personal note: I DECIDED to share my book with friends and students in mainland China because it is too expensive for them to order one from USA. Read it and share it with people you care and love. Peace, steve, usa May 1, 2019 firstname.lastname@example.org blog – https://getting2knowyou-china.com
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But the tea house in Hangzhou is of a different breed and I was in for a big surprise in my life—I actually have no concept of what a tea house is about. All I could think at the time was the Japanese tea ceremony or the Chengdu Guanyin Pavilion teahouse. Why would she want to take me to a tea ceremony? Granted it was a Sunday when we arrived at the tea house. There are many rooms and cubicles inside the tea house. Somehow I have always associated tea house with Japan and the Geisha girls. How naïve I was. So going to a tea house in Hangshou was an eye opener for me personally. My old thinking started to change as I briefly wondered around inside this Chinese tea house. It was peaceful and quiet with all kinds of art work on display, like one would see in a museum somewhere. I would say it was more Japanese than Chinese. I mean the art work and all the interior decorations.
We picked a cubicle near a front window so we could also enjoy the view of tourists outside around the lake area. Eason and Terry soon joined us at the table. There were many young people—mostly young professionals and business people, enjoying the tea and variety of snacks and foods and some playing cards. What a way to enjoy a Sunday afternoon with families or friends or relatives or your dates. People say Hangzhou people know how to enjoy life. I saw it with my own eyes. For today, I was one of them.
Soon a waitress came by to make sure we were properly seated and had everything we needed to continue our enjoyment in the tea house. There were two separate areas for those who wanted ready prepared salads, foods, snacks and desserts. And there was also a different area for those who wanted to order something to eat, like fresh soup and noodles and steamed foods. You could order what you wanted to eat. You could choose from a variety of salads, desserts, foods and snacks using as many saucers or small bowls to bring them to your table. In the end, we had a variety of snacks and foods on the crowded table, sharing our individual favorites. The idea was to eat everything that was before us, not to be wasteful. It is like going to an all-you-can-eat buffet. I was told in Singapore, guests are required to pay for any leftover foods on the table, a way to discourage waste. In China, the nouveaux-riches are known to order expensive dishes in expensive restaurants and much of the food would be left untouched and thrown away by the waiters. Now President Xi would like to prosecute government officials who dare persist in this wasteful behavior around the country and some big restaurants are losing businesses because of Mr. Xi’s warning against wasteful expenses when entertaining top government officials. And top government officials should not continue to waste citizens’ tax money on extravagance and waste
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in big restaurants.
I visited China once, when I was visiting Taiwan. At that time, you had to go through Hong Kong to enter mainland China. You could not simply fly to any city in China. This as recent as the year 2000. I was visiting a professor friend at Xiamen University at that time, also my first journey into mainland China. A local government official, a friend of this professor, in Xiamen, invited me for a big dinner and she was hoping I would come to work for her in China then. She wanted someone who could prepare local high school students to study in America. I had too many obligations in USA and I wasn’t ready to abandon my American life to come to China. I remember she had her secretary with her that evening and the secretary wrote a check, I think, to pay for the evening meal. For a long time foreign guests coming to do business in China would be taken to big restaurants for very expensive meals. Maybe the Chinese once also practiced what most Americans would like to believe or have always done: The best way to win a man’s heart is through his stomach. This practice of lavish meals before business negotiations or contracts would be considered a waste now, under President Xi. This is a part of his anti-corruption measures to make sure everyone, especially those working for the government, is doing the right thing for the people in the country. And waste, in any form or shape, will not be tolerated.
A friend, once my student, now working back in his own province, Guizhou (in the south), told me recently that in his hometown and true in many other towns that people would compete with one another hosting lavish banquets for everything, from birth, wedding, funeral, graduation, birthday, anniversary to celebrating important events and the waste, in his words, “is beyond words”. Each one tries to outdo or outperform the other in how much each one is willing to spend for each banquet.
And here at the tea house, with all the foods spread on a small table in front of us, I saw the words DO NOT WASTE ANY FOOD flashed in front of me like the bright flashing neon signs in front of the casinos and entertainment halls in Macau. I felt very guilty when we left some untouched foods on the table. We should not be that wasteful. TAKE WHAT YOU CAN EAT. I had seen and heard news on CCTV NEWS about the inequalities among school children across China. I had seen children going to schools hungry in small remote areas in China. I had seen charitable organizations raising money, lots of them from kind souls in China, to go to remote areas in China, making sure the poor children have enough food to eat at schools. Many are “left-behind children” and their grandparents are too old to take good care of them or to feed them adequately. Sitting at the tea house with abundant foods covering the whole table, I thought about these kids. I had seen children inside classrooms without adequate lighting or furniture or textbooks. Children in cities are getting the basics
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they need in schools. Not true for all children in China.
If your parents do not have the right hukuos, you might be in the cities for the last five to ten years, you will still be treated like outsiders, foreigners in your own country and you will be denied many privileges because your parents do not have the right hukous.
According to a source on the internet, “China’s hukou system is a family registration program that serves as a domestic passport, regulating population distribution and rural-to-urban migration. It is a tool for social and geographic control that enforces an apartheid structure that denies farmers the same rights and benefits enjoyed by urban residents.” The government in Beijing is trying to solve some of the problems created by this system, especially equal access to education of the children of thousands of migrant workers now living and working in the city, and the right of migrant workers to buy an apartment in the cities in China. The hukou system is the major stumbling block or obstacle to them, denying them access to many social services or health care systems or the right of their children to attend schools with regular students, or the right to buy a home in the cities.
The cities in China would not be what they are today without the sweat, muscle, hard work, dedication and sacrifices of millions of migrant workers who came rushing to the cities to better their lives the last 35 years in China. They are the engines that fuel China’s spectacular economic growth and expansion to become the number two economic superpower in the world today.
I continue to worry about the children, because they are the future of China. And many are neglected by the current government. China is too big and government cannot do everything for you, so they say. But the children are the future of any nation. And that is why I continue to care and work with college students I left behind after I returned to the United States. Partly, because with the internet, we could still work together despite the distance between China and USA, even though I live far away in Washington State across the wide Pacific Ocean. And I am visiting Hangzhou because Yang Kun has something in mind she wants to share with me, something concerning children and reading and books.
After a sumptuous meal and fellowship and exchange of our life stories, Terry took a bus home because he and his parents live in Hangzhou. Yang Kun, Eason and I rode in the same taxi to the outskirt of the city to the university area where Yang Kun now lives on the campus and she had booked a hotel for me in the same vicinity. In some strange inexplicable situation, the hotel could not find the advanced booking for me by Yang Kun, and so Eason had to book a room in his name. Except he did not inform
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the front desk I would be staying with him in the same room. Maybe he feared the same thing might happen to me in this hotel: “Sorry we do not accept foreign passport.” The best part was the elevators were away from the front desk and so nobody could see me entering the building. It was a big spacious room with two beds. I kept thinking what would happen if the hotel workers discovered my presence because Eason did not register my name at the front desk.
There was much to catch up between the two of us despite the fact that Eason and I had used the internet often to communicate with each other while I was living in the United States. Eason did something behind my back. He had talked to his father, also a lawyer, back home in Shangdong Province, to send him, by special delivery, a package containing a big and thick woolen scarf and woolen hat and a woolen long john underwear for me. I was grateful for the thoughtful presents from his father because the weather in Hangzhou was cold, something I had never experienced before during my years living and working in the south, in Fujian Province.
It was still early in the afternoon and so I asked Eason to take me to a bank to send some money to a student, Michael, now studying medicine in a school in Chongqing. Michael and I never had the opportunity to meet but he came to know me because he wanted to improve his English. And from the start I had somehow promised him that I would help him financially if he did well in his Gaokao. He has an elder brother and two older sisters and none of them went to college. But Michael was the only one in the family to attend a college. And now he is studying medicine because, “I want to help my mom to have a better health.” (I had heard and seen too many stories of young people who wanted to study medicine because of some personal experiences of medical problems in their families. It is also true in America.) Soon he would begin his first year in college and I wanted to send him some money so he could focus on his academic pursuit. The bank is ABC, the Agricultural Bank of China, one of the Big Four in mainland China, and also ranked the 4th largest in the world. Eason was sure he saw one not far from the hotel, a walking distance, he said to me.
It was a cold afternoon because of some light breeze. And so we left the hotel and walked and walked. I began to wonder if Eason was sure he had seen the bank. It was a pleasant walk, and there were some heavy traffic at major intersections. I somehow felt the hotel was at point A and the bank was at point E. And we could have gone from A to E without going to point B and C or D. We were taking the longer route, instead of a shorter one. I was new in the place but I recognized the buildings from a distance. By the time we arrived at the bank, it was about 4:30 PM and both of us, educated idiots, wondered why the bank was closed. It was a Sunday afternoon. I felt so foolish and stupid. Here is a college professor and a lawyer and how very stupid
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we were. How come both of us did not realize it was a Sunday. I did say something to Eason. If I had known it was this far from the hotel we should have taken a taxi. But to Eason, it was a walking distance from the hotel.
Walking back to the hotel was not difficult because the distance from the bank to the hotel was very close. Along the way, we stopped briefly at a fruit store to buy my favorite fruits: banana and jackfruit. I noticed more and more fruit stores now in China as more and more people are becoming more conscious about eating fresh fruits for a healthy body. Back in our hotel room, I asked Eason if I should visit a new friend, a professor at Shaoxing University, not far from Hanzhou. I told him I had received an invitation from Marco to visit his university in Shaoxing, a little further than a stone’s throw away from Hangzhou.
“Who is Marco?” he asked me.
When I returned to USA in August 10, 2015, I did not visit my librarian friend at Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) until the middle of December when she told me she knew of a visiting scholar from mainland China. That he would come to the library to use it some times and would be leaving for home in China by the end of the month. Immediately I was able to send him a message through her at the library and it did not take long for Marco, the visiting scholar from Shaoxing University (SU), China, to contact me. Marco Ma Keyun teaches English Literature for over 15 years in SU and he has two female colleagues, also teachers of English, with him at PLU. And they would all be returning home to China at the end of December. I wasted no time to invite the three of them for a dinner, to get to know them and share with me their experiences at PLU. At the dinner, they told me they were sent by their university in China to spend a semester at PLU and in that sense PLU was not wholly responsible for their social life at the campus.
Anyone in China, depending where you are teaching, can apply for a visiting scholar program. That means your own university is financially responsible for your coming here to America. But first you must find an American school or a sponsor that would accept you as a visiting scholar, someone who is here not to take classes for a degree but simply to sit in classes of their choosing. It is like auditing. Coming all the way from China to do this? This could be for a semester or a whole year. The American university will help you to find an apartment near the campus and you can attend any event on the campus and eat in the campus canteen. But you are left to your own. In reality, Marco and his friends chose to spend their time in the language department at PLU and did not know anyone in the campus and the campus was not responsible for their social life. So they did nothing during the whole semester because there was no
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one from the campus to show them around the community. Sad but true.
But the case of Professor Zhuang Hong-ming from Xiamen University was slightly different. He was part of an exchange program between XMU and PLU. He was here to do research (1997-1998) in the Department of Communication, PLU. But all the Chinese professors were left to themselves living in an apartment next to PLU campus. That meant they did not go anywhere unless invited by some local Americans to an event or to a restaurant for an American meal or to a party. That was how I met Professor Zhuang. I met him at a party hosted by a friend of mine, not far from the campus. I became his unofficial tour guide and I was determined for him to taste every aspect of the American life on weekends when I was free from my teaching. That included eating “soul” food, attending black churches, eating Mexican food, riding a horse in my friend’s farm and watching me cook a turkey for a Thanksgiving dinner. I must have failed to impress him because I overcooked the poor turkey and it fell apart into pieces when I tried to serve it to him. He preferred the pieces.
In 2006 Professor Zhuang was promoted to be the Chairman of the School of Journalism at XMU. In 2008, about ten years after we met at PLU, I was invited by his school Xiamen University as a visiting professor to teach in his department, the School of Journalism.
I could not do for Marco and his colleagues what I did for Professor Zhuang. I regretted not going to the PLU campus when I first returned home in August. When I met them, they had less than two weeks left on the campus. In less than two weeks or so, Marco and his two female colleagues would say goodbye to the campus and return to China. What a pity!
Shaoxing University, where the three of them teach in the English Department, continues to send their teachers to PLU the following year as part of the visiting scholar program…one way for the school to enhance their image. To build their prestiage in China, some even hire world renowned weatern scholars to their schools.
This is China.