Week 1 – Oct. 21-28, 2016
“Who’ll stop the Rain?” This classic 1970 song by Creedence Clearwater Revival keeps coming to my mind as I am slogging through puddles. First week in Wuhu, teaching at Anhui Normal University. The weather is as expected, changeable, not too cold, but rain possible just about any time. A passionate photographer can use all that water for some unique shots, and I tried a few, see samples. But then I just want to get to a place where I can dry up.
It’s a different teaching arrangement this time than what I had at the medical university in Hefei during the spring semester. There are two different classes. One of them, on the “old campus” downtown, gets School & Society and Foundations for Success twice a week, each a three-hour session. The other, on the new campus in the suburb, gets Foundations for Success, but only one three-hour session per week, plus two hours of conversational English.
The size of the teaching load is manageable, but with one group having only half the sessions that the other gets, it makes it hard to keep those courses somewhat synchronized. I’ll have to resort to an old-fashioned teaching method that I think I’ve gotten good at: improvising.
The students are excited, for sure. A five-day rainy spell won’t spoil their mood, and anyway, they all grew up in Anhui Province and are as used to the rain as my wife’s family in London, U.K. Li Jiaxue, whose English name is “Christmas,” is turning 18 today and has somewhat shyly invited me to go to a nice restaurant for lunch with her and some friends. Be it sopping wet or not, Christmas and student friend Wyoming are exuberant as we head into the super-size mall.
These ladies by golly know how to order food! This is 21st century China, so the menu is paperless, replaced by full-color pages on an iPad that the waitress provides. The table fills with what must be a dozen dishes. Meanwhile Ye Zihao or “Elvis” has joined us, and because this is a Hot Pot restaurant, the fun can begin. In a Hot Pot restaurant, the waitresses place a square container with two compartments into the recess on the table. Each side is filled with boiling water, seasoned to a mild and a hot flavor. The guests take turns dropping pieces of meat, lettuce leaves, quail eggs and other culinary elements into the pot, and then everybody keeps fishing things out of there for immediate consumption. Caution: the little hardboiled quail eggs are delicious, but even when the white part has cooled to an edible temperature level, the boiled yolk is still scalding hot. Trust me. I know.
Steam is rising in the middle, dumplings and beef are already floating in the mix, and yet there are more and more dishes arriving from the left.
A long time later, after tasting some 18 different foods, everybody is feeling full and happy. Christmas, Wyoming and Elvis need to head back to the new campus, while I have to prepare course sessions in the apartment. Hi-tech in action again: Christmas orders and pre-pays the Chinese version of an Uber-Taxi with her iPhone (taxis are cheap in Wuhu), complete with the route predetermined. No rickshaws here, no New York style rattletrap, this one is a recent model Chery sedan. The Chinese Chery brand has a striking resemblance to the 2015 American and Japanese models. But then again, all the modern cars look the same to me.
To classroom matters: It’s the same all over the world, at least in the countries where I’ve been at universities. There’s a core of interested students, sitting up front to about the 40-yard line in the classroom. Beyond that, thumbs are busy operating smartphones. Sound familiar? Here’s the smaller class on the Old Campus. The big guy at right is Skylark, a computer genius with excellent English skills. The classroom computer refuses to accept my portable disc drive – an essential tool for me, I’ve got thousands of pictures, video clips, and text materials on it. Skylark upgrades the machine from Windows XP to Windows 7, and now the disc drive works. Two terabytes of storage were too much for the geriatric XP system.
Skylark is the class monitor – an important function; every class has one, and the monitor is the teacher’s best ally. In the other class, it’s Ariana. Picture to follow later. She doesn’t know how to upgrade to Windows 7, so I’m bugging her to get some IT person to do it. We need those files.
The accommodations are very nice. It’s a university-owned apartment, having housed a good many Brenau colleagues before, evidenced by forgotten notes with familiar names on them. I had expected something like this – and there are plenty of examples for this lifestyle of apartments – but instead it’s a very modern place in a highrise, elevators in good working condition, no need to walk up all 7 floors. It’s nice to come home to after walking across the rain-soaked campus.
Housing quality in Wuhu varies considerably. You see buildings that remind me of my student days in the Heidelberg Altstadt in Germany (see juxtaposition). I keep noticing how similar China and Germany are in many respects. In this case, the German habitat seems to be a bit lower on the quality scale. It was romantic and bohemian at the time, but the present apartment at Phoenix Garden Apartments does offer a lot more creature comfort.
Traffic is a challenge here, just like it was in Hefei. It just got dark, and the horn concert down in the street has swollen to the proportion of a Wagner opera. Mixed in are sirens that seem to converge right here in Qiahong Side Road. Uh-oh. Accident. Car appears to have hit someone on a scooter. Those electric scooters are neat, but many riders don’t turn their lights on at night, trying to save battery power. On a rainy night like this, it makes them virtually invisible. The cop is looking at the front of the car and the scooter (circled), its rider already taken away. I sure hope he or she isn’t badly injured.
Lesson learned in Hefei this past spring: watch out when crossing the street. Cars don’t stop for pedestrians. Even if you cross on green and the light turns red on you, you may find yourself stuck in the middle of the street with these guys (see at left) going past you on both sides, horns blasting. Darwin’s principles are best remembered in traffic.