Ni hao (hello) to our family and friends.  We are thoroughly enjoying our China adventure and are catching our breath this weekend to send you this summary of our activities starting with May 4, the day of our arrival in Xi’an.  Some of you did not receive our first letter because our email address book was not complete.  If you missed the first letter, you can access it via Tyler’s website (http://home/earthlink.net/~tylerfolsom)

 

Tuesday, May 4

After lunch, Gao Yuan took us on a walking tour of campus.  There is a little store close to our hotel that sells food and supplies.  We bought a 240/120 volt adaptor and some bottled water.  Over the next few days we would go back to buy extra hangers, a dish towel and detergent, laundry soap, a shaving mirror (there is no electricity in the bathroom, which has a nice big mirror), tissue, chopsticks, juice, fruit and milk.

 

The campus is quiet, since there is a one week holiday following May 1.  The campus has two gates and a fence that separates it from the surrounding neighborhoods.  There are grass, trees, flowers, and a  fountain (which reminds us of the Drumheller fountain on the University of Washington campus).  Many of the buildings are high rise, typically to 7 stories or so.  The layout is more like an American campus than a European one. Beyond the student dormitories are sports facilities – concrete ping pong tables, basketball courts, a track and soccer field.  They have a large outdoor swimming pool which will be filled with water at the end of this month.  We look forward to swimming there.  Campus rules are .reminiscent of American college campuses in the 1950s and early 1960s; there are separate dormitories for men and women and a curfew of 11:30 PM.  Electricity is shut off in the dorms at that time.

 

In our hotel (which fortunately does not shut off the electricity), we have a small, but clean and comfortable suite with a bedroom and a living-room.  The latter has a couch, bookshelves, a desk, low table,  and a chair.  Off the living-room is a small kitchen with refrigerator, sink, microwave, hotplate and cabinets.  There is a small bathroom on the bedroom side.  The only glitch is that we were promised a double bed but have two twin beds.  The room with the big bed was not available and we may move to another room in a few days.  Thus we only partially unpacked.  Because our apartment is in a hotel, there is maid service every day.  Not needing to cook, clean, or commute to work will free up time for us to do our work and experience the new culture in which we are living.

 

We had a buffet dinner in the cafeteria serving the hotel and were surprised to find out that the university is paying for our meals during the first week of our stay.  Afterwards, we pay five yuan (0.60) each for breakfast and 10 yuan ($1.20) each for lunch and dinner.  We also plan to sample Xi’an’s many wonderful restaurants.  Northwest University is paying for our housing, transportation expenses between Seattle and Xi’an, and one trip within China as well as Chinese-scale salaries.  We are very pleased with our work arrangements.

 

In the evening we went over to the Computer Science building where Tyler has work space.  We were not able to connect to our own e-mail, but sent our first installment using one of the grad student’s accounts (that explains the unfamiliar email address in the message).  We went to bed early tonight due to some jet lag from the 15 hour time difference, but are getting onto local time reasonably quickly. 

 

Wednesday, May 5

We have our folding bikes put together. We went by bike with Gao Yuan and her cousin to the Big Goose Pagoda.  The traffic took some getting used to.  We followed wide boulevards that have bike lanes at the edges.  The only problem is that the bike lanes get used by pedestrians, bikes (both directions), motor scooters, pedaled tricycle trucks, taxis, cars and buses.  The traffic was heavy in places and we were often traveling at 4 mph.

 

We had visited the Little Goose Pagoda when we were in Xi’an 20 years ago.  It did not have much besides the tower that we climbed to get a view of the city.  At that time, farmland started at the pagoda.

The Big Goose Pagoda is a bit farther out of town, but now all the land is urban, with lots of high rise hotels, office buildings and apartments.  The Big Goose is much more extensive than the Little Goose.  There is a large temple complex with many buildings and attractive landscaping.  One of the temple buildings had a gift shop and Tyler bought two VCDs of Buddhist chants from a monk.  They cost 8 RMB each (a bit less than a dollar),  The Video Compact Disk is a Chinese format, and I (Tyler) wasn’t sure if I could play it.  Back at the hotel, I loaded it in my computer and found that it includes a program for playing it.  It is something of a cross between a DVD and an audio CD.  It basically does a slide show while it plays the music.  I am pleased with them.

 

We climbed to the top of the pagoda, which was fairly crowded.  There were nice views from the top, but no sign of farm land.  This temple complex was built to hold hundreds of Buddhist sutras that were brought here from India by a monk who made a 12 year journey.  After he returned, he spent the next decade translating them to Chinese.  The emperor had the temple built as a library for the sutras.

 

After we finished visiting the pagoda, Gao Yuan took us to lunch at a hot pot restaurant (Northwest University is also paying for our local sightseeing and accompanying restaurant meals this week.).   She used her cell phone to arrange for her husband to join us for lunch.  In 1984, few people in China had telephones.  Now many people have cell phones and walk down the street talking on them, just like at home.  Gao Yuan’s husband is a law student at Northwest University and plays on their basketball team.  He is the tallest Chinese person we have met thus far (about 5’10”).  In general, Chinese people are shorter and smaller-boned than Caucasian Americans.  At 5’6”, Fran is taller than most of the women and is the same height as the average Chinese man.  She feels very large-boned here.  Of course Tyler is REALLY tall here.         

 

Back to our hotpot lunch (which Gao Yuan said was a local specialty): Each table has a central soup pot where vegetables and broth are cooked.  Meat is added to the mix.  The meat was fatty cuts of pork, plus some spam-like stuff.  It wasn’t real appetizing and did not appear to be thoroughly cooked.  They did add some beef, which was somewhat better.  Fran got a noodle dish instead.

 

We returned to campus and had dinner in the cafeteria.  There is a good variety of well-cooked dishes at each meal – meats, tofu, seafood, vegetables, rice, noodles, and breads.  The cafeteria food is not as good as our welcoming lunch yesterday, but is much better quality than the dorm food from our college days.

 

We met at 7:00 PM with Dr. Cao Mingming, the chair of the Environmental Science Department where Fran will teach.  Dr. Cao was accompanied by the Vice-Chair of the department and Dr. Fang, a young professor.   We were surprised that they came to our suite rather than meeting us at the Environmental Science building, but meetings in hotel suites seem to be common in China.  Our suite has separate doors to the bedroom and living-room, so we were able to just admit them to the living-room.  The three men were very cordial and welcoming.  Dr. Fang is the only one who speaks English, so he functioned as the interpreter between Fran and Dr. Cao.  This meeting clarified Fran’s teaching assignment, which is one class titled “Environmental Ecology, Urban Environment, and Environmental Evaluation.”  Fran showed her draft syllabus to her new colleagues.  Since no one seemed to object and the title is broad, she figured that she can go ahead with teaching what she wants to (lake ecology and impacts of water pollution on fish, aquatic ecosystems, and human health). 

 

After the meeting, we enjoyed an evening stroll in the neighborhood.  There was a department store across from the southwest corner of the old city walls.  We went inside and were amazed at the abundance of consumer goods.  Very different from 20 years ago!   The store felt like the Bon Marche in downtown Seattle!  There were lots of fashionable clothes, cosmetics, electronic gadgets, reclining chairs, toys, dishes and house wares, with a food supermarket on the top floor.  We bought some bowls, yogurt and juice. 

 

Thursday, May 6

Today was a work day.  We spent most of the day pulling together material for our classes.  Our colleagues in the Computer Science and Environmental Science departments refer to us as the “foreign experts.”   This is both validating and scary; we definitely want to be well-prepared for our classes next week. 

 

Most other residents of our hotel are foreign students from Japan, Korea, and the Philippines.  Some are traditional undergraduate age, while others are adults who are here to study Chinese.  There are also two other Visiting Professors from the U.S. – Maureen from New York City who has taught English in China for the past 18 years including 13 years at Northwest University and Toni from Wichita, Kansas who is teaching geology and English for three months at Northwest University.  She arrived here one month before us.  Both Maureen and Toni are politically simpatico, fellow adventurers and travelers;  Toni  spent seven years working with Jane Goodall in Africa. 

 

This evening, we took a long walk in the old walled city.  The walls were originally built in 1370 and have been recently restored.  We strolled through a night fruit and vegetable market and through some narrow residential streets.  We look forward to biking on the walls.

 

Friday, May 7

We worked in the morning.  We both need a computer and our lap-top is in constant use.  There are quite a few computers at the Computer Science department (actually it is Visualization Technology) that run Windows, but they all use the Chinese version of Windows.  They took a brand new computer out of the box for Tyler and set it up in English.  It’s a nice machine: Pentium 4 at 2.5 GHz with 74 GB hard drive.  It puts his DigiPen office computer to shame.

 

In the afternoon, we biked with Gao Yuan (she has been very kind and helpful to us) and a friend of hers to the History Museum.  We stayed there all afternoon until it closed at 6:30.  It was fascinating!  It is devoted to items from this region.  It starts with a skull of “Lantian man” found near Xi’an and dating back to 1,150,000 years ago, and Paleolithic stone tools from about 100,000 years ago.  Next comes Neolithic pottery, about 5,000 years old.  The tools and pottery are amazingly well-preserved!  The main collection is from the period when Xi’an was the capital of the empire, about 200 BCE to 800 CE.  There are some incredible ceramics and bronzes.  Gao Yuan and her friend shared information about Chinese history that enhanced our appreciation for the objects that we were seeing. 

 

After the museum, we biked into the center of the old city and parked our bikes in a lot near the Bell Tower.  Bicycle theft has become a problem in China, so it is advisable to pay an attendant to watch your locked bike.  The old city sure looks different than it did in 1984!  The Bell Tower and Drum Tower, which are the landmarks of Xi’an dating back to the 14th century, look incongruous alongside modern shopping malls and upscale hotels.  The simple hotel where we stayed in 1984 has long since been replaced by a glitzy descendant.  An underground passageway enables pedestrians to cross safely from one side of the main, car-clogged arterial to the other.   The four of us had a good dinner at a dumpling restaurant and then took a walk in the Muslim district of the old city.  There is a lively night market here, with some snacks that look and smell delectable (e.g. lamb kebabs and freshly baked flat bread) and others that are less appealing (e.g. sheep brains that are scooped up in a paper cup and given to you with a spoon).  We are adventurous eaters, but the latter crosses the line for us.

 

We biked back to Northwest University after dark.  We do not have lights on our bikes; neither does anyone else in Xi’an.  Gao Yuan selected a well-lit route, but we still had to be very attentive to the volume and variety of traffic in the “bike lanes.”  Fran would NEVER bicycle in these traffic conditions at home, but when in Rome…..

 

Saturday, May 8

Things are back in full swing on campus today.  The holiday has ended.  Classes at the university run Monday through Saturday.  The twin beds were taken from our room and replaced by a nice double bed.  That provides a little more space in the bedroom and a convenient place to park Fran’s bike.  Tyler’s fits nicely in the kitchen.

 

We got our teaching schedules today.  Tyler teaches Computer Graphics and Machine Vision.  They each meet twice a week.  Each class is a double period, with 50 minutes of teaching, a 10 minute break, and then another 50 minutes.  Thus Tyler is in class 8 hours per week.  Computer Graphics is a class of 240 students that meets Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.  The Machine Vision class has 78 students and meets Wednesday afternoon and Friday morning.  It is located on the new campus, which is 3.2 miles from here.  Those students are part of the Software Institute, which is housed on the new campus.

Tyler continued with getting his computer set up, getting Microsoft Windows and Office installed.

 

Fran’s class meets for two hours on Tuesday evening, Thursday morning, and Friday afternoon.  Fran met another young professor, Dr. Wang, in her classroom and reviewed the use of the audiovisual equipment. There is a Power Point projector.  Fran has intended to learn how to prepare Power Point slides for years.  This is a good opportunity to become more computer-literate!  Her class has 60 students, half environmental science majors and half environmental engineering majors.  The students are undergraduate juniors; about 10 graduate students will audit the class as well.

 

Both of us worked hard today on preparing our first lectures.  We are glad to have arrived in Xi’an one week before starting to teach.  Instead of using one textbook, Fran is pulling relevant material from about 15 different books, reports, and journal articles.  Dr. Wang will assign a graduate student to photocopy the reading assignments each week.

 

Sunday. May 9

Tyler did a 40 mile bike ride this morning while Fran worked.  He was eager to get out of the city and move at a faster pace.  At about 6 miles to the south, there is a motorway interchange.  South from there becomes suburban, with occasional high rise upscale condo towers.  About 10 miles out is rural land.  After biking south for 16 miles, a left turn led through a village, then rejoined a main road that paralleled the mountains to the south, now much closer.  Visibility tends to be quite limited here.  There is lots of dust in the air in addition to effluent from factories.  There were new, multi-lane highways with light traffic.  The East-West road ended at the point that another main road to the north began.  Following this back to town led to the Xingji temple that few tourists visit.

 

Meanwhile, back at Northwest University, Fran was preparing her first lecture.  Dr. Wang stopped by at 10 AM to pick up the reading assignments for the first week and returned them in one hour, assuring Fran that the students would receive copies of these materials before Tuesday.  We are both impressed with the quick followup on our requests.

 

Tonight, we went to dinner at the same restaurant where we had our delicious welcoming lunch on Tuesday.  The waiters and waitresses did not speak English, but kindly assisted us in selecting a delicious lamb with eggplant dish and a string bean dish.  We used our Chinese phrase book and menus that we brought from Chinese restaurants in Seattle, and pointed to various characters in both to find out which dishes were available.

 

Monday, May 10

This was a full work day for both of us.  We are excited about starting to teach tomorrow.  A group of professors from Mary Grove College in Detroit is staying at our hotel for four days.  The group leader is originally from Chengdu (one of the cities that we might visit) and is giving us advice on what to expect in Chinese university classes.

 

Miscellaneous Observations

It is fascinating to be back in this ancient cradle of civilization (and emerging world power) and see the many changes that have taken place during the past 20 years.  China is more modern, affluent, capitalistic (private enterprise has trumped the Communist economic system), and  outward-looking.  In 1984, most people rode bicycles.  Now the streets are full of taxis and cars, although there are still many bicyclists.  It is still common to see girls and women walk arm-in-arm or holding hands with their female friends – likewise with boys and men.  What has changed is that couples are publicly affectionate with  each other.  Chinese children are still adorable and well cared for by doting parents and extended family; fathers are still very actively involved in the care of their children.

 

The weather in Xian has been pleasant thus far – sunny and in the 70s or low 80s most days (like July in Seattle).  However, Xi’an has a very dry climate and is an inland city, so the weather pattern resembles that of eastern Washington rather than the Puget Sound region.  Summers here are very hot; we have been warned to expect temperatures in the 90s or even over 100 in July.  Our apartment and classrooms are air-conditioned, so it should be tolerable.  The swimming pool will help too. 

 

The sky is often hazy due to the poor air quality from automobile exhaust, factory emissions and dust.  There is a lot of new construction in Xi’an and many uncovered piles of fugitive dust.  I am sure that the particulate concentrations in the air significantly exceed U.S. air quality standards!  Neither Tyler nor I are feeling any ill effects from the air pollution, but someone who is allergic to dust could be really uncomfortable here.  There have been a few brief periods of rain; the air is cleaner and the sky is bluer afterwards.  People do wash and sweep the steets and floors frequently.

 

We will sign off for now so we can send this email letter.  Stay tuned for our next installment, which will describe our first week of teaching and our further explorations in Xi’an.

 

Zai jian (goodbye for now)!

 

Fran and Tyler