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.