Beijing is an impressive city – and this is after only a half day or so! People keep telling us about the amazing transformation that has occurred in China and it is clear that this is true. There is construction everywhere in Beijing, so much so that they say that the (construction) crane is the national bird of China. There are many new buildings and highways and everything that you would expect to see in a modern capital city.
Still, there is much that is foreign and different to us here as was evidenced by just a brief walk in the neighborhood. We went searching for some basics like an ATM, bottled water, an internet cafe, coffee shops, etc. Below is a picture of Jeff, a fellow Fulbrighter, trying to inquire about an internet connection.
“Morning rain wets down the dust in Wei;
outside the inn the willows glisten green”
Wang Wei, “A Song of Wei City”
It was as gray day today in Beijing (not an unusual occurrence, it seems). It did rain some in the morning which, as Wang Wei notes, tends to wet down the dust in cities. And so it was today in Beijing. This was not a bad thing necessarily since we spent most of the day inside in meetings.
We had the great fortune of meeting representatives of the Ministry of Education and the Chinese Education Assoc. for International Exchange, our hosts in China.
The meeting room at the Ministry of Education was quite fancy (see above) and I felt quite a bit more important than my ordinary status as a simple schoolteacher from NJ. We were briefed on the state of education in China and given insight into teacher training and exchange. I was very impressed by all the speakers. Afterwards, we were taken to a delicious Sichuan restaurant for a welcome banquet! I could get used to this . . .
Here’s a picture of the Fulbright group at the Villambrosa Center:
Visit the NCUSCR at this link.
I woke up this morning to a beautiful scene here at the Villambrosa Center in Menlo Park, CA (see above picture). It makes me want to move to the San Francisco area!
I’m writing this late in the evening after a full day of orientation. My feeling coming away from it is that this is an amazing program run by superb people. Katherine and Jan from the NCUSCR have organized things beautifully and professionally. Prof. Steve Belsky, our scholar-chaperone, already is proving to be a marvelous resource and great leader for our group. I feel very lucky to be a part of this.
I’m also tremendously impressed with my fellow Fulbrighters. They have a tremendous variety of professional and personal experience and will prove to be excellent travel companions, I’m sure. So, we’re off to a good start! I hope tomorrow will allow for a little more reflective writing but I wanted to share a bit of what happened today.
I left New Jersey early this morning for San Francisco and the Fulbright China 2007 orientation. I said farewell to my family, friends, and Bailey (my yellow lab) with more than a little sadness and apprehension as this will be the longest separation from my family ever. Of course, I’m excited about the trip and full of the hope and anticipation that pervades the traveler at the onset of a journey. But I know I will miss my loved ones and that they will miss me.
This all made me think of a poem by the Chinese poet Li Bai. In “Seeing Off an Old Friend,” Li Bai says:
Once we’ve parted here;
Like tumbleweed you’ll be off on a thousand-mile journey
Floating clouds express the wanderer’s ideal;
and the sinking sun, an old friend’s melancholy
This poem catches the tension in goodbyes. The traveler’s “ideal” seems to be the promise of the journey, the desire to find meaning in the encounter with a new horizon. Certainly for me a trip to China brings with it that desire to break with old habits of being in the world and find a new and fresh perspective on who I am and what I do. Li Bai’s “floating clouds” convey the elusive nature of this traveler’s ideal though and perhaps even its dangers.
This ideal is contrasted with the “sinking sun” of the melancholy or sadness of the friend left behind. I’m not sure if this describes the feelings of those I’ve left behind. It probably does to some extent. But I know I certainly feel it as the traveler – holding both ideal and sadness in my heart at the same time