Friday, May 28, 2010

Winding down, doing more

May 29, 2010

The program is winding down, in theory, although our days are just as packed as ever. We depart Sunday morning and have slowly begun to wrap things up: debriefing our experiences, exchanging parting gifts and sentiments with our hosts, beginning to prep our students to transfer their experiences home. The formal educational aspects of the program have lightened up and the recreational and social aspects have intensified, yet I’m still finding I’m experiencing new things daily. This adventure just keeps on going.

An update on our puppy. He continues to thrive, primarily under the shared care of Paula and the vet. Paula has had him nightly and they both have been sleeping fairly well. We still do not have a final plan yet for our puppy’s future, but we have some good elements of a plan in place. After a great deal of soul-searching and exploring the options in China, our ideal is to bring him to the U.S. and have him become a member of my family in Rutledge. Paula is smitten with him, but she and her husband aren’t prepared to take on a puppy until she retires, which is a few years out. I would love to raise our puppy and welcome him into our lives. But the logistics of this are still a bit tricky. The paperwork and actual expenses are, as I suspected, not daunting. The vet can handle the government health exam, vaccinations and permit at minimal expense and our puppy can fly with a human ticketed passenger and we will only be charged an extra baggage fee. There are a number of people we know flying from Chongqing to Philadelphia around the time our puppy would be ready to fly. But the one big logistical wrinkle is trying to find a carrier that will allow him to fly in the passenger cabin and not require him to fly as cargo in an oxygenated cabin. My cats flew cargo and they were just fine, but they were a couple years old at the time, not nearly as young as our pup. Thus far I’ve discovered Korea Air will permit him to fly in the passenger cabin if he is less than 11 pounds. He is tiny now, but I’m not sure what he’ll weigh in a couple of months, after he’s received all his required vaccinations for transport. It’s also possible we can get around the vaccination requirements and transport him sooner, if he does not have to fly on a Chinese airline from here to Beijing or wherever else he catches his international flight (it’s the Chinese airlines that require the vaccinations, U.S. customs will permit us to bring him unvaccinated if we sign a form on entry promising to vaccinate him within 30 days). So it’s possible he might travel with someone on train to Beijing or Shanghai (wish it were me, that would be a FUN train ride!).

For now, we have a good foster plan option until we can attempt to transport him. He’ll live under the care of our kind vet, who is determined that “our pup” should only go to a good family. Han Yan is also continuing to seek other foster family options for him as well. Yes, I’ve been busy. But I seriously love figuring out these kinds of puzzles and having to think creatively for a positive outcome. And I’m learning a host of new things about China while navigating this as well.

I had another adventure today, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in China. Midweek, the International Office invited us, the faculty, to attend a singing competition on campus and we accepted (under the condition that we were in the audience). We have been hearing singing coming from buildings all across campus at odd hours of the day and night for the past two weeks, and it’s been really good singing! Amazing harmonies, multiple-parts, and strong and sonorous voices. The competition is between different departments, both academic and administrative, across campus. CTBU is a huge university in population and it’s huge with talent. We have done karaoke with the International Studies staff and have felt like we are in the company of rock stars—it is unbelievable how these folks can sing. I’ve known this about the Chinese population since I first arrived in China: people receive vocal training from a very early age as part of their educational curriculum. I have no idea if the tonal quality of the Chinese language also helps speakers develop their vocal capacity more than those who speak a non-tonal language. Whatever the reason, in China people can really sing.

But before the competition tonight we went on a CTBU sponsored excursion to Ciqikou: a historic “old town” in the midst of more developed Chongqing, featuring narrow winding streets, beautiful old buildings, and tightly packed shops and street vendors. It is a Mecca for foreign visitors who have had little time to shop for gifts and are about to depart the country in two days. I purchased silk pajamas for my daughters (shhhhh….although I suspect that Jazz, who is returning stateside today from Shanghai, also got them pajamas); two really good cooking knives made at Da Zu, the town with the stone carvings (I won’t reveal who these are for); eight small paintings of Chongqing (for my oldest daughter’s orphanage sisters from our adoption group, all of whom are from Chongqing and whom we will see shortly at a reunion in SF); and four silk scarves for myself. We were told to meet back at the bus by 5:15 and the bus departed almost immediately as buses often do in China. It didn’t take long for us to hit Friday rush hour traffic, and as we inched towards the bridge that would bring us back to the Nan’an district I noticed our driver, Mr. Wang, was cursing up a storm. I found this very amusing: Sichuan denizens are characterized as having hot tempers and this guy was living up to the stereotype. I was paying close attention, seeing this as a language learning opportunity, thinking it might be fun to be able to curse in Chongqing dialect. I noted to Rea from the International Office that I thought it was funny that a professional driver would curse at the Friday afternoon rush hour traffic, as if it were some unforgivable personal offense to him. Rea laughed but then said, “No, there is another reason he is especially mad. He is supposed to sing in the competition tonight and his leader has already called him six times wondering where he is!” It was now 6:00 and the concert started at 7:00. I joked with Mr. Wang that he could warm up his vocal cords as he drove and give us a little preview of the evening show, but he joked back that he could only sing to an audience who had low blood pressure and was free of heart disease! We pulled up to our dorm at 6:30 and Mr. Wang rushed us all off the bus, pausing only to let me snap a picture of him, smiling at the wheel.

The singing competition was both amazing and surreal. The theme was patriotic songs and it was divided into three parts: Songs from the War of Resistance: Songs from the Cultural Revolution: Songs celebrating the Party. Actually the songs in all three sections celebrated the Party in a crazy revisionist version of history. This in itself was surreal, as we have had such close contact with a rapidly modernizing and very politically and culturally open Chinese population this entire visit. Just four nights ago at English Corner I was surrounded by students who begged me to talk politics with them. I agreed and let them ask the questions, and wouldn’t you know it, they asked me to tell them how I teach about Tibet and Taiwan, leading to an incredibly frank and thoughtful discussion. But that wasn’t on the program for tonight. What I did see was the Physical Education department do an incredibly athletic choreographed song and dance, complete with Red Army uniforms called “the Song of Guerilla Warfare,” celebrating the Red Army’s attacks of the Japanese in Occupied China. I also saw the Animation Department team up with the School of Architecture to sing a song called “The Homeland and Me” and the Literature Department did an amazing performance of a song called “Only with the CCP can there be a New China.” Finally, Mr. Wang appeared on stage with the Logistics division sporting a white shirt and red bow tie. They sang a War of Resistance era song about creating a strong defense along the Yellow River. No one in the audience came close to having a heart attack.

Tomorrow is my last day in Chongqing, and my parting is less sad than it was last year, only because I know I’m returning to China in July with my daughters. I have a simple agenda for tomorrow: blog about Travis’s lecture to CTBU students on sexual orientation, hike up Nan Shan, pack, take the pup to the vet and bid him so long, get a massage, and go to bed before midnight. I have it all planned out. We’re winding down now, no more adventures, right?

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