over the years is that the way we in the US see the world is not necessarily how other people see the world. What is important to us is not necessarily important to them. My conversations here in China reveal this fact yet again for me.

I have had four very substantial conversations with four Chinese people about politics in China. The conversations in total stretched to about four hours. They were one-on-one, private and free-flowing. I asked them often if they were comfortable with my questions, and they assured me they were. Each of them spoke excellent English.

I should add that the four people have no connection, don’t know each other and basically all agreed on what is to follow. They are all between the ages of 27 and 39, and are all well-educated.

This is what they said. (No particular order.) THESE ARE NOT MY OPINIONS.

1. Their priority in life is work and to improve themselves financially.

2. Politics is of little concern to them.

3. Tibet is of little or no concern to them. It is an undisputed fact to them that Tibet is part of historical China, and should remain so. Even if there were problems with treatment of Tibetans, that is more or less how it has always been with the 5% minority population. Not necessarily fair, but that’s how it is. (Think American Indians...95% of China is ethnically Han Chinese.)

4. Although there are real problems in China, such as pollution, they are happy with direction of country.

5. They see almost endless possibilities in terms of jobs. (These are university graduates who speak great English, so they have real advantages).

6. They are not interested in establishing multi-party democracy. The Communist Party, though flawed, is moving the country in right direction. Western style democracy may come in 20 to 50 years, but not sooner.

7. Mao is seen as a heroic figure by many but surely not all. He is seen as the father of transformation from semi-feudal old China to a new China, beginning a new chapter in Chinese history. He took giant first steps toward the life of today.

8. Mao is nearly universally condemned for Cultural Revolution, roughly 1966-76, when he died. He caused untold suffering for millions and turned the clock back years. One of them said their uncle was imprisoned for 10 years for being a landowner during that time.

9. Chinese people are very proud of their country and are proud to be Chinese.

10. The Chinese admire the US enormously and see it as a great place to study and visit.

11. They don’t think the US or anyone else has the right to tell them how to run their domestic affairs, especially given the unwarranted harm the West did to China historically. Events like the Boxer Rebellion and Opium Wars, when the West practiced naked and destructive imperialism, shows to them how hypocritical the West can be when they talk Tibet or human rights.

12. The fact that the Chinese government controls ALL of media in China still is not of great concern. All TV available to most Chinese is 100% government controlled. Chinese government has erected the “Great Firewall of China” on the internet as well, that limits access to some things. Chinese media supposedly discusses wide range of issues, but never direct assault on the government. Individual problems or some mistakes by some officials will be broadcasted. Chinese can get CNN, BBC, etc. on the internet. Some Chinese have satellite TV illegally.

13. These folks know that the history that they get in school and in the media about China and past problems is often inaccurate and untrue. Every one of them said to me after our conversations that they would have to read more about certain historical events. They knew very little about the Tiannamen Square massacre in 1989, for example.


Ok Folks, I think that is a wrap from China. I take a plane out tomorrow and will make final comments when I get back. It’s been an inspiring adventure to see this massive country in the throes of such dramatic change. I feel privileged to be here. People have been consistently charming and gracious. Thanks for all the great comments and support. Again, Susan Biggs has done a wonderful job on the blog. Thanks, Susan. And many, many thanks to Karen Gross and Al DeCiccio for making this happen.

Can’t wait to be home. I have missed my family so. Lots of love to you all. See you soon. Cheers, Tom

Day 10: View of Shanghai

Photo: Shanghai from the hotel. This is what 15 million people looks like.

Shanghai like an oven. 95- 95 as they say. Temp and humidity. In middle of thunder and electric storm on 21st floor.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Day 9: First Full Day in Shanghai

Photo: Tradition Meets Modernity in China: Buddhist monk at 1,700 year old temple talking on cell phone.
Today was prep day for the fair tomorrow in Shanghai and a bit more exploration. We were scheduled to visit high schools and yet Chinese government canceled the trips due to swine flu. TV indicated that American teachers and students traveling in China are infected. Not good. Met with our sponsors to explore more ways to be involved in China. Quite interesting.
We went to the Longhua Temple, Shanghai's oldest and most active Buddhist temple. Monks were seen walking about attending to their business. Said to be from Third Century and boasts a seven-story pagoda (still standing) from the Tenth Century. The temple is in beautiful shape.
From my 21st floor hotel window, I can see across the skyline of Shanghai. Just awesome.
Truly having a remarkable experience. Thanks to everyone for making it happen. Two days of Shanghai Fair begins in the AM. Be well. Cheers, Tom

Friday, June 19, 2009

Day 8: On the Train to Shanghai

Photo: The apartments that you can see were about half the total. These were in a small town in the country and seemed to just appear. Point being: the building is everywhere and huge. Also, smog is real.

It really is a matter of perspective, is it not? Being in Beijing for the past week, it is difficult not to be totally captured by the grandeur and the majesty of the capital. The soaring skyscrapers and the behemoth modern structures leavers one almost awestruck by the power and the glory of the "New China." And then you venture into the countryside and realize that "Old China" is not far away.

The nine hour train ride that we have taken reveals an extraordinary mix of old, often beaten houses and apartment building side by side large, new, architecturally creative, new high rises. It is as if there is an effort to raze the old bit by bit and replace it with the new. From our very limited exposure, it appears that the pace may vary in terms of how quickly the old is pushed aside and the new is developed. What seems obvious, though, is that it is methodical, systematic, and pervasive.

The pattern during the trip is pretty consistent. You have maybe 10-15 minutes where it is nothing but farmland. Almost all the land is under cultivation and very little land is undeveloped. There was a lot of corn, some rice, and many grasses that were unfamiliar. It was noteworthy that there were dozens of miles of rows of trees that were clearly planted to be replanted elsewhere. Then we would come upon a town with old, run down houses and buildings. About a quarter of a mile from the train tracks would be a series of brand new apartment buildings that were all one design, and there would be 10-20 of them side to side, between 10 to 20 stories high and 15 to 20 apartments wide. And then less than a quarter of a mile later would be another 10-20 buildings, and then another. It was relentless.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Day 6/7: Musings on Philosophy and Economics

Photo: Welcome to Beijing! Warning: Don't breathe deeply! The smog is so bad you cannot see past two or three blocks. The blue sky that met us the first two days here is an anomaly and may have been the clearest days of the year.

Hi folks,
Re: "comments" on Blog-- Let me explain that I cannot access the blog from here. (I have no trouble with email or websites.) So, I do apologize for not responding – until today- to the great comments you have all been making. It appears that my mug has found its way to the blog (you poor people) and that the text has come through as well. What appears to be happening is that we are witnessing the famous Chinese censorship at work. It appears to be quite selective, and yet blogs seem to fall into that category of Internet info that is deemed to be threatening. A colleague here stated that the Chinese government has 30,000 people reading internet traffic. An amazing number until you get here, and you think, “yep, that possible.”

(At this point in the show, let me acknowledge the truly extraordinary work our very own communications guru, Susan Biggs, has done on our collective behalf in this little adventure. Not only did she set up a very user-friendly blog that the technologically-challenged, like yours truly, can access with ease, she has marshaled the two-way traffic by email from me to you and vice-versa. She has been pasting and posting 7 days a week, night and day, to make this happen. So, thank you, Susan. Wonderful work!)

Speaking of hoards of people working on the Internet, an interesting observation about this communist/capitalist society is the issue of employment. Many people here work at a frenetic pace, and the services in the tourist business are incredible. When one observes the wait staff in restaurants or salespeople in the stores, they are there by the dozens. A colleague who has been years for years gave an example of the Chinese view of this. For example, he explained, that in the States if we need to dig a foundation for a building, one person could use a giant bulldozer, and do a very efficient job. In China, they may use 100 people to dig the hole that the bulldozer did by itself. (Not to suggest that they don’t use bulldozers, because they do.) The point is that both philosophically and economically, they are better off having 100 workers employed- even at very low wages- than not. With 1.35 billion, this is no small matter.

Message to Megan:

Thanks for following the trip here. It is really great to know that you are on the other end of these postings. In terms of the changes since 1978, it is a pretty simple contrast between a traditional communist country (like USSR, Cuba, East Germany, etc. all of which I visited in those days too) and a modern capitalist society. In the former, it is not a consumer society. The countries resources, especially in a poor country like China was in 1978, go to the state businesses, which was about 99% of the economy, health, education, culture, the military and security. There were very few stores in which to buy things. Everyone dressed pretty much the same, had access to the same food and necessities of life, though Party officials often had access to some goodies. No one had cars, but they had bicycles. This was also pre-cable, pre-computers and Internet, pre-Ipod and cell phone (hard to believe, I know). Few people had TVs, though the radio was always on. Life was very strict and choices limited. Also, people were not traveling outside of China, nor many visitors coming in. I should add that things appeared pretty drab, again which was common to the other communist countries. Few bright lights, things are not freshly painted, things tend to not work very well, such as electricity, lights, etc. Not very convenient. Also, stores had very, very little to buy for the people. Often pretty bleak from our perspective.

Today, the country is bursting with economic energy. You can buy anything if you have money. This is a consumer society. So many goodies, conveniences, and comforts. Hot water, air conditioning, clean streets, etc. This place feels very modern and very familiar.

The politics is another story. Still one-party state, no national elections, Chinese media still 100% state-controlled, as far as I can see and everyone says. Clearly under pressure to modernize, whatever that may mean in China. Don’t expect Western-style democracy any time soon. Hope you are well. Chat soon. Cheers, Tom

Message to Al:

Al, for the record, you are a superstar. Thanks for the supportive and encouraging comments. Wonderful to receive. So much to tell and many things for the college to think about as educators in the 21st century. All the best, Tom

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Day 5: AT THE (truly) GREAT WALL!

Photo: Now I feel like I've officially arrived in China, reporting from the Great Wall and Summer Palace.

Yesterday was the third and final day of the fair. Not as crazy busy as past two days. Many people passing by still. Very hard to know who will follow up. I talked to more people today about helping us establish a presence in China. Difficult but definitely doable. Too long to explain here but will surely explain intricacies when I return.

Pollution back to normal, which is not pretty. Pretty stinky and grey.

Went to buy a battery in an electronics store that looked like the 22nd century. So many amazing techological products, and so many people selling and buying them. One thing that is clear is that the cumulative wealth in this country is staggering. When you look at US with .3 billion people, and China with 1.3 billion, they have a billion more people. Obvious, yet overwhelming. When the government of a country this big that now has the technology that the West has had decides to do something, it is only a matter of time that they come to race past the rest of the world in important ways.

Just to stay with this simple idea for a minute. I have been reading and teaching in my classes for years that China will be the superpower of the 21st century. If you look at the history of the rise and fall of great powers over the past 2,000 years, China has all the ingredients. Now that I am here and see just how huge everything is, how advanced their techology is everywhere in the city, how amazingly efficient things are (I have found nothing not working- not even a lightbulb), and how innovative it is- from the electric scooters, to the unbelievably creative architecture everywhere (like we saw in the Olympics), to simple practical solutions, like bike lanes everywhere in the city, it is truly impressive. I know the countryside is different, and I will see that on the 10 hour train ride from Beijing to Shanghai. But you have to realize, for better and for worse, China will be leading the world in important ways. The question is what is the US going to do about it. How about a little Chinese language instruction to start...

Be well. cheers, Tom