Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Good Feeling/ 很好的感觉

May 26, 2009

I’m writing this entry from the IBS Bar—a coffee house operated by students in the International Business School at CTBU.  The Bar sits perched on the upper slopes of one of the hills overlooking the campus, and its multiple outdoor decks jut out over lush green tree tops, still dripping from this morning’s rain. From the outdoor terraces, decorated with container gardens, one can look, leaning against chest-high metal rails, at misty views of the city below.  The inside of the coffee house is an equally chic and modern venue.  Natural light streams through tall windows, adding luster to polished wood tables.  The dove-grey walls are trimmed in white, and potted palms sit on stone-tile floors. 

I walked in here at 12:30 pm, ready to work, after schlepping up a long hill with my computer and extension cord, my head cloudy with a long list of tasks.   I slept in this morning until 9:00 a.m., my first post-6:00 a.m. sleep-in since arriving in Chongqing, finally awakened by the loud ring of the red phone on my nightstand.  It was Jason calling, breathless with details of my little family’s Memorial Day Weekend stateside.  After hearing of all their playing and splashing, I was ready to get on the move myself.

But when I walked into the IBS Bar I came to a stop.  The place was utterly still, not bustling the way one might expect a campus café to buzz shortly after the noon hour.  It wasn’t empty, just eerily silent, as if someone had cast a spell over this corner of the universe.  A young woman sat at her open laptop, her head nodding to the glow of a screen saver flashing nature scenes.  Two other female students sat across from one another, their heads touching on the table top, pillowed by crossed arms, books open next to a box of cigarettes and a set of keys.  One of the girls still clutched a cell phone.  The two female counter staff leaned into one another, perched on stools, one’s head resting on the counter, the other’s head resting on her co-worker’s back. They looked oddly uniform in matching yellow head-kerchiefs, crisp white blouses, and navy blue aprons, both of their eyes curtained in bangs.  Everyone was fast asleep, and I felt like an intruder in the dead of night, stepping into somewhere I did not belong. One of the staff startled as I plugged my extension cord into the outlet near the counter, but I was able to reassure her with a wave of my hand.  “You rest a bit,” I said, and she nodded, her mouth still-slack, as she set her head back down and resumed her sleep.  I typed lightly, conscious of every click of the keyboard echoing off the tiled floors.

It’s 1:30 p.m. now, and apparently the rest period is over and the place is finally buzzing.  The international business school students have smoothed their bangs and righted their crooked head-kerchiefs, and one is now grinding coffee while the other runs water in the sink.  Three classmates have met up with the girl with the nature-scene screen saver, and now there are four open laptops on that table, all connected to the wireless internet.  The girls with the cigarettes have stepped outside on the terrace to smoke.  Amber Buddhist prayer beads flash on one girl’s wrist as she taps ashes over the rail to the foliage below.  I alternate sipping a frothy warm latte and a cool glass of lemon water.  And I turn to my blog topic at hand: guest turned host; host turned guest.

I’ve been wanting to write on the topic of hosting since arriving in Chongqing, but I haven’t quite known how to express what it is like to be feasted and feted non-stop.  I’ve marveled at the way in which our hosts have mastered the art of helping their guests feel welcomed, appreciated, honored, valued.  What they practice is not just the art of hosting, but of creating the foundation for fruitful and meaningful relationships.  Generosity creates good feeling; good feeling creates invested relationships; invested relationships ensure people’s needs are met; when people’s needs are met, things get done.  There is no comparable frame of reference for many Americans.  It is not that we are not generous, but our generosity seems to be contained in singular acts and specific events.  It’s not necessarily habitual.  We give birthday gifts and holiday gifts, invite friends for dinner, watch a friend’s children or mow a neighbor’s lawn, give to charities and churches, and buy candy bars to support Little League teams.  We recognize generosity when we see it, and we have a rather clear sense of how to reciprocate and how to say thank you.  But it can be strangely unsettling to be the recipient of generosity in China, partly because, although it seems to come without limits, we are sometimes skeptical of the price.  What might we owe for the gifts we’ve been given?  It is hard, at times, in the well-spring of generosity, to move past this caution to allow genuine connections to be forged.

My experience as a guest this time in China has been somewhat less ambivalent for me than in previous visits, due largely, I think, to the fact that very genuine friendships have already been formed in past years here between Widener and CTBU faculty.  I’ve seen the fruits of this investment in the experiences our students have been given, and in the access faculty has been given to their research.  We’ve been riding a wave of generosity since we arrived.  My days are peppered with sudden invitations that I never decline:  at a lunch with the students, I’m pulled away by the director of foreign exchange, “We will sneak away from English corner this evening and take you and the other faculty for a massage.”  In the middle of a lesson on Chinese papercuts, a staff person from the foreign exchange office enters the classroom and whispers to me in Mandarin, “Tomorrow night, we are taking you and the other foreign teachers to dinner.  We will pick you up at 6:00 p.m.”  Our Dean of Social Work reaches me on my cell phone as I’m walking cross-campus with students, “The Dean of Social Work will host all of us at his home on Sunday morning.” 

Sunday morning we met at 10:30 at the gates of the University to be escorted across the street to Dean Xu’s home.  We were laden with gifts: a bottle of red wine; a cake; a gift bag of Widener University trinkets.  “We” were Paula (Widener Dean of Social Work), John (Widener Social work faculty and former Dean), Robin (Widener social work faculty), Lin (a CTBU social work undergraduate who will be coming to Widener this fall), Professor Deng (CTBU social work faculty), Professor Yu (CTBU social work faculty), Professor You (political officer at CTBU) and several other CTBU social work faculty and students.  Lin escorted us all across the road and into the faculty housing gardens, where we were met by Dean Xu.  We rode an elevator up to what must have been about the 23rd floor of a tall, skinny apartment tower, and we were ushered into Dean Xu’s home and greeted by his wife, daughter, and son-in-law. Their apartment was modest by American standards (two bedrooms, two baths, one study), but modern and with a spectacular view.  The Nuggets and Lakers raced, fourth quarter, across a large flat-screen T.V. centered in the living room.  We foreign guests were invited to sit around a coffee table laden with fruit and nuts, and cups of tea were placed in front of us.  We chatted and nibbled, the game still broadcast against the living room wall, as the Xu family bustled about in the kitchen.  Professor Deng showed Paula and John how to cool their tea by waving the lid across the cup, then using the lid to strain the loose green leaves as they sipped.  Soon it was time to roll dumplings.  We gathered around the table and Mrs. Xu instructed us in how to flour the wooden roller and spread the corners of the dough thin.  Our dumplings really weren’t very pretty, but everyone oohed and ahhed over them regardless.  Time passed slowly in that space as Lin and I translated jokes and reassurances, the Xus poured glass after glass of juice, tea and beer; and the mother-daughter-son-in-law-trio moved in and out of the kitchen. 

When we finally sat down to eat, the dumplings were nowhere in sight.  Mrs. Xu and her daughter carried an endless chain of dishes to and from the table, while the son-in-law kept busy in the kitchen.  There were countless meat dishes, and more varieties of mushroom than I have ever seen served at one meal.  There was a whole fish, a bowl of yak meat from Western Sichuan, and a delicious plate of caramelized fava beans.  I have no idea how many different dishes were served, but many of them contained Sichuan pepper corns and hot red peppers and were described as “local specialties.” At least five dishes were placed in my corner of the table and introduced to me as, “Vegetarian, cooked especially for you.”

Chinese banquets are typically peppered with toasts.  The hosts and guests will take turns, suddenly standing up with a full glass and everyone else will rise to their feet, even though they are told to remain seated. The toasts are made, glasses are clinked, then emptied.  There is a game made of trying to lower your glass at the point of contact in deference to the one you are toasting. The sentiments at this meal ranged from, “You are our most honored guests coming from far away, and it is a great privilege having you in our home,”  to “Thank you for giving our students this wonderful opportunity to visit your community center and learn about Chinese culture.” Paula and I drank small amounts of beer, but there was no pressure to get drunk, as there sometimes is at Chinese banquets.  Still, John did a fine job as a gracious guest, willingly drinking with his male counterparts (including bai jiu, a rough white liquor that Paula and I declined).  He was a bit red-cheeked, but surprisingly sober after many rounds of toasts.  The dumplings were finally served at the end of the meal, and the business started, as John introduced the topic of future collaborations.  We discussed the Social Work faculty and graduate students continuing to collaborate with CTBU to conduct surveys at the community center of elders; we discussed a possible future international conference to be held at CTBU, Widener graduate students of Human Sexuality continuing to conduct surveys of CTBU undergraduates, and Robin and I continuing to collect life stories and oral histories in collaboration with social work and translation students.  Everyone was smiling, more toasts were initiated.  We left the table and sat around the coffee table again, as Dean Xu’s daughter shyly gave us copies of a cooking magazine she edits, blushing at our request for her to sign these.  She and Dean Xu retreated to his study as he helped her find the appropriate words to sign her gifts.  It was nearly 3:00 p.m. when we parted at the gate of the apartment complex, smiling, waving, bellies full, future prospects brewing.  I noticed the lateness of the hour, and was surprisingly unannoyed at the need to modify my afternoon plans.

The student manager at IBS Bar has just appeared at my side, startling me out of my writing. It’s 3:30 p.m. now and I’m feeling pulled to return to the dorm, to meet up with my student and begin our transcription of yesterday’s oral history.  I turn to the manager, reluctantly, as he hands me a white plate embossed with the IBS Bar logo.  There is a Chinese snack on the plate called a “Zongzi”—a mixture of white glutinous rice and pork, wrapped in bamboo leaves and folded into a neat triangle, tied off with white string.  “It’s a gift for you,” he says in English, “It’s called ‘zongzi.’  This week is our traditional dragon boat festival, and it is tradition to eat these.”  I’m tempted to decline his offer: I’m feeling pushed for time;  the drizzle has let up and my student is waiting; I’m vegetarian and it may be hard to pick around the pork.  But I take the plate from him, forcing myself to slow down, seeking and welcoming that good feeling.  “Thank you,” I say, moved by his gesture.  We smile at one another: the generous host, the gracious guest, both of us feeling good.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Archives (5/19/09)

This morning I made a return visit to the Chongqing municipal archives, which houses some of my research documents. For the first two hours of my adventure I was not hunting alone, but was accompanied by a student volunteer from the university we are partnering with, Chongqing Technology and Business University (CTBU).  Wei Ming (also known as “Ella”) is an English major, and she arrived at the dorm this morning with my letter of introduction, stamped by the university’s Foreign Exchange Office: my entry ticket.  We departed in pouring rain and flagged down a cab at the front gate.  I was surprised that the driver knew our destination immediately.  Not a hint of confusion when Ella told him, in Chongqing dialect, “The Chongqing Municipal Archives.”

This is a huge municipality, and the archives are a good half hour away in decent traffic.

Ella and I chatted it up.  She’s an English major—a junior with fairly good spoken English—but she’s not confident about finding a job once she graduates:  “There are too many people who learn English now, and as an English major, I have no other specialties except for English.”  I haven’t met, in Sichuan or Beijing, the droves of English speakers she is concerned about.  Yes, many school children now study English, but most don’t have the kinds of opportunities Ella has to practice their spoken English with native speakers.  I’m more optimistic about her prospects than she is.  I asked her how she is spending her summer (a part-time job, an internship?).  Neither: “I am studying to learn to drive!”.  She will be the first driver in her family, and when she succeeds in getting her license, her parents will buy their first family car.  The remainder of our drive, as our cabbie darted in and out of slowing traffic, we discussed the comparable perils of driving in Beijing vs. Chongqing.

The cab finally arrived in the Shapingba district of Chongqing, and the driver pulled a sharp U-turn before stopping abruptly:  “The Archives,” he grunted, with a sharp jab in the air towards the mouth of a long paved lane.  We clambered out of the cab. I was loaded down with a dripping purple floral umbrella and two bags containing: one laptop; one extension cord; two dictionaries (one electronic, one bound); one notebook; four pens; one digital camera; my passport (tucked into my secret pocket); a box of business cards (many of which now have water marks); my wallet (stuffed with 100 yuan bills for my research fees); one bottle of water; and a wad of toilet paper.  Ella held a dripping blue umbrella and a small black and white checked handbag.

The surrounding sounds on the steady climb up the hill were familiar from my last visit here: the steady beat of a sledge hammer hitting a metal stake; a chorus of birds in the trees lining some of the lane; the four-count measure of music issuing from the dirt-caked open windows of a dance school.

After nearly an hour registering with the archivists, I began my initial work of thumbing through catalogues on Social Welfare for descriptions of files that might be useful for me.  Ella, who insisted on staying until lunch, sat beside me at a long wooden table, politely cursing the nearly illegible handwriting of the archivists who had catalogued this collection.  She finally gave up, puzzling over what I could possibly find interesting about this work, and busied herself with playing with my electronic dictionary.  I encouraged her to return to campus, but she wanted to help.  Every time I found a file I wanted to call up from storage, she stopped her dictionary playing and insisted on filling out the call form herself, apparently dissatisfied with my own Chinese penmanship!

Once we had two full lists of files to pull up from storage (I ignored the archivists' concerns that I could ever get through this many documents in one day), we sat and waited for my loot.  I asked Ella if I could help her with her homework, and she pulled a folded sheet of paper from her bag: excerpts from John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address, “The world is very different now….”  We went through the first few lines together, my saying the words and Ella repeating.  I corrected her pronunciation and explained some of the meaning: 

“The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe -- the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.”

Wow.  “Not from the generosity of the state”—a concept fundamentally in opposition to the party-state’s insistence that it is the State that grants rights in China.  Who assigned Ella’s class this speech?  I asked Ella what she thought of these words.  “I think Kennedy was a great man,” was her reply, “Like your American president, Barak Obama.”

I wanted to explore her thoughts on this further, but alas, one of the clerks was standing in front of me with a large stack of files.  Documents!  Thin and yellow, stamped with still-bright red seals. Bearing the dust of the past.

My research is on wartime children’s homes, established in Chongqing during Japan’s partial-occupation of China—during what we usually think of as our Second World War.  China had been fighting its own war against Japan for several years before the United States entered WWII.  Japan began its occupation of China in 1931, with the creation of a puppet state in Manchuria.  The Nationalist government under Chiang Kai-shek chose not to fight this first wave of Japanese aggression, but by 1937, China and Japan were engaged in a full-fledged war. This resulted in what some historians recognize as the largest human migration in Chinese history, with at least 100 million civilians leaving their homes. Just before “the Rape of Nanjing” in 1937, the Guomindang moved the capital of Nationalist China up the Yangtze river to Wuhan, and then ultimately here, to Chongqing.  This hilly and perpetually overcast city—set in the lush and fertile Sichuan basin and buffered to the West by the high reaches of the Himalayas—was believed to be China’s best defense against Japan’s aerial bombardments.  If China could hang on to just a few very important provinces, the Nationalists believed, they just must survive the war.

Among these droves of refugees were large numbers of displaced children, traveling across battle lines and up river: some were separated from their families; some were still traveling with their shell-shocked parents; some were orphans who had been rescued, in groups, from behind enemy lines.  Women and men from both the Nationalist and Communist parties worked during this period (often with one another) to create relief institutions to address the needs of these wandering, hungry, and often sickly children.

It was the sickly children I was concerned with today.  And the wee-est of the wee ones: those infants, some of them foundlings, who were too young to be a part of wartime children’s acting groups and propaganda troupes, and too young to be engaged in wartime labor (all of which were activities of children in China’s wartime orphanages).  In short, I was looking for government responses to the plight of children who were less visible to the public during this period than older orphans who were frequently celebrated by China’s wartime press as child-worker-citizens.

After a bit of hunting, I found traces of these infants in pockets of files labeled “Entry Records for Infant Homes” that some clerical worker (or his or her superior) thought to save over 60 years ago.  I can’t see these babies in photographs, but I could hear them in the back and forth correspondences of government bureaucrats and orphanage directors.  A handwritten order from the Director of Social Welfare to all orphanage heads:  “Please provide my office with a list of all the starving and sickly infants admitted to your foundling home last month, their ages, and origins, their state of health…..”  Followed by a stack of responses from orphanage directors.  Director Wang: “Last month we admitted a female infant, aged 4 months, who suffers from the following illnesses and is not expected to live…”  Director Liu: “Last month we admitted a female infant of 6 months whose father is fighting in the war of resistance.  She is healthy but thin….last month 7 female infants died of the following illnesses…..”. 

It would cost me 2 yuan per page (about .30 cents) to take digital copies, and I kept a running record on my laptop of the file names I was searching and the pages I would want to photograph.  Some of the correspondences were nearly illegible to me, either due the calligraphy style of the cleric who penned them, or the material condition of the documents themselves.  But many of them were decipherable, and began to tell the story of an increasingly desperate situation from 1941 to 1943, when both skyrocketing inflation and the massive aerial bombardments of Chongqing put the youngest of the young in further danger.  The social welfare bureau sounded alarmed, as increasingly desperate institutional directors vied for limited resources. 

My wartime world was interrupted by the staff telling me it was time to break for lunch: two and a half hours of rest period, 11:30 am-2:00pm.  Chongqing is one of “China’s furnaces” with normal highs in the 90s throughout the summer,  and the custom of shutting everything down mid-afternoon no doubt stems from the need for a respite from the summer’s heat.  It wasn’t hot today, but the long break remains in place all year (extended a bit in the hottest months of summer).  A maddening custom for the researcher with limited time in the archives!  But the lull of traditional Chongqing-time is now augmented with modern conveniences: a coffee shop around the corner from the archives with wireless access, where I could search the archive website digitally from my own laptop.  I sipped Jasmine tea while looking at historic photos of Chongqing, including devastation from the wartime bombings:  (http://jda.cq.gov.cn/templet/default/ImagesClassList.jsp?root_id=lzp&id=315&id=315&root_id=lzp).  Avoiding the pictures of corpses, I studied images of smoldering buildings, marveling at the seemingly fragile wooden city that once sat upon this now concrete landscape.  Finally maxed out and in need of a break from the war, I opened my email to engage in my own, present day correspondences.   I found an email from Jason, describing our own children, healthy and safe across the world.  I responded to an email on our school’s parent list, regarding a foundling cat, potentially in need of a home. A beautifully harmonized version of  “Puff the Magic Dragon” was playing from the café’s sound system as I asked for my bill from a waitress who could not speak standard Mandarin, but only the Chongqing dialect.  It was close to 2:00 pm when I paid my 25 yuan and headed back up the hill to the archives.  The drizzle had stopped, and steam was rising from the pavement as I walked to the clicking of mahjong tiles being shuffled on shaded wooden tables.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

This morning I stepped out of the dorms and startled a tawny long-haired cat, who had apparently been nibbling at the leavings spilled from a fallen bag of potato chips.  She scampered into nearby bushes and cautiously watched me as I crossed over to the student cafeteria in search of breakfast.  It's early Sunday morning, my first Sunday morning here, and I wasn't sure what would be open.  The cafeteria was serving, but the pickings were slim: pork filled steamed buns or bowls of congee.  Neither appealed to me, so I hopped into the student store.  Crossing back to the dorm, carrying a yogurt in one hand and a sweet roll in the other, I saw the same cat perched delicately atop her stack of chips, gingerly nibbling away.  She looked filthy, but fat.  We observed each other quietly as we guarded our morning victuals. 

It has been a busy few days since I lasted posted.  These days have included:
  • A trip, Friday morning, to the nearby Nanhu Community Center.  We have a faculty-advised team of graduate students conducting life cycle research there, and our undergrads will be engaged in service learning and collecting life narratives.
  • Teaching an intensive two hour English language seminar to a class of Social Policy students.  The course was originally entrusted to one of our group, Charles, but he ended up with 150 students.  So he recruited me (and three others) as his co-teachers.  The objective: further mastery of transitions used to debate or discuss controversial issues. The lesson plan: in small groups, come up with the five most important things a foreigner should know about China.
  • A terrific dinner with Paula (Dean of Social Work), Charles (Paula's husband), John (Social Work faculty, head of the graduate research team), and Jim (University of Missouri, Center of Asian Affairs).  We sat in a gorgeous room at a restaurant perched on a hill and ate and ate, while overlooking the skyline across the banks of the Yangzi River.  Later we endeavored to find a place for a cocktail outside by the river, but we couldn't find a place that would sell us spirits in a glass (we were asked to purchase the whole bottle).  Ultimately we sat at candlelit tables, some of us sharing a bottle of Great Wall wine (nothing to get excited about!), some of us drinking Chongqing beer.  Roving musicians kept arriving with horn instruments, string instruments, microphones and amplifiers, playing loudly near our table, dueling with their selections.  (that last part was not very pleasant!)
  • A trip to an ancient fort (Diaoyu), site of the Mongol conquest of Sichuan. Check out the picture of me playing pin-the-hand on the Fu (good luck symbol).  I touched the radical for "field" and this means I will be rich some day!
  • A foot massage with Paula and the social work team, and an excellent dinner of Northern China cuisine (including a favorite dish of mine: tofu skin with green peppers).
My low point in the past 48 hours was discovering that we are now blocked from blogspot, including one of the graduate students' food blogs. Bummer.  But Jason is posting my blog and the students' blog from stateside, so keep reading! I'm also getting the comments via email, and I love reading your posted comments. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Photos from Mama-Eve Square

A city tour

Among other things on our itinerary today:  “A city tour to the downtown,  14:30-17:30.”  We were two buses full of students from all 5 universities participating in the 2009 CTBU Study and Culture Tour.

The bus ride was fast and bumpy. Up and down hills and through intersections, along boulevards built between rows of tall, shiny, skinny buildings interspersed with Soviet-era concrete apartment complexes.  Everything is built on slopes and vibrant green foliage pops out everywhere against the grays and whites of buildings.  Around every bend, a river.  I couldn’t help but draw associations with Hong Kong, for the lush hills, and Shanghai, for the rivers. And Chongqing is looking so modern now that the associations with these icons of modernity are easily conjured up for me. 

After driving over bridges and through many remarkable city districts, our first stop was the Great Hall of the People, Chongqing style.  The bus stopped outside this grand building which houses the provincial assembly as well as concerts and other cultural performances.  We were told by our hosts that we could mill around the area for half and hour before meeting back at the bus.  The dean’s husband, Charles, and I paid the price of admission for the People’s Hall itself  (not covered in the city tour), and then were embarrassed to see that our student guide from the bus, Kathy, followed us in and bought a ticket as well for a precious 10 yuan (the equivalent of 2-3 lunches or dinners).  She had never been inside this site, but wanted to look out for us as our guide.

The building is indeed great, with a large dome dominating the skyline and a huge, cavernous central hall. Our ticket stubs and guide both told us it was modeled after the Temple of Heaven, celebrating both Ming and Qing architectural styles.  The similarity with its Beijing cousins was not exaggerated.  Yet I kept puzzling over a plaque in the entry hall. This building was built in 1954:  post-revolution, when China had broken with its imperial past and Mao was industrializing, the Soviets were advising, and the countryside was mobilizing for an agricultural revolution that would culminate in a cultural revolution.  How (and why?) was this nostalgic tribute to China’s imperial past constructed then, when the central leadership, was planning, five years at a time, into an ambitious future?  And why was this built here, in Deng Xiaoping’s home province, as a place were the provincial assembly might meet and conduct its regional business? Despite the heavenly exterior with all its imperial grandeur, it is a fundamentally modern looking building which could have easily been created in this era of globalization.  Standing in the interior of the Great Hall itself, or sitting in its plush blue velvet seats, one looks up to a huge cathedral-like dome at the center created of nesting and interlaced bars of steel which reminded me of the bird’s nest that housed the Olympics in Beijing.  I tried to place this structure back in time, at its origins, imagining high level cadres gathering here in their dusty blue Mao suits to discuss collectivization and rural revolution, but I couldn’t make these ghosts from the past fit.  My guide seemed utterly confident that the grandness of the structure itself might dispel any awkwardness I was experiencing wrestling this building into standard periodizations of modern Chinese history.  When I asked her again, “Are you sure this was built in 1954?” and then tried, “Why was this built in 1954?”, she offered this by way of explanation: “It is a beautiful building, and a very great achievement.  China back then, in those days, was very poor.  Many people had to work to build this building.  They had no modern equipment, and could only use bamboo for scaffolding, and everything was done by hand by many workers. It is a true achievement.”  She could have been talking about the construction of the Great Wall or the Temple of Heaven itself.  Perhaps 1954 is now part of China’s remote past, the stuff of legend: remote enough to fold, like this building, into imperial history.

The Great Hall sits on a hill, and the entrance faces a street and then a large square below.  On the other side of the square is the Chongqing Museum, which houses a permanent exhibit on the Three Gorges Damn Project.  The museum was also not on today’s itinerary.  I made a note to myself: return to see the Three Gorges Exhibit.

The next stop on our tour was another square, the Chaotianmen Guangchang, this time remarkable to our guide as the site that marks the confluence of the Jialing and Yangtze rivers.  Kathy told us, excitedly, that we will see a distinct line where these two rivers meet: one stream of water, the Jialing, would be a dark blue; the other, the Yangtze River, would be a murky brown, laden with mud.  When we pulled up to the square I recognized this place immediately.  This is where Jason and I came on a sweltering June 8th, 2002, at a similar hour, the day before we adopted Fei Fei.  We were brought here on another tour bus, accompanied by eight other couples from the San Francisco Bay area and by our friends, Ken and Connie, who had driven us to Chongqing from our then-home in Chengdu.   I have no recollection of two streams of water meeting and joining, still distinguishable for their color and clarity.  I only remember the small world I inhabited that day, shaded under the sun umbrella I carried, counting the hours and anticipating our baby. My Mommy-Eve; our family’s own confluence of rivers.

Today was much cooler and my spirits much calmer then that momentous day nearly eight years ago.  Today ours was the only tour group, but there were many Chinese seemingly at home in this square.  Several were flying kites, including two women. I realized the site of women flying kites was strange and new to me.  Fei Fei and I used to frequently visit kite parks in a park near Peking University after I would pick her up from preschool.  There we most frequently saw men, and retired men at that, toting several kites each which they would fondly fold and unfold, choosing one and discarding another depending on the winds or their whims.  Here there were middle-aged women flying kites along side men; young women who looked like nannies with small children milling around; and older women strolling slowly, arm-in-arm. There were also young men in groups, sitting on the rails over looking the water.  No one looked liked tourists and no one seemed rushed, though most everyone was curious about our group of students.  It was a good spot for strolling and relaxing, for watching barges floating purposely along the river, for admiring the relatively new opera house on the opposite banks, flat and gray in the murky air.  I took several photos; talked with an elderly Chongqing man wearing black-framed glasses about the many virtues of Chongqing; helped one of our students bargain for a kite; and finally re-boarded the bus.

Check out the new student blog


First lunch in Chonqing


Breakfast yesterday:

  • Congee with pickled cabbage
  • Chinese crepe with green onions
  • Instant coffee from the bread vendor

Lunch yesterday:

  • Soft tofu in a mildly spicy red sauce
  • Tofu gan’r with green onions
  • Bok choy
  • Rice


  •  Nestle’s drumstick (Keaiduo) post-lunch
  • Chrysanthemum tea in the late afternoon


  • Chongqing Hotpot
  • Chongqing Beer (Snow mountain: Xueshan pijiu)

Breakfast today:

  • Chinese yogurt (strawberry)
  • Bread with raisins
  • 2+1 instant coffee


  • Soup noodles with egg and vegetables


  • Nestle’s Keaiduo drumstick

Dinner tonight:

  • Green beans with pepper corn and spicy red peppers (ma and la)
  • Fried, breaded corn kernels
  • Yuxiang qiezi (Sichuan eggplant)
  • Potato strips with pepper corn and spicy red peppers (ma and la)
  • Egg and tomatoes, stir fried
  • Chongqing beer (Shanshui pijiu)