Thursday, December 11, 2008

Nanjing, Day One

OK, I'm sure whoever is reading this (null set) thought this blog was dead. Like Lazarus, it has resurfaced.


My first day in Nanjing—Saturday—started early. I was just trying to figure things out; some I did quickly, some I did slowly, some I never did. Mostly, I ended up walking around a lot, in lots of different directions, and once I figured out the subway, I took it someplace every day.

This day was on foot, and, typically, I got lost. Really lost. Fortunately, I had a little Chinese to help me get found; unfortunately, I didn't realize that saying the whole name of Nanjing University in Chinese was an obstacle, not an advantage. I didn't really mind, and eventually I got re-situated. Eventually, I also learned that everyone in Nanjing calls the University "Nanda"
which is short for "Nanjing Daxue," or "Nanjing University" (literally "South Capital Big School): 南京大學 (simplified, 南京大学).Learning that was a big help.

Walking around never ceased to be fun. Everything was interesting to look at, and it was clear I was, more or less, a visitor to an alien world, without sufficient linguistic skills to engage folks, but dressed and acting in such a way that I didn't look like some sort of utter tourist. A compromise.

Among other things that happened, I met a very nice woman from Denver who loaned me a converter. This way I could recharge the laptop and discover I had no Internet connection. One of my "handlers" let me use his office computer to check e-mail, etc., and get the baseball scores. (Yes, the first World Series games I hadn't seen at least part of since 1974; the streak was dead.) I had already found out that Al Gore won the Nobel.

Another long walk, confirming Sophie's claim—which I heard several times during my stay—"Zhonguo you tai dou ren!"/"China has too many people!" (I hope I got the pinyin right; I'm not so good with it.) I sat down at one busy intersection, and thought, if only briefly, that the mass of people might achieve critical mass and just explode. The sights included an incredibly crowded KFC (I never made it into one, but it is very popular) and a Mexican restaurant (that I later tried, and found, unsurprisingly, disappointing).

When I returned, I found out from Sophie that I might get paid Monday, or at the end of my stay. I explained that I was living on that money, so I convinced her it would be good to do the former. It also turned out that I had a couple of free days, that my class ran into some issue that was unexplained. Salary, course start, everything was always just a bit unclear; things got done, but there was always an element of mystery. For instance, I now had a phone that worked, but I never figured out what my phone number was.

I thought for awhile that the problem was the course content. I was teaching American Political Theory, and there was some discussion of individual rights. As I wrote in my journal: "Maybe it's just too bourgeois. But I'm bourgeois, America is bourgeois, and the history of American political theory is bourgeois. Shouldn't the course reflect that?" (And it did.)

Did some characters, which seemed to come more easily, although I'm not sure if it was because I had very little else to do, or because I saw them all them time. I can't understand much of what is being said on TV, but ping pong was on a lot, and that's pretty easy to follow.

Off to bed at 9, still getting up at 4 or 5 a.m.. I get lots done, but I'm not sure what or why.