This last weekend was filled with new experiences. Instead of attending class, we were offered the ‘escape’ of attending a conference for the weekend. To tell the truth, I was looking forward to seeing my Friday classes as we hadn’t had class the previous Friday due to a sports meeting. To tell the truth, I was also happy to go on this trip which would give me another week to grade papers. This excursion was probably as beneficial to me as it was to the students. Our time was probably better spent away. Having come to a close, here is what the weekend presented to me.
A lack of information led me to dress somewhat more formally than others. I donned a tie, put on an ironed shirt, pulled up some pressed trousers- all to no avail. As it turned out, our conference group was rather intrinsic to our own department. Only a dozen faculty participated in our ‘conference’, two of them giving keynote speeches on cross cultural communication in the teaching environment. The air was, in accordance with the participants, familiar and fitting was the dress.
Again, having no solid idea of what was to happen, I prepared myself with loud techno music in the form of Prodigy and caffeine in the form of a liter or so of French pressed coffee. Just to lift the spirits, you see. The proper mindset is beneficial in these circumstances- of course. In the end, my preparation turned sour as our one hour bus ride dragged on for nearly two, my liter of coffee pushing the limits of my internal body organs.
Despite being distracted by the aching sensations felt at every bump over the country roads, I managed to take in some of the surrounding scenery along the way. To some extent, the countryside reminded me of rural Laos or Vietnam: small, buildings, rather decrepit; trash thrown here or there without future consideration; green fields and farm animals running this way and that. My mind once wandered as to the chronology of the buildings I saw before me: When was this slab of pavement poured? When was this wall of bricks built? That half constructed, seemingly new building over there- is it still being worked on? Or has it been abandoned?
By the time we arrived out our hot springs resort come conference location (somewhere around here <>), it was all I could do to not internally explode. For what seemed like hours, and not to my surprise, we stopped at the concierge desk to pick up the keys to our lodging. Our representative went in to take care of the business while we waited on the bus. Eventually: she came in; we rode the bus a bit longer; she dispensed the keys; I was relieved. It’s amazing at how much one can focus on just one thing when the ¿need? arises.
I paid little heed to whom (to who?) my roommate would be. I need not repeat what I was meditating on. Without much adieu, I bunked with a man different in age, though similar in origins. Several times we have met, also having exchanged communications though something leaves me to believe he instantly forgets. If one word is to describe him well, it would best be the word ‘hippy’. He might also use this would in describing himself, so I fear little in using it…
After we deposited our luggage, we boarded the bus and headed out towards the conference center. Strangely enough this was a good distance away from our lodge. It would have been a good twenty or thirty minute walk. How amazing the inventions of the wheel and combustion engine are!
The conference room was a short hike up three flights of stairs, and we followed one after the other in an orderly single file fashion. On the third floor, inside the room, was situated a table with half a dozen microphones on top. Surrounding the long rectangular table were just enough seats plus two or three. A fuwuyuan appeared poured water into our tea cups, and organized bananas and oranges in half a dozen baskets. Seated in our pseudo leather chairs, thus we began our conference.
Without going into the intricacies of our rather long, formal, yet somehow seemingly non-formal conference, I’ll briefly highlight what our two speakers said.
The first speaker was a Confucius scholar, having studied Confucianism during his higher educational experience. Right away I was delighted to listen. For fun, and because I’m motivated to self-educate, and because I’m slightly nerdy, I read a *few* textbooks on the history of Confucianism about a year or so ago. It’s actually quite fascinating and while I don’t remember any details specifically, I can say that my soul retained the gist. Should I ever return to a school of higher education, I’d liked to take a class and discuss with fellow students and teachers. Quite humorously though: he spent some time, a year I think, in American teaching at the Confucius Institute. Why ‘humorous’ you ask? Well, the institute actually has almost nothing to do with Confucius or his -ism. Perhaps in some ways he was over qualified being a scholar. Who knows. All this aside, here were some interesting insights either by him or ideas that were sparked in my head by his talk:
- During his time in the States, he noticed the difference in food habits. Through his Chinese perspective, he attributed the reasons in terms of Yin and Yang. In China, it is almost impossible to get ice water at a restaurant. Here, we always drink hot (well… warm) water or tea with our meals if we drink anything. This is because our diets are different… Americans eating meat, sweat, and fatty foods balanced with cold water and Chinese eating something of an antithesis to this requiring a hot water balance. A lot of this goes back to Traditional Chinese Medicine which incorporates Yin and Yang philosophies.
- The scholar also spoke of the word 法. In English, this means law, rule or method. Much to my pleasure, he also noted that in American, people for the most part always follow the law. In China, he noted that we almost never see this. The reason he hinted at was that the Chinese 法 (fa) is closer to the definition of method. He offered that there are many methods and that the law was just one method of doing something. While we might have a recommended method or law, we can by no means confine ourselves to this one method as there are many methods or ways to get from point A to point B. I guess it’s more of a mindset and way of thinking and acting towards an idea. It’s a fun mind game to play if you really try. Imagine that there are many versions of the same method or law. The end result is the same but how you get there may be different. Before I make no sense at all and get lost in my own tangled brain, I’d just like to say that I am very grateful that he explained what the meaning of this character and idea was in China. It’s entertaining and serious at the same time. I understand a little better why we can drive on the wrong side of the street sometimes and bend rules here and there to help get us to where we are going, both literally and figuratively.
- He also talked about the character 中 (zhong) which has several meaning, among them ‘center’, ‘middle’, ‘on target’. My notes were pretty terrible, as terrible or worse than my memory on the subject so I can’t tell you now why I wrote this down. Which makes me typing this pretty worthless. He elaborated on the idea of the middle course, to not stray too far from center. Radicalism is not a part of this culture and zhong helps illustrate this point.
- We talked about religion a bit and this lead to discussing ethical systems. Chinese culture uses shame as a motivation of moral conduct. This probably has its pros and cons. We didn’t discuss those, but it helps us paint a picture of the cultural differences. I suppose that we would say religion in America plays this role as a large percentage of the population is religious.
- One other fascinating point he made was the idea of China and it’s relation to agriculture. He noted that traditionally, and even today to some extent, an agriculturally based society is to be found. In order for this type of society to work, there need to be peace and stability within. In order to tend to the crops, one needs to stay put in one place and work the land, invest in it, and discourage unnatural changes. On the other hand, some cultures may have traditionally based on hunting and chasing game, leading to a nomadic lifestyle. Though I may not be relaying his ideas appropriately, it sparked my interest enough to write it down and share with anyone who might read.
- Last in my notes are some thoughts he shared with about relationships. In an individualistic society, we are born and for the most part we remain an individual. This is due perhaps to our views on religion, about God and how ‘we were created in his own image’. We answer to God and that is our relationship with the world. In contrast, while the Chinese do have religion, there isn’t an overwhelming and omnipotent individual know as God. Again- I’m by no means and expert on the matter- I think he was getting at the idea that when you’re born in China, you’re born into a relationship. For example, you are born as a son to a father, you are born to a sister to brother, you are born a nephew to an aunt. You have some kind of place, hierarchy or position which it is your natural place to fill to your utmost ability. Or at least this is how I interpreted this spiel…
The second speaker presented ideas that wouldn’t be considered alien to Western listeners. She presented some theories on patterns of culture. While interesting, I won’t go into detail here…
After our two speakers did their thing, the floor was opened up for discussion. There only being a baker’s dozen, we all had to add our two cents. As most of the participants were older than me, I wasn’t so confident about throwing out my own, original thoughts. As most of the participants were unknown to me, I wasn’t so confident about coming across in a neutral manner. Even though the group was relatively small, I wasn’t comfortable expressing me so I tried to stay quite. A couple of us were more than happy to speak, which is always amusing to listen to. This blog aside, because for some strange reason it doesn’t count, perhaps for the reason that no one is forced to read this assemblage of words, I can’t fathom putting other people through the torture of listening to me talk about something I have absolutely no idea. I’m not one to volunteer b.s. when I don’t know what I’m talking about- I just don’t talk.
Wow… so back to the account/story, huh? After what, in my opinion, dragged on longer than was necessary or productive, we finally finished sometime late in the evening. Descended the stairs, boarded the bus, went to a restaurant to eat a late dinner.
I instantly liked our restaurant. Reason one: hungry. Reason two: it was small, in the middle of nowhere, and we were the only customers. It looked cold, drafty. It was unadorned with decorations and exquisitely unattractive. Yes, I loved it.
The food was great. Ok, it was good. Well, it wasn’t bad… that’s for sure.
Went back to our room, chatted with my newly-found hippy friend, we ended up playing Uno with my floor-mates (can I coin this new word?) and eventually slept. Tragically I didn’t win a single game and am bitter about the whole ordeal. Ok, not really- I’m just being dramatic.
The second day was all pleasure. We woke up, took the bus (again) back to the conference room place where we had our continental breakfast. After breakfast we discovered that our chicken chasing and potato digging events for the day were cancelled because of the recent rain and therefore muddy ground. All to our chagrin
. The hot springs were still on though, so the day wasn’t a complete loss.
Two hours later, after marinating in our rooms, we boarded the bus, again, and made our way to the hot springs.
My hometown is Jack London’s favorite hotspot (not the Wi-fi kind), or so a sign at the entrance of my hometown said before it was recently torn down. Talk about a childhood memory. We also had an ‘Eat, Play, Golf’ sign (the last one might have said ‘Live’). Anyway, enough traumatic relapse. My point is that I have never been to a hot spring before, despite having lived in an area renown for its hot springs. Therefore, I cannot my recent experience to much, except to say that it will NOT be like any other I’ll have in the future. Oh wait! I take that back. Come to think of it, at the base of Macchu Picchu
rests a quaint little village called Aguas Calientes (minus the necessary accents I believe) where I did indeed partake in hot springs. Anywho…
These hot springs near Nanjing seemed anything but natural. The landscape was sculpted in a very- shall we say… commercial way. The experience was great though. The hottest hot spring was inside a large building, and was tepid at best. The cool thing about these springs though were that they were flavored. Each ‘pool’ had a different flavor so to speak. A large floating teabag filled with bark-of-this, or flower-of-that made sure that we were brewed in true gourmet fashion.
The most epic part of the trip was the flesh eating fish. These fish are said to be therapeutic. It was actually a really cool sensation, much like getting the chills in your spine but lasted for as long as you we in the water accessible to the fish. Our breed of fish came from Turkey, or so the sign indicated. And we had two sizes- a hot springs pool with big fish and one with smaller fish. I preferred the smaller fish though their feces floating in the pool was a bit of a turn off. The big fish pond was cleaner but the sensation from the bigger fish was different. If you want to read more about this medical treatment/cheap thrill, take a look at these websites here
. I swore that I would take pictures but was so caught up in the moment that I didn’t. So I’m going to *borrow* the picture from the first link and post it on here- this way you get a visual idea. Again, this is NOT me in the picture. 😉
And of course I managed to fit in twenty minutes of sauna time. I *heart* sauna. I don’t know why, but it’s my favorite. Just sit in a box and sweat until your heart’s content. I would sauna every week if I could. Yes, definitely. This is why a gym membership would be nice. Ah…
Last but not least, as we left, we received a parting gift: a box containing fifty-five free-range chicken eggs. I think that they’re free range. In Chinese they happen to be called 曹鸡蛋 (cao jidan) which directly translated means ‘grass chicken eggs’.
Ah… so that was last weekend. A whole week and another weekend has already flown by, with their own stories to tell. Hopefully they can be put up here soon.