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2 posts from March 2010


Language Tutoring / Dance Class / Taste of Home

Language Tutoring 语言辅导
Each semester our students utilize tutoring sessions contigent upon the areas they wish to emphasize, such as pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, and speaking. For the first three weeks, everyone preferred
to use our Study Center space for the tutorial sessions. I am sure once our students have known the campus well enough they will find other space and time on campus to meet with their tutors. All our tutors are graduate students. Unlike other Chinese university campuses, the Minzu University has a diverse
student body; So, our tutors are not necessarily all Han Chinese. For instance we have a Kazak tutor. Her command of Chinese, English, and German is way above average college students of Han Chinese origin. Our U.S. students are immersed in a culturally diverse learning environment. I took the opportunity to take a few photos of this week’s tutoring session with my old Rolleiflex, a twin-lens reflex camera.

Dance class 舞蹈课
Our dance class is closely connected with our Visual Anthropology of Contemporary China. Our focus is on the relation between China’s multiculturalism/nationalism and performing arts. So we chose dance as one of the primary expressive forms of China’s staged multiculturalism. Performing arts during Mao era was clearly set as an instrument of the state for the purpose of disemminating the state ideology and constructing the collective national identity of socialist China. So nationalism in the history of the PRC has been “artfully” expressed to what Mao referred to as “the masses” or the nameless common people. In this sense a modern nation like PRC is imagined as a prominent scholar remarked. Our dance aims to give our U.S. students enough somatic experiences of China’s multiculturalism by learning a few dance forms that ere used to propagate both ideological and national unity of all ethnic groups in China. Students are enjoying it. At present students are learning Yang-ge, a folk dance originated from Northeast China but popular now in most parts of China. Our dance class instructor is a great dancer and choreographer who graduaded from the Minzu University’s College of Dance.

A taste of home away from home
As Resident Director, I always feel very happy when my students invite me out to explore the city together. Beijing is indeed an international city. Many parts of it resemble an American city with the same stores and shops like Starbucks and Baskin Robins. So we had icecream together at Baskin Robins downtown. It was a great experience to read icecream menu in Chinese.



It's New Year again in China

It’s New Year again in China. This year the Lunar New Year and the Tibetan New Year are on the same date, February 14. The slightly late-arrival of the New Year in fact gave our new students opportunities to
celebrate the two New Years in Beijing. This is another incredible semester with students from different U.S. campuses with different disciplinary backgrounds. Diversity in any sense is great to build a dynamic learning community. A few of them had already taken Chinese classes before coming to our program at the Minzu University of China. It did not take a day for everyone to get to know each other. Most stores and restaurants were closed. So, I took the opportunity to cook breakfast for our new students. I love cooking but haven’t had a chance to do it for a long time. One time in Napa when I drove by a culinary college, I thought of changing my career as I could see myself as a good chef. So I made omelets for our students

Cell phones are necessity for our students. Konchok, our program assistant, and I always make sure our new students purchase cell phones right away. There is a range of cheap cell phones. It is also quite easy to purchase sim cards. They are available at newspaper stands, convenient stores, and virtually everywhere.

Our lunar New Year celebration was at the house of Professors Sun and Banbar, a couple well-loved on the campus of the Minzu University. Sun is a Han Chinese and her husband Banbar is a Tibetan. Both of them have taught at the university for many years. They have a son, a senior high school student. He brought his friends over to meet our students. The celebration emphasized more Han Chinese tradition as Sun and our students together made jiaozi or dumplings. Their son and his friends entertained our students with newly-acquired magic with cards. 


My friend, Dantsen, a senior Tibetan language editor at a largest publishing house, hosted us for the Tibetan New Year. His wife and daughter made momo (steamed buns) and yak meat soup. His wife Drolmakiyd is also a senior editor at the same publishing house. We are working on a Tangkha project with the Minzu University’s College of Fine Arts. It has been slow as we are swamped with our daily work, but we all believe there will light at the end of tunnel. They are in the photos.

I have heard a lot about “the Wild Great Wall” from local students since I came to Beijing. These sections of the Wall are called “wild” because they are not as well known as the famous ones like Badaling. Sometimes “wild” also means that tourists haven’t set their foot on them, but this claim is definitely discounted. 
Tourism in China has already pervaded everywhere. The consumption of scenic landscapes and cultural forms is a norm now. People are tired of this trend but keep exploring “uncharted” places for “authenticity.” The urge for the “wild” and “raw”, when it is materialized, turns everything into “domesticated” and “cooked.” Anyway, our program did locate a section of “the wild Great Wall,” but had no purpose to cultivate our students’ consumer taste for exotic things. This “wild” section simply has significant lower number of tourists in comparison with Badaling. Many parts of it are quite physically demanding but are awesome. So, we hiked but we also spent much time with each other swamping stories and hearing each other’s ideas and plans for future.

Recently the city of Beijing put in a subway station near the University. This is really a blessing. During the New Year holiday, it was very pleasant to ride in the subway. In the technological aspect, I think Beijing’s subway is even better than BART in San Francisco Bay Area. One of our students who lived in Hong Kong said the subway system in Beijing is almost identical to its Hong Kong counterpart. Last year, President Hu Jintao actually took a ride in the subway making sure the fare is affordable to the locals and visitors. The subway is indeed impressive but is surely crowded.

Classes started last week. We had the opportunity to invite a famous calligrapher, the chairperson of a national calligraphy association. He was very intrigued by our U.S. students’ brush pen writing. He even said he would like to make a book of our students’ calligraphy by the end of semester. We really hope he would do that. I will talk to him again and see if he really meant it.