|VOL. I NO. 4 May 3, 2006|
|May 3, 2006
* "Agitation" and the role of students in advancing the campus diversity agenda,
by Dr. Paul Barrows
* Xenofobia y racismo atentan contra confianza en fos funcionarios publicos,
by Alfonso Zepeda-Capistran
* Asian Wisconzine: Asian immigration in America (Part 1),
by Heidi M. Pascual
* Campus-Community Connection
--A Brief interview with Common,
by Keme Hawkins
by Pam Pfeffer
* Beijing Middle Spread,
by Jon Gramling
* Abha Thakkar: A visionary for social justice,
by Laura Salinger
* Like an ocean breeze off the coast of Peru,
by Jonathan Gramling
* Confronting Three-Letter words,
by Tracie Gilbert
* The old and the new of teaching,
by Jonathan Gramling
* La marcha de Madison, movimiento popular genuino,
por Elda Gonzalez
* Madison celebra el dia del nino,
por Elda Gonzalez
* Stories and good eats,
by Jonathan Gramling
* Health care Access,
by Jonathan Gramling
* Angela Davis: Live and on message,
by Dr. Jean Daniels
* Indian Rain,
by Ramya Kapadia
* Global Connections
* Letters to the Editor
|The Forbidden City in Beijing, China|
A Beijing journal
| It was near the ticket counter at Pudong Airport in Shanghai that it hit me. Andrew, my son, does not have his passport. When the subject came up before, I thought he meant that he had left his passport in our hotel room in Shanghai. But at that very moment, it was lying under his mattress in his apartment in Hefei, eight hours by train west of Shanghai. He left it there, he told me, for safekeeping because he had heard people steal them and he wanted to make sure he had his when it came time to leave China. It was safe, but at the present time, Andrew needed the passport to fly to Beijing.
Summer, Andrew's friend from Hefei, now explains the situation to the person at the ticket counter. They go back and forth, back and forth in the free-flowing Chinese dialect of Wu. Finally, we are told we have to talk to an airport manager. We enter his office and Summer once again pleads our case. He says no. I then ask him where we can catch a train for we have paid for the hotel room in Beijing. We keep going back and forth through Summer. We have Andrew's Wisconsin driver's license with the same last name and address as my passport. Finally, the manager relents and we are cleared to get processed by the ticket counter.
We wave good-bye to Summer who is returning to Hefei to spend the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Dog, with her family. Andrew and I are on our own. When we get near the plane, they ask everyone for their identification again. Apparently, no one informed them that we had been cleared. We have no Summer and they want our passports. We begin going back and forth again. (Thank goodness someone knows a little English.) They are insisting. We show them Andrew's license and my passport again.
The manager of this area, perhaps 45 years old, studies the documents and then it is as if a light bulb goes on. He smiles, looks me in the eyes, and says "Your son." He understands our relationship in that momentary glance. But there is more. Perhaps he has had a similar circumstance with his son. We share a knowing glance that spans language and culture. There is a momentary bond between us. He clears us for departure. Human compassion saves the day. (Andrew's friend went to his apartment to fetch his passport and sent it overnight to us in Beijing.)
I would have been very disappointed if we hadn't made it to Beijing, a city of 12 million people squeezed between the mountains and the sea. Its smog is pretty bad, fed by coal-burning plants and bottled up by the mountains. There are high-rise apartments all over the city. Most, I think, are relatively new replacements for the fast disappearing houtongs, narrow alleyways leading to one room houses where the vast majority of the people in Beijing used to live. We arrived at our hotel on Wang Fu Jing Avenue, the commercial district about one-half mile from Tian'anmen Square, the epicenter of politics in China. Wang Fu Jing Avenue is lit up like Times Square, filled with neon and lights blazing, hawking almost every product made in this world. It is an eclectic mix of Eastern and Western images. Many people roam the streets -- more than usual as people prepare for the New Year.
We enter through a portal into an alley lined with small "mom and pop" cubbyhole restaurants. In China, people are always competing for your dollar. As we wander the street, people are beckoning us to their eatery, sometimes almost taking us by the hand. We stop and get a filling meal, rice and vegetables steamed in lotus leaves, for about U.S.$1.00. An ancient play was being acted out on the rooftop across the street to make it a cheap, but very enjoyable, dinner theater.
I have learned to enjoy shopping in China, even though I detest going to malls in the U.S. In China, everything is negotiable and it is through the act of shopping that you meet people. If you spot something you really want, you ignore it and pretend you aren't interested lest your interest reinforce the resolve of the shopkeeper to hold the line on the price. The price of every item is negotiated. It is almost theatre as you go back and forth with the proprietor, gesturing and frowning and throwing up your hands. My favorite was to look disgusted, tell them you might be back, and start walking down the street of a neighborhood filled with hundreds and hundreds of shops just like theirs. After about a half block, the shopkeeper would come running after you and implore you to come back to the shop. Eventually, I got the price I wanted and the shopkeeper probably made a good profit too.
When I saw the picture of Mao Zedong overlooking Tian'anmen Square, I thought about the continuous commercial districts and the billboards hawking Adidas shoes. I thought about the people selling t-shirts and beer atop the Great Wall of China. While that wall kept out invading armies from Mongolia, they proved useless in keeping out Western commercialism and consumerism. When we went to the Forbidden City, that ancient home to emperors, what did I see in its inner walls? Why, a Starbucks coffeehouse.
Apparently, nothing is sacred anymore. If Mao's glass-enclosed casket would allow him to, I'm sure Mao would be turning over and over in disbelief. Mao, in China, has become like George Washington in the U.S. Put on a pedestal for being the "father of his country," no one follows, to any great degree, the principles he espoused. In some ways, Mao is fading into the nationalistic mythology of China.
There were other signs that the old order is fading. On the eve of the New Year, I walked down the side streets near Wang Fu Jing Avenue. On almost every street corner, bands of youth and adults were setting off fireworks. The sound of firecrackers and bottle rockets exploding filled the air. Off to the side, aging block captains, a type of civilian police force -- no doubt members of the Communist Party -- watched the proceedings to ensure nothing went awry. They were dressed in what we used to call Mao suits, green uniforms with a red armband. The kids and young adults were wearing western-style clothing. McDonalds was the place where the hip hop generation hung out. I'm not sure what this bodes for the future of the present day Communist Party.
At dawn on New Years Day, several thousand of us gathered in Tian'anmen Square for the daily flag raising and changing of the military guard. People say that fewer people go to the daily flag raising these days. After the ceremony, the square began to fill up with people who were sightseeing. Families strolled along and children and adults flew kites. It's hard to imagine this was the site of student demonstrations and bloodshed back in 1989. Democracy is probably still far away. With the strong economic growth of China, over 10% per year, it almost seems that the Chinese government is experimenting with what they consider to be the best of Western Capitalism and Chinese Communism to bolster China's strength as a regional and world power.
There are signs that China will become a superpower some day. At my hotel, where a lot of Americans -- both tourists and expatriates -- hung out, I met a guy who ran an English language school that had 16,000 students, one of four schools this private company owned in Beijing. He was shipping out to Guangzhou, China's industrial powerhouse, to set up another school. English is being taught in China as a requirement in primary and secondary schools. China is preparing to interface with the world. I wonder how prepared our students will be to interface with the world.
There is much more I could say about Beijing. I wonder at the Great Wall of China on the outskirts of Beijing. This thing runs for over a thousand miles on the top of mountain ridges. It is truly an engineering feat. How did they get all those materials up there and build it at such a high altitude? It is the eighth wonder of the world.
Beijing is hurrying up to put its best face on in time for the 2008 Summer Olympics. Construction cranes are popping up everywhere. In some ways, the Olympics will be China's coming out party to the world. Is it a superficial face China is putting on? Some experts think that all hell will break loose in China due to pent up social, environmental, and political issues and problems once the Olympics are over. Others see it passing the U.S. as the number one economy in the world during the next 30-40 years. With the degree or world economic integration that we have right now, our fate is tied in with theirs to a certain degree. We'll see.