While we live on the old, beautiful, tree-laden south campus, I teach classes on the new and sprawling east campus of Sun Yat-sen University. There are far more students than the old campuses can handle, so a large island, formerly filled with fruit trees, was developed in GZ to create a higher education mega-plex. Now 11 universities have homes on one giant island. Imagine moving all 11 Big Ten University campuses (buildings, dorms, stadiums…everything) to one GIANT campus. Other than being very hot there (the trees are too young to provide much shade), the east campus is oddly deserted. While the classrooms, canteens, and dorms are filled, the departments/schools are not alive with faculty or students. I think there are some practical reasons for this such as Chinese professors are not used to having offices and thus still work at home, the campus is far from faculty homes on the south campus, and the classrooms are not, for example, in the law school (all classes are held in the giant classroom buildings). But I think the reason is far more cultural and understandable…The old campuses are mini-societies and communities. Without leaving my compact urban campus, we have 2 grocery stores, schools for the kids, at least 6 restaurants, numerous dining hall/canteens, countless basketball and badminton courts, faculty/staff/student housing, and the list goes on. Thus, there is little incentive to leave your “neighborhood.”
Our oldest daughter kindergarten is now the only Western child at the Sun Yat-sen University Kindergarten (Zhongshan Daxue You Er Guan). I’m simply amazed and proud of how well she is doing. She has been excited since the moment she received her official baby blue backpack with university logo and the school name written in Chinese script. She certainly is having the best cross-cultural experience of any of us. Even though she speaks no Chinese, she demands to go every morning and afternoon (she naps at home). We thought we’d send her only a few days a week, but she wants to see her new friends every day. Today she said, “when there’s no school, it’s just boring.”
Teaching has been lots of fun, and I enjoy my Chinese students, but it seems with so many subjects there are elephants in the room that we all realize are there, yet we are all unsure about how directly we should address the subjects. For example, my American Legal System textbook discusses the merits and problems of civil disobedience and whether some laws can be unjust, both classes (I also teach Environmental Law) wonder whether capitalism and/or environmental protection can/should lead to political change since highly developed legal systems may be required, and we discussed Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (now knowing that Professor Ha’s book China on the Edge has been called China’s Silent Spring and thus publication has been halted.) In the end I always use the American experience (slavery, civil rights, women’s suffrage) to discuss challenging topics, but I wonder how I’d teach differently if I was not located where I am located. For example, I asked all of my students to write self-introductions, and many students expressed hope that we could discuss whether certain existing Chinese socio-political conditions (you should know what I mean here) would hamper a movement of rule by men to rule of law. (I should note that I do not bear the primary risks of discussing sensitive topics; my students do.)
In practical news, we’re getting better at ordering tea and food. I also received my campus card so we can eat at the canteens for very cheap. Think four people eating for 19 RMB (USD$3). And we can buy good from the bakeries on campus. I love eating in the canteens with the students, and I love getting a huge pile of rice with three huge scoops of some other heavily-sauced Chinese dishes. Andrea is less enthusiastic for the slop on metal trays.
In addition to our National Day Vacation Weeks trips to Singapore and Hong Kong, I’m excited to report that I’ve been invited to lecture to environmental law master’s degree students at Wuhan University in November, where I’ll also attend the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law Colloquium and see the Three Gorges Dam. I’m lecturing on “Everyday Environmentalism: The Impact of Individual Behavior on the Environment & The Role of Law,” and “Environmental Law in the United States: The Legal System, Legislation, and Enforcement.” We also plan to spend Thanksgiving weekend on an expat excursion to Guilin in Guangxi Province.
Last night, our new Chinese tutor decided that my Chinese name should be: Kong Jie Sen. We’ll see if it sticks. Kong is the family name of Confucious, which she picked because I am a professor and scholar. Jie Sen sounds like Jason and means very good forest, which works with my environmental interests.
Today’s highlight was negotiated at a local shop to buy bikes…a resounding success, and today we went on our first official family bike ride.
I just finished reading “The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China’s Future,” and tomorrow I hope to begin to outline the piece (article(s)? book? essay?) I HOPE to write while in China this year.