Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tuesday, July 10 - Homecoming

After a six-hour wait on the tarmac, we finally departed Beijing yesterday, arriving in San Jose three hours ago. Home at last!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Monday, July 9

Our last night in Beijing: It's been quite a journey from that initial transcontinental flight to this point. Following our final week of class we commenced upon a four-day weekend of travels, both in and outside of Beijing. Now everyone is back together (including one student who battled some unexpected visa delays in Hong Kong) and we're just about done with class.

Students delivered their final presentations this morning, demonstrating their mastery over a rich tapestry of theories, arguments, and insights about contemporary urban culture. Then we celebrated with Peking Duck experience at Dadong Restaurant, savoring the fanciest meal we've had this entire trip. [Of course a few of us gathered once more at "The Italian Place" later in the evening.] A gentle rain is falling now and we're all settling in for some much needed rest.

We just have to pack and prepare for one more bus ride to the airport tomorrow afternoon, our last one in China before we head home. It's been a quite an adventure, one filled with unforgettable sights, sounds (and, yes, a few memorable smells and tastes). China is now part of the personal narrative for each one of these SJSU students. No doubt, many will be returning soon. Even after three weeks, there is still so much to learn and do.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Friday, July 6

Yeah, it gets a little crowded on the Beijing subway! Even so, SJSU students have been braving the heat, drizzle, and commotion of the big city to enjoy their four-day weekend. Five flew to Hong Kong (sending a note upon their safe arrival) while two other students dedicated the day to climbing another section of the Great Wall. The rest are shopping, searching for new sites to explore, and sampling this city's hopping nightlife. This Monday we'll celebrate the conclusion of class with final presentations and the "Peking Duck Experience." Then it's time to pack for our return flight.

PS: I'm sorry if you're comments aren't showing up. Updating this blog from China can be tricky - causing basic functionality to run poorly (or not at all). Rest assured, though, that I have seen your comments, and I'm happy to learn that you've enjoyed these messages.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Wednesday, July 4

Independence Day in China! Many of us enjoyed the rare opportunity to sleep in, meeting at 2 for a trip to the Temple of Heaven and a late afternoon "Kung Fu Experience." A few students woke earlier, though, and finally discovered the location of the much-sought-after "Grandma's Kitchen" restaurant. So tomorrow most of us will be gathering for some American home cooking - launching our final long weekend with stacks of pancakes...

Tuesday, July 3

Another blue-sky day in Beijing and it's beginning to sink in for many students that we're winding down our class, that soon we'll be saying goodbye to China. All of us miss friends and loved ones back home, yet each participant in this program can relate to the frustration that we'll be leaving this place just as we've begun to master some of its intricacies!

For some students it's the confidence that comes from learning to navigate the buses and metros of this sprawling city. For others its about learning to haggle with increasing success with street vendors - getting better bargains for souvenirs and gifts to bring back to the States. Every participant has found some special place to call their own: a favorite piece of artwork at the 798 District, an amazing view from the Great Wall, a memory of that Dragon Boat ride at the Summer Palace...

Still, many of us end up congregating at least once per day at "The Italian Place," a spot offering Western-style meals located near our hotel. the SJSU crew isn't necessarily homesick, but all of us understand that even this adventure cannot last forever. So today we had our final discussion section, anticipating tomorrow's excursions and the four-day weekend to come. Afterward comes the final project - student presentations - packing, and then home.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Monday, July 2

Today opened up with the clearest, bluest skies we've yet seen in Beijing - making the beginning of our third week in China. SJSU students have clearly become confident in their mastery of the complexities of big city transportation - even as they've survived their wanderings through some dense course material. Today's class began with student summaries of their weekend activities, including stories shared by our two nomads who spent the last two days in Shanghai.

Of course everyone had stories about their weekend discoveries, some at the 798 Arts District, others in Hutong neighborhoods, and still others in Beijing's many shopping opportunities. After our initial weekend "show and tell," we spent some time summarizing key ideas related to panopticism and the flaneur gaze, applying those abstract theoretical lenses upon the applied practicalities of life in Beijing. The conversation got thick mighty quick, particularly when we considered whether premodern, modern, and postmodern culture might reside simultaneously in China. We could have spent another hour in class, but the day was simply too nice. Those blue skies called us all to hit the metros in search of new experiences.

That being said, SJSU students are still working hard to master our course. In fact, students will complete another synthesis exercise tomorrow, taking turns to explain various aspects of postmodernity from a Chinese context (sort of an open book oral exam). They'll also form small groups to swap insights about our two primary texts, Peter Hessler's Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip and James Fallows' Postcards from Tomorrow Square: Reports From China.

The rest of the week will feature a visit to the Temple of Heaven (followed by an early Wednesday evening Kung Fu show) followed by the launch of our long-anticipated four day weekend! No doubt, students will use some of that time to prepare for their final presentations (7-10 minute explorations of topics related to Chinese culture, augmented by classroom concepts and personal investigations). But something tells me that the SJSU crew will also make the most out of this final opportunity to experience China before we begin packing for our flight home.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Sunday, July 1

Sorry for the delay in updating. After nearly two weeks of almost flawless online access, our hotel is now having problems connecting us to the net. Even so, we're managing a balance of intellectual productivity and touristic adventure. All of us are exhausted, yet we continue to see as much of this place as possible. Two students have been so bold as to fly to Shanghai for the weekend (leaving many of us amazed at their confidence to pack so much into a short time!). Others are still planning to visit Hong Kong next weekend (making sure to leave me detailed itineraries before they depart). And all of us are bonding over shared excursions and late night conversations. It seems that every participant in this trip has something to offer. Some take amazing photos, others use their haggling skills to get us great deals, while others play live music at our gatherings. It's an amazing thing to see this group become such a family.

As you'd imagine, SJSU students have been making the most of this weekend's much-needed break from our studies. On Friday most of the group metro'd to the city's Olympic Center to check out the Bird's Nest, the Water Cube, and the surrounding park. The sticky, hot weather inspired many of us to take a swim in the Cube - imagining ourselves doing laps with Michael Phelps. Later that evening we oooh'd and ahhh'd at the Park's magnificent light show. Of course we couldn't walk more than a few feet without receiving repeated entreaties to buy kites and LED slingshots (toys that shoot up like rockets and spin down to earth on delicate wings). We haggled a while but eventually gave in, buying nearly a dozen toys between us. Thereafter we laughed and played among the crowds who'd gathered on a lovely, cool evening - leaving just enough time to squeeze into late-evening metros heading home.

Saturday was, if anything, even a nicer experience. For the first time, Beijing's gloomy overcast weather cleared enough to reveal beautiful blue skies. Our class responded in unique ways, with some folks returning to the 798 District, and others searching for new sights to discover. One small group journeyed by metro and bus to a place called World Park, a collection of miniature versions of famous landmarks, like the Eiffel Tower, London's Tower Bridge, and - yes - the Great Wall of China (and also the setting for a 2004 movie about the modern China called Shìjiè, directed by Jia Zhangke).

We rented a paddleboat, took pictures on a camel next to a fake Egyptian pyramid, and rode a rollercoaster with park employees who constantly reminded us to shout louder (hoping of attracting more business). World Park even boasts a section dedicated to U.S. landmarks, including an eerie Manhattan island where the Twin Towers still stand. The day closed with many of us gathered in one of our hotel rooms, listening to live music played by one of our talented crew and sharing stories of our Beijing adventures.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Thursday, June 28

A busy and memorable day in Beijing for the SJSU crew. We departed early in streaming rain to visit the Great Wall. Despite the gnarly weather, though, we had a lovely time. Students decided that the hanging mist added an air of mystery to the place, and shopping for souvenirs can be fun no matter the precipitation! Most of us climbed no further than the tenth sentry tower, though a hearty few made it even further up those steep, slippery steps.

Following lunch at a "Friendship Store," we headed back into town to visit the Summer Palace. The drizzle had subsided at this point, allowing for a leisurely stroll through ornate gardens and stunning monuments. A highlight was the Long Corridor alongside a lake: a chance to view detailed artistic renderings of beloved Chinese stories while listening to cheerful songs belted out by visiting schoolchildren. Best of all, we hired a dragon boat to carry us across the lake back to our starting point!

Another tasty meal (topped off by some American dessert from a McDonald's across the street) prepared us for our evening adventure: The Peking Opera. One humble blog post cannot possibly describe that particular experience; it's best to ask those who've been there to share their perceptions in person. Suffice to say that SJSU students ended an eventful day with enough culture to inspire conversations long after our return to the States.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Wednesday, June 27

SJSU students continue to savor their Beijing adventures while growing closer together as a group [Maybe it's our "sticky rice" technique surviving this city's packed subway system]. Folks are enjoying the class, even though our conversations about panopticism, the flaneur gaze, and postmodernity can get pretty thick at times. Fortunately SJSU students are doing a fine job of connecting abstract concepts to some of the concrete realities of life in Beijing. Their journal entries make for some fascinating reading!

Students are also buzzing about forthcoming plans. Believe it or not, a few are even planning to spend the weekend in Hong Kong. And some are hoping to dedicate our upcoming four-day weekend (July 5-8) to a Shanghai excursion. It's an amazing thing, isn't it?... how a place as seemingly distant as China can become open and inviting once folks take that all-important first step. "Getting there" is half the struggle. Cross that frontier and then just about anything seems possible.

Tomorrow we're taking some time away from classroom study, traveling together to hike a section of the Great Wall. So far the weather prediction calls for rain, but we're hoping for a little luck. None of us have seen more than a smidgen of blue sky during this entire trip, yet we've all managed to find lots of time to explore this amazing place, despite overcast and drizzling days. We are therefore cautiously optimistic about tomorrow. After our Great Wall morning, we're visiting the Summer Palace in the afternoon before spending our evening at the Peking Opera.

What's the most common reaction to this trip so far? Here it is: "Our class is going by so fast!"

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Tuesday, June 26

As expected, the SJSU crew made the most out of their weekends. In small groups they toured more of Beijing - with many folks getting to know the city's nightlife. They're also working hard on journal entries, reading reaction papers, and preparations for final presentations. Topics include gender roles in China, comparative sporting traditions, fashion practices, class distinctions, and much more.

Yesterday, we began our classroom exploration of Walter Benjamin's flaneur gaze, and students departed with informal assignments to practice this form of writing that drifts between contemplation and distraction. Today, students presented their results, reading brief essays aloud. It's a fascinating thing indeed to hear Beijing conveyed through such varied bits and pieces of experience and perception.

Balancing intellectually challenging classroom conversations with physically demanding city exploration, this course has thus far proven to be both exciting and exhausting. Many of us celebrated getting this far yesterday with a long lunch at our group's new favorite restaurant - an Italian place near our hotel called "I do." There we chatted and laughed about our adventures, and we looked forward to what happens next.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Friday, June 22

After a long week of jet lag, extreme heat, dietary adventures, and complex coursework, the SJSU crew is finally able to relax a little bit over the next couple days. There are no formal activities scheduled for the weekend, which means that small groups (everyone with at least one "buddy") are free to explore Beijing, putting their metro cards (and street smarts) to good use. No doubt they'll all return on Monday with lots of stories to share.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Thursday, June 21

Today marked our first formal classroom meeting. The first hour was dedicated to discussions about Chinese language and culture (aided by one of our on-site facilitators, Crystal). We then tackled our first assigned reading, an excerpt from Michel Foucault's analysis of panopticism that would frame our afternoon excursion. At noon we enjoyed a wonderful lunch, courtesy of our hosts here at the Communication University of China, before putting our classroom conversations into context by visiting Tian'an men Square.

SJSU students took hundreds of pictures and were generally amazed by the vastness of the place. Our group wandered for a while, enjoying the many opportunities to take pictures with Chinese tourists who seemed amazed by our group (especially some of our particularly tall students!). We also shared a few impromptu moments connecting our reading to some of the realities of this place. The rest of the day buzzed with continued conversation that connected theory and practice.

Of course we also enjoyed a more lighthearted entertainment when we traveled to see an awesome acrobatics show. As usual, getting there proved to be half the fun. Fortunately, SJSU students are becoming masters of the Beijing metro; we even arrived early enough to grab some Starbucks before the show! We're all enjoying the complex and varied Chinese diet, but it's nice to return to the comforts of "home" too. The show was terrific, with astounding feats of physical strength and dexterity balanced by goofy humor and audience interaction.

Finally we made our way back in some of the most crowded subway cars we've ever seen, only to discover that it'd started to rain. Walking (sometimes running) through the downpour, we made our way back to the hotel. Some of us chatted for about an hour about forthcoming assignments until, at last, we could celebrate the end of another fine day in China.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Wednesday, June 20

Wifi problems mean that this blog may not be frequently updated, but SJSU is having a great time in China. Today we took a tour of campus before exploring the Beijing subway. We're all massively jet lagged, but spirits remain high. Tomorrow we'll have our first class!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Safe Arrival! June 19

Exhausted but happy - our flight, transfers, and hotel check-in accomplished with no major hassles. Some of us even shared a meal on campus. Tomorrow is our orientation day - getting used to the campus and to Beijing's metro system!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Preparing for Beijing 2012

Tomorrow we're flying to Beijing to begin a three-week Communication and Culture course. Over the next few weeks we will examine culture as a constellation of ideas, texts, objects, performances, and environments that reflect practices of power. Our primary perspective on culture is modernity, with China comprising our central site of analysis. Assuming a power-as-hegemonic approach, but also keenly aware of the potential for resistance and pleasure in even the most totalizing environments, we'll study modern Chinese culture – paying particular attention to urban life in Beijing – as a site of communication through which the modern project is affirmed, challenged, and transformed.