This is the week for meeting young people. the first is Dustin. He was recruited by my office to help me learn Mandarin. It's not exactly working out like that. It's more of a cultural exchange. If any language is being learned, he and his darling young graduating seniors--or DYGS as I call them--are learning English from me. They are trying to form a non-profit to help the disabled in Beijing. A rare undertaking in China at this time. Most folks are busy trying to raise themselves up, and they don't notice others around them. I really applaud their efforts and am impressed by these bright and caring young people. I've got them working on a mission statement, something we started over dinner in a canteen near their dorm Wednesday night. Pedaling home, I enjoy seeing the people out and about in the darkness.
After working off and on for Professor Boss' special projects group the last few weeks, I'm starting to get to know them and likewise they are getting to know and trust me. This group is responsible for writing speeches for the president as well as other things. I'm not certain about the lines of authority. Being Professor Boss' Foreign Expert, the first and only, full-time foreigner in the department, and an American BTW! More people are discovering me and asking for help polishing their English language products.
I go to lunch today and had an amazing sweet and sour fish. The head stood up one one end and made a display which looked like a huge lobster--wow, delicious! The two young people dining with me have very good English skills and are full of questions about the US and even got onto some sensitive subjects like Tibet tourism and modern Chinese history.
I want to know, when did Tsinghua University start polishing itself up to international standards and why they thought this was so important to the university. Considering how closely Tsinghua is aligned with the Party ruling elite--all alumni--it makes you wonder.
I left my camera at the office and will have to try to get in to get it tomorrow, Saturday, if you are going to get any pictures.
Showering and washing hair is a little like camping out in my apartment. The on-demand water heater is not like the one at home. It heats up a tank (8 liters) at a time really fast so you get hot cold hot cold hot cold hot cold. The gals at the guard shack below are practicing chi gong in the morning sun.
What are people talking about? What questions do they ask? Where is China headed and where are we going in the US?
One of the first things people want to know, after they get over their surprise that I can use chopsticks, is if I have children and how many. The fact that I had one, voluntarily, similar to their one child policy, involuntarily, raises surprised eyebrows. My slogan, "Do one, do it right," is starting to infiltrate the Chinese lexicon, augmenting or supporting their idea.
Other terms like 'stay at home mom/dad' are being introduced. Not that these young people can afford the luxury. Ms. Song, a co-worker with a five-year-old son, sees her husband on weekends. He is gone, working, six days a week. When he is at home, he wants everything sweet and happy. He doesn't want to discipline his son. She's feeling the weight of full time work plus the responsibility child rearing. Sound familiar?
Everyday I conclude, we are similar in many ways. Our own young people want to stay at home with their young children, but they can't manage it and still pay the mortgage, save money, etc. We all want the same things, so that our children's lives will be better than ours. Chinese like to discuss the differences in our educational systems. They think theirs is too strict. I think ours is not strict enough. They think the American system, lax as it is, produces people capable of competitive innovation which keeps the US at the top.
In their system, children are drilled mercilessly all through high school with tutoring before and after school and weekends--just constant. The national college entrance exams are killer. Rich parents whose children don't have a chance in the Chinese system are now prepping their children to take our SAT and sending them to school in the states. Between Tsinghua and Peking universities, they disproportionately scoop the top scoring students. Here are some stats: 215 out of 300 scoring in the top 10 of 30 tested provinces chose Tsinghua and 21 out of 30 top scorers in each province shose Tsinghua. It's the same in Korea, Japan, Singapore. There are many Korean students at Tsinghua.
My friends tell me that once they get to college they start to coast. They've already had more advanced mathematics, physics, chemistry, etc. than most Bachelor of Science students are learning in college in the US. It's a let down once they get away from home and are on their own. All the DYGS are writing their thesises, but don't show the same rigorous class work I remember from my senior year in college. The perception is that American students party in high school and then knuckle down in college, becoming more and more motivated as they progress through the system.
My friends thing it's the opposite in China, where the academic achievement peaks in high school and is followed by a long denouement into a lifetime of boring, poorly paid research or office work.
As the university centennial approaches on April 23-24, I feel I am being subtly drawn into a mini vortex, clinging to my little leaf boat, I try to comprehend the scenery swirling past. The scenery of the university: every day feats of construction, masonry, landscape, as they spruce up the campus for their prestigious visitors. Nervously wondering, are they all coming? Will they be snubbed? Will it be a supreme success or abysmal failure? Will they appear corny with their stilted English in front of the well-educated, intelligent and influential people invited?
I really get it. In their Chinese way of not planning ahead, I see them working up their plans, schedules, everything seems to be routed through my desk for polishing. Every school and department has made a PR piece. They are heavy on the history, starting off with "founded in 1911...blah blah blah," followed by hyperbole "top-notch talent," "world-class facilities," and "cutting-edge research."
I keep a Thesaurus and dictionary open on my computer dashboard at all times, and I'm getting good at toning down the self-praise, substituting a more confident and understated tone, concise and factual. They seem to love it, which encourages me to take greater liberties. Especially with the university president's speeches, making him sound really on top of global issues and yet with a bit of personality.
Raising up to international standards is ingrained throughout the entire faculty with the guy at the top as global cheerleader for Tsinghua. But how does the Party view all this western looking/sounding English polishing?
Hui tou jian