PERSONAL NOTE: I decided to share my book with students and friends in mainland China because the book is not available in mainland China. It costs too much to have it sent from USA. Enjoy it and share it. Steve, usa, December 8, 2018 firstname.lastname@example.org blog – https://getting2knowyou-china.com
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The first “crisis” I faced as a foreigner on the campus had to do with the use of bicycles. It had to do with the means of transportation within the vast campus.
Before I came to China, John wrote to me and introduced me to the campus where I would be teaching. “Xiamen University is the first university in China, founded by an overseas Chinese, Tan Kah Kee in 1921. It was originally known as Amoy University. Xiamen University is one of many comprehensive universities directly administered by the Chinese Ministry of Education. It has been ranked top 10 in China.” The main campus is located in the southwestern part of the Xiamen Island, “situated at the foothills of mountains, facing the ocean and surrounded by Xiamen’s bay. The main campus is picturesque with beautiful scenery and parks and is one of the main tourist attractions in Xiamen, itself a popular tourist destination. The university also has campuses in Xiang’an and Zhangzhou.”
This was how John introduced Zhangzhou campus to me. All the Xiamen freshmen and sophomores would be housed on this campus. I would be teaching freshmen in the Journalism Department. “First, you would take a bus in the Xiamen campus. You would be riding with other teachers. Then you would take a boat. And then you would take another bus. When you arrive at the gate of the Zhanzhou campus, you would use a bicycle to go to your class.” Follow the other teachers and you would be okay, he assured me, and calmed my anxiety. Nothing more, nothing less, just a very brief introduction to my campus. In my mind, all I could see was this huge campus because I was told to take a bus, then a boat, then another bus, then a bicycle. Jesus Christ, it must be a very big campus. So I thought. This is China.
Was I in for a shock or surprise the day I took my first ride to Zhangzhou campus. The first day I got up early not to miss the bus. I waited for it in front of a convenience kind of store inside the main campus of Xiamen University. I was new in China, new in the campus. And I was staying in the guest house on the campus. Suddenly out of nowhere some men and women teachers and workers appeared and gathered around the bus stop. Young and middle-aged. From the bus station inside the campus, the driver drove us through the campus, and then out the campus gate, through the city, until we arrived at the Xiamen Ferry Terminal. About thirty college teachers and workers quickly walked through the building, and the guards at the exit waved us through, without asking for our IDs. A very busy terminal, with people coming in to Xiamen city and people leaving the city in different boats. There was a boat waiting
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for us, exclusively for Xiamen staff members. It was a big boat for at least a hundred or more passengers. We then took a boat ride across Xiamen Bay…the waters could be rough and choppy, depending on the weather. An occasional heavy fog could delay or stop the boat from crossing the bay. Classes could be delayed or cancelled, depending on the severity of the fog. One solution was for the teachers to take the land route, a longer way to travel to the campus. Normally the boat ride took us about thirty minutes to an hour (not to worry, because the boat was always punctual in time for the first 8 AM class in the mornings). We arrived in Zhangzhou punctually and there was another school bus waiting for us. Everything was perfect and efficient. After another 30 minutes or so on a scenic road, we arrived at the North Gate, the main entrance to the campus—Xiamen University Tan Kah Kee College—and the gate opened for the bus to enter. Formal IDs were required for any vehicle to enter the campus. Within a walking distance from the gate, in front of the campus hotel, most of us got off the bus at the first stop. The bus would take others to different destinations inside the campus. This is China.
On one side, in front of the hotel, I could see many bicycles waiting for us. These bicycles were for the staff members of the school. First, I followed others and went inside the hotel lobby. This is a regular hotel operated by the school, and any teacher, who does not want to return to Xiamen Island because of early classes the following morning, could spend the night here for free. It is also a hotel for parents who would come to visit their sons or daughters. On a small table inside the lobby, I signed my name in a book, time and date, and picked a bicycle key with a number on it. The young security guard sat there, watching our every move. By now the campus was full of life, in full swing, with students rushing to their classes in every direction from their dormitories, scattered around the campus. When I arrived at my destination, one of the teaching buildings, I was required to return the bicycle key in the staff office. A perfect system, I thought naively, because there would always be bicycles in the different buildings for us teachers or workers to use. Any time of the day, during regular school days. This is China.
After lunch one afternoon, I decided to spend some time to study the “Notice for Bicycle Use”, sitting on a small table where we picked or returned our bicycle keys. The notice was written, first in Chinese, with an English translation below.
NOTICE FOR BICYCLE USE
For everyone’s convenience when using bicycle, please observe this rule: borrow from the home station, return to the destination station (both bicycle and key). Otherwise,
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– Break the rule the first time, your name will be registered.
– Break the rule the second time, your unit will be notified.
– Break the rule the third time, your qualification for borrowing bicycle will be cancelled for a month.
– Break the rule the fourth time, your qualification for borrowing bicycle will be cancelled permanently.
In addition, if a bicycle gets damaged, please return the bicycle and the damaged parts back to the station, for the convenience of maintenance.
Administrative Committee of
Zhangzhou Campus, Xiamen University
I would say most of the bicycle users were professors living in Xiamen. I had heard from John that many Chinese universities would provide accommodation inside the campus for Chinese teachers. In some cases, like John, they could buy an apartment at a discount from the university. Obviously these professors did not choose to live in Zhangzhou campus, a relatively new school. And they chose to travel each day. They owned their apartments in Xiamen. Soon I realized Xiamen is an island and my Zhangzhou campus is located on the mainland. John would prefer I live in Xiamen and travel to my campus every day.
All was heavenly but strange things began to happen after a month or so. I would see many bicycles parked there ready for use. But there were very few keys available. And one or twice, and many times after, there were no keys for use. But there were bicycles out there. And there was no record of the keys in the book. What if everyone was required to register the number of the key? What if?…Instead of getting upset with the Chinese professors, I asked a student to help me buy a new bicycle, a cheap one to use. By then I had chosen to live, not in Xiamen, but in a beautiful one-bedroom apartment outside Zhangzhou campus. The school gave me ample housing allowance each month, enough for me to install two air-conditioners to live and survive in the hot and humid climate in Fujian Province.
I made many mistakes in my seven years in China, but the first unforgettable one was buying a new bicycle. I soon learned a new bicycle was a temptation for thieves around the campus. Even with the security guards at the gates to the campus, many students complained of the sudden disappearance of their bicycles, parked near their dormitories. “Inside job, inside job,” students would say “because only the security guards can drive a van or truck through the gates!” Who else could get the stolen bicycles through the gates? They had to be hidden inside a van, not an open vehicle.
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And in the dark. The next bicycle I bought was an old, used one, and nobody was interested to steal it. Bicycles were a necessity because of the long distance between the classrooms and the different dormitories, dotted along the edges of the enormous campus.
As an American, I was not about to keep quiet about what I thought was the extreme selfishness of many Chinese professors in keeping the keys and the bicycles for their own personal use and convenience. I was sure it had happened before but nobody reported it to the authority. And it happened at the beginning of the new school year. And now I was a victim, not a quiet one, to be sure. I was about to raise hell! How could adult college professors do this to me?…Wantonly ignoring the rules established by the Administrative Committee of Zhangzhou Campus, Xiamen University? I shared my anger and frustration with only one Chinese professor. Someone I could trust with my way of thinking or response to whatever was transpiring inside the academic community.
“This is China. You must learn to be patient,” he tried to calm me down. Anyone, living with over 1.3 billion people in China, to me, has to be patient about everything in the society or community. Overpopulation could be used, at times, to justify human indifference to the needs of the citizens.
“Patience? What patience?” I said, angrily and impatiently, demanding my voice to be heard. Privately.
“You are new to this country. It is not good for you to say bad things about other teachers in the same school,” he warned me.
“What bad things?”
“You are an American. You are impatient about everything. You have no right to tell others what to do. This is China, not America.”
“I believe if there is a problem, we must all try to correct it,” I said, empathetically. “Are you saying we should just ignore it and not do anything about it?”
“Don’t rock the boat, if I were you,” he cautioned me.
This is China. It didn’t take me long to learn what was going on in China. For a long time, especially under the communist government, it seemed nothing was about to change because, in the thinking of some people, we lived in a country with too many
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people and you could not please everyone. So you learned to accept whatever was going on around you or in your life. The government would not be listening to you anytime soon. You learned to accept your circumstances the best you knew how. For a while I felt like I was born into one of the castes in India…you accepted it and lived with it from birth till death. This is China.
Since President Xi Jinping took over the presidency of China in 2012…people are able to smile now because he wants everyone who works for the Chinese government to take care of the people. Remember, his voice loud and clear, when ordinary citizens come to you, your primary job is to make sure you listen to them and do your best to improve their lives. You are here to serve the needs of the people. No small wonder many young college graduates are not rushing to take the civil service examinations like before Xi Jinping became the president of China.
For years, civil servants had enriched themselves by encouraging and greedily accepting hung bao (red envelope with cash as gifts), money and gifts from the people if they wanted anything done for them. Many of my students told me government servants in China are not well compensated, one cause, in their thinking, for the rampant corruption. President Xi is aware of the bribery and corruption going on in China. That is one major reason for his anti-corruption measures to rid China of all evils in the society.
Anything can happen in China. The consequence of President Xi’s anti-corruption measures is to allow more people, rich or poor, to get the help they need from the government. Without all the red tapes and bureaucratic obstacles, citizens are free to do business with the government: education, jobs, hospitals, legal services, security, travels, licenses, everything you need to improve your lives in China. And this includes all the foreigners who want to do business in China…it is getting easier each day to initiate business deals in China. And President Xi is making sure ordinary men and women and young people are getting the help they need to improve their lot in life in China. That is the essence of President Xi’s China Dream.
This is China. Happy days are here again!