(THIS IS CHINA-5) November 23, 2018 – Chapter 4 from THIS IS CHINA


Personal Note: I decided to share my book especially with my friends and students in mainland |China because the book is not available in mainland China. So enjoy each chapter and share it with your friends. Steve, USA, november 23, a day after Thanksgiving Turkey in USA,   stephenehling@hotmail.com



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Chapter 4

He Weiyin and his 10-year old son He Liu were sent by his university in Beijing in September 2005 to spend a year to teach Mandarin in a small community college near my residence in Washington State. I had attended a semester of Mandarin taught by his predecessor who informed me of a male teacher coming from the same university to replace her. Weiyin and his son and I met a few times because of my interest to teach in China one day. And also just in case they needed some assistance to get or do something in a foreign country. The public transit system is very good in any major cities in China, fast, punctual and inexpensive. Not so in America. In a short time he marveled how his 10-year-son could speak English so fluently and flawlessly, way ahead of poor old dad.

Right after the Chinese New Year some time in February 2008, I flew from Washington State, where I live, to visit Weiyin and his family in Beijing, the capital of mainland China, and witnessed the Beijing Olympics Park under meticulous construction in time for the August games. I sensed at the time there was little urgency nor rushing by workers to meet the deadline. My host family was proud to show me around Beijing. My very first visit to the capital of China.

In Beijing, they took me to see the venues of the Summer Olympic Games besides many historical places. The taxi driver was a gentleman in his early 60s. I loved to talk to local people to learn about any new place. And I asked him if he was ready to welcome foreign guests to Beijing. I had heard before I came to Beijing that the city intended for everyone, educated or uneducated, including the street sweepers, to learn some English phrases or simple sentences or greetings to welcome all foreign tourists to the city. He showed us a small book of English sentences and phrases. The government expected all the taxi drivers to learn them by heart. They even enlisted the help of the famous crazy Shout English guru Li Yang to teach English to the doctors and medical workers, critical to the Beijing Games. “I am too old for this,” the taxi driver moaned. And I said jokingly that in America we would often say “we can teach old dogs new tricks” and he laughed. Good morning. Good evening. Can I help you? Do you need to go to the police station? I can take you to a shopping mall. Do you need to go to the hospital? And on and on. Like a little primary school student reciting his favorite nursery rhymes. He was a good student and he could recite a few English words without difficulty. I would do this for the Olympic Games, he said, proudly.

This is China.

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The games would be coming soon in August, about 5 months or so to the opening ceremony, and I voiced my concern to Weiyin and his wife saying something naïve or stupid like, “Are you sure this place is going to be ready for the Olympic games? I see so many incomplete buildings here and there and I doubt it will be done on time.” Look, I said, pointing to a vast area with huge potted trees and plants standing idly here and there, with no landscape whatsoever, with many empty spaces with workers like ants going every direction, busy as bees. It will take a miracle to transform the Olympic dream into reality, I told him. He and his wife, both are college teachers, did not seem disturbed by what I said. No raised eye-brows or frowns on their faces. After a long silence, he said this to me: “You know Steve, you forget This is China. If we could build the Great Wall of China, we could build anything. We can bring in thousands of workers tomorrow and the whole place will be ready for the international Olympic Games in a short time. Believe me, everything is possible. We have the people, we have the manpower.” He said matter-of-factly without any doubt in his face or voice.

This is China.

The truth was Beijing was transformed into the model city during the Olympic Games. Citizens were taught how to behave in public places months before the event: no squatting here and there, stop spitting in public places, learn to stand in line at bus stations or train stations, be polite to all foreign tourists, avoid picking your noses or emitting your mucus into the air, stop shouting into your cell phones, and be the best you can be. When the government talks, you listen. And behave, like school children.

This is China.

I had seen Chinese films when I was in high school back in old Malaya, showing how thousands and thousands of people were used, exploited or conscripted, some against their will, some despite sickness and injuries, some too weak and frail to work, to build the Great Wall of China. Utilizing the best knowledge and technology they knew then, they built an impressive gargantuan structure, high up on mountain tops and rough terrains to keep out the barbarians in the north from entering ancient China. If they had that energy, resources, will and determination to build the Great Wall, China could build just about anything, large or small, anytime and anywhere in the land.

Lest we forget, Beijing Capital International Airport, the largest airport in Asia by passenger volume—covering 1,480 hectares (3,700 acres) of land—added Terminal 3, the world’s largest airport building plus a third runway, in 2008 for the Summer

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Olympic Games. This iconic terminal building was designed by Sir Norman Foster and built by Arup, a British company, “intended to be one of the most modern and passenger friendly super-hub facilities in the world”, along with other design icons for Beijing like the National Stadium (Bird’s Nest), CCTV Headquarters (Big Pants) and the National Aquatics Center (Blue Bubble), becoming now familiar names and sites to many Chinese and international tourists. According to the Wall Street Journal of December 16, 2014, “China’s National Development and Reform Commission announced it had approved the construction of a new airport in the southern Beijing suburbs to ease congestion and overcrowding at Beijing International Airport (opened in March 2008 at a cost of $3.5 billion in time for the Beijing Olympics). The new airport…is expected to take five years to build at a total cost of 80 billion yuan ($13.1 billion).”

I left Beijing and visited Sitiawan, Malaysia (where I was born and raised), speaking to many high school students at my own high school, and Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. I spent a night in a penthouse owned by a college classmate, now a business tycoon, next to the Petronas Towers, the tallest twin towers in the world. And later to Singapore, where I had the distinct sadness of spending some brief time with a father’s friend, living in his hotel, a cover for a house of prostitution, with a bar on the first floor, and convenient hotel rooms on the second floor. From there I went to Australia to visit my niece, a nurse, my brother’s eldest child, who once worked and lived in England with my sister (her aunt). She later immigrated to Australia, easy for most people within the British Commonwealth countries. Being a nurse or a teacher, is the best passport to anywhere in the world!

In Melbourne I spent some time with a high school classmate, now a cancer specialist, who also taught in a medical school there. He had invested in a huge parcel of grass-covered land overlooking the bay beyond. From Melbourne I flew to Sydney to visit a doctor and his wife, and especially his mother, who had brought her old piano all the way from Malacca, Malaysia, to her new home. But she preferred to play a grand organ, next to the piano. This was the same piano I used to teach her how to play the piano when she was in her late 40s. Now she has a daughter, who is a concert pianist. It was early April 2008 by the time I returned home to Washington State. I then discovered to my surprise a simple email awaiting me in my computer, inviting me to teach at the School of Journalism at Xiamen University (XMU), Fujian Province, China….Why me Lord?… A reward for something I did?

Had I had the habit, like most normal travelers or homo sapiens to check my computer obsessively, like a worried mother on a loose child, I would have seen this message while I was in Beijing, and would have taken a three-hour convenient flight

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south to visit XMU campus. Sadly that did not happen. I am not one of those addicted to a cell-phone or a computer. To some extent I am a normal user of high-tech gismos.

In my mind I knew I had the qualifications to teach in China. I had studied journalism and economics at the University of Texas, Austin, Texas. Instinctively I suspected someone at XMU—Professor Zhuang Hong-ming, who was promoted to become Chairman, Journalism Department, School of Journalism and Communication in 2006—was instrumental in this rather unusual invitation; he was someone who I had the privilege of meeting and knowing, while he was a visiting scholar at the Department of Communications, Pacific Lutheran University (1997-1998), the same school my son later attended, a 30-minute drive from my residence in Washington State. For about ten years after he went home to China, John—the name I gave him while he was here in the United States—and I worked together extensively, via the Internet, on many critical academic papers and issues related to the pursuits and studies of mass communication and journalism in his department at XMU. He knew I would be an asset to his school in China.

Needless to say, at the time, before it was popular to use Skype or QQ International or WeChat, transcending international boundaries, I phoned John immediately and nervously to inquire if I could just pack and fly to XMU. “Some time in early May,” I said. The school was scheduled to start in early September. I could not wait to see Xiamen and XMU. “Of course, why not? You can come any time you want and do some exploring of Xiamen city and the island,” he said to me without hesitation. He was looking forward to seeing me again after a lapse of about a decade since his research at PLU, though we continued to work together. But the Chinese government wasn’t as warm-hearted or eager or generous about my visit in May. And instead, I was told by the Chinese Embassy in USA when I tried to apply for a Chinese visa that they would be very happy to welcome me to mainland China after 8.8.8., the auspicious date and timing of the Beijing Olympics Games, as the opening ceremony was scheduled for 8 PM on August 8, 2008. This Is China. Forget May, but plan to come after the Beijing Games.

Numerology plays an important role in the Chinese culture from ancient to modern times. The sounds (homonyms) and interpretations of certain Chinese characters and numbers add immense meanings and significance to certain events and celebrations in the life and history of the Chinese people, and the nation down the centuries. And the unwritten motto for most traditional Chinese is: consult a priest or a numerologist, if you are not sure, when planning to celebrate an important event. This is China.

I thought the communist government would be happy to see me, any time when I was

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ready to go to China. I had read and kept a page from Beijing Review, one of the Chinese magazines I had subscribed to. In December 14, 2006 issue, on page 8, it talks about free reporting in mainland China.

“A file photo taken on November 5 of this year shows reporters from around the world covering the summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing. China’s State Council, the country’s cabinet, issued on December 1 a decree granting foreign journalists more freedom in reporting activities in the run-up to the 2008 Olympic Games. Under the regulations, foreign journalists who are non-residents of China are not required to be accompanied or assisted by a Chinese official when they report in China, according to Foreign Ministry Spokesman Liu Jianchao. Foreign journalists will also be allowed to engage in independent reporting in all localities without permission from provincial foreign affairs offices…The regulations are effective from January 1, 2007 to October 17, 2008.

The Chinese Government always sincerely welcomes foreign journalists to carry out reporting activities in China and is willing to provide as many conveniences as possible for them, Liu said.”

Anyone who knows anything about China would not believe a word of this, the freedom promised the journalists to do their jobs freely without any interference or restrictions by the local or state or national government? A dream? I had studied journalism but I was not a journalist. I was an American teacher, told to enter China after the Beijing Games, treated like a criminal of sorts. All I could think of was the fact some Americans, not me, were very vocal about Tibet independence, about the Dalai Lama, and China’s human rights record, and China would not tolerate any of these uncompromising activists, shouting and protesting and waving banners in the presence of more than 5000 reporters, who would descend on Beijing for the games. That would simply spoil and tarnish China’s image around the world. Many thought of the games as China’s coming out party, to show the world what China has achieved as an emerging economic power in the world. I could not think of anything else why China would bar me, an American, from entering China before or during the games.

Soon learning of this embassy decision—or the action of the mainland Chinese government—to deliberately bar or “discourage” certain tourists or Americans from attending the “biggest” and “greatest” and most “memorable coming out party of China to the world” show in Olympic history, I seized the opportunity to start writing my second book: CRAZY AMERICANS. I would be preoccupied with teaching Chinese students, with less time to pursue my literary interests, once I arrived in China. It was a carpe diem moment for me. (Carpe diem is Latin for “seize the day”,

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or strike while the iron is hot.)

Everything had to be done correctly. The Summer Beijing Olympic Games were scheduled to start on 8-8-2008, precisely at 08:08:08 PM China Standard Time Beijing. I was not the only victim who could not be there to witness the pride and glory of China but many businesses in Beijing, according to reports, suffered because the boom did not happen as expected, as China had deliberately reduced a large number of tourists to attend the games. Be safe than be sorry later, that must be their modus operandi. The good news was the Beijing Olympics was the most watched Olympics in history, the best in Olympic history, attracting 4.7 billion viewers worldwide, and that is more than 70% of the world population. And when the IOC threatened to cancel certain events because of the pollution factor, Beijing was able to produce the miracle they all were looking for, a clear blue sky, by closing down many factories far and near, and sending home thousands of migrant workers to take a break from their hard work, and also limiting the number of cars allowed to operate during the games.

This is China.

Eventually I did arrive at Xiamen University campus the last week of August, though the freshmen had started their two-week compulsory military training. I was in time for the start of regular classes in early September. This is peace time but China continues to train millions of fresh incoming students every fall, as if arming them with the right skills and attitudes to win more important battles in their adult lives.

Intuitively I understood why China initiated this action. This is China. Because China is China and China was not about to let some loud, noisy, vociferous, uncivilized Americans to come and mar and spoil this historic event to be held on the Chinese soil. China rightly questioned the American admiration and unflinching support of the Dalai Lama of Tibet, and America’s long suspicion of China’s violations of human rights. What human rights?! China had zero tolerance for Americans to congregate in Beijing to demand China to right their wrongs—what wrongs?—because thousands of reporters would be descending on the Chinese capital to report the Beijing games to a world-wide audience of billions. This is China.

From May to August 2008, I was able to finish a draft of my second book at home in America. This gave me ample time to travel to Xiamen, China from Seattle, Washington State in early September, some time after the Beijing Olympics. The total travel time was about fifteen hours from Seattle to Beijing to Xiamen. I was able to write the epilogue to the book on the Chinese campus.


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