So much for being “retired” and having more time to blog. One post in seven months? Pathetic. I can only plead the press of work and New York life. But now I’m back where this blog started five and a half years ago – China – and it looks as if I’ll have plenty of time and material.
For fall semester, starting this week, I’m teaching at Jinan University in Guangzhou (which you may recognize by its old name, Canton), in South China, just up the Pearl River from Hong Kong. When I’ve said “Jinan University” to Chinese, this has been the reaction: “You’re going to teach at Jinan University?” It seems to have a reputation as a very good, and very tough, school. When my best student from Hunan five years ago stayed with me recently after a year teaching Chinese in Pennsylvania, not so far from where I grew up, she confessed that she had been afraid to apply to Jinan. (And this from a young woman who would, as we say in New York, make it anywhere.) Why? “They say it’s hard to get into and easy to get out of” – meaning to flunk out.
I hadn’t meant to come back to China. As anyone who followed this blog in its early days knows, my time in Hunan was challenging, to say the least – as I described it later, “an amazing experience that I’m in no hurry to repeat.” (To refresh your memory, go to the monthly archive on the righthand side of this page and scroll to February through July 2010.) But almost two years ago now, Judy Watson, then associate dean of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, circulated e-mail from a professor at Jinan. She was seeking visiting lecturers for a new international journalism program, a joint project of Jinan’s International School and its journalism department, to be taught in English. “Anyone interested?” Judy asked. No! I thought – and then, to my surprise, yes. I realized this was exactly this kind of thing I should be doing as I advance my plot to achieve world domination of English for the media.
So here I am, ensconced in the Foreign Experts Residence on Jinan’s campus (which on first impression makes me feel I’ve landed at an Asian twin of Columbia. More on that another time.) Last Tuesday I flew from Newark to Hong Kong, 16 hours nonstop (but in first class). There I checked into a fine hotel with lavish breakfast buffets and an indoor-outdoor pool to sleep off the jet lag and see a bit of Hong Kong, where I had not set foot since 1985. (The jet lag persists; I’m writing at 5 a.m., having been awake since 1:30 after falling asleep before 7 last night – and that after an afternoon nap.) On Saturday I took the train to Guangzhou, where I was whisked to my new apartment.
If you saw photos of my Hunan apartment, fear not. This one is far more livable, much like the apartment hotel I favor in Shanghai. I’ve spent the weekend settling in; I’ve been shown the bank, the grocery store, the restaurant next door (which seems shy about serving foreigners). I’ve been told there’s a mall across from the campus gate but failed to find it in a monsoon. I did find McDonald’s. Outside my window are two swimming pools. Never mind the medical exam or the residence permit; what I need is a pool card (which I can’t get until I pass the medical exam).
And the Internet. I’m just back online after my first experience with the Great Firewall, so please be patient. A VPN seems to have solved the problem but even so I may able to communicate only spasmodically, as we used to say at The Boston Globe. Gmail seems to be working now, but you might also try my CUNY address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Four hours to my first class.