Burma Chronicles

Burma-ChroniclesAnother graphic memoir by Guy Delisle, Burma Chronicles presents the stories of what Delisle experienced when living for a year in Myanmar a.k.a. Burma while his wife was stationed there for Médecines sans Frontier.  He melts in the humidity, tries to see Nobel Peace Prize Winner Aung San Suu Kyi’s home, drinks too much at expat parties, visits historic temples, gets lost and confused, which is a normal part of living overseas.

Like his previous work Pyongyang, I got caught up in his stories and appreciated his self-deprecating, wry humor. His illustrations captured the place while expressing his style. When his air conditioning broke, I felt like sweating. When none of his animation students had done their homework, I nodded in complete understanding.19_burmacomic_1_lg



Last weekend a colleague and I went to Hefei in Anhui province, three hours away by train, to give a placement test to students at a university that will start a new Sino-American program with us. We left early in the morning and arrived in time for lunch.

After lunch we administered a test and then we were taken to a nearby park. This park had areas where each of the 16 important cities in the province had a hall to show off its highlights (see above). It took a few hours to see most everything.

Emerald Lake

Emerald Lake


Then we were taken to Emerald Lake. Sunset was approaching though you could barely tell given the murky sky. Our tour guide/host observed that he loved coming to the lake because “the air was so fresh.” I felt sorry for him knowing what fresh air really is like.

On we went to a banquet with the dean of the economics department and some economics professors. The professors all spoke English well and had been to the US for at least a year.

At the Banquet

At the Banquet

The talent show was good. In China, the emcees are all the same it seems. The men wear loud sports jackets and the women elegant dresses. There’s a certain pitch and speed that all emcees aim for. It’s loud, clear and staccato. To me it seemed these students nailed it.

The usual singing and dancing followed. There was one interesting scene with women dressed in traditional clothes with traditional instruments like the pipa, a string instrument, and guqin (Chinese zither). They were still like statues and seemed to be in a shop after it was closed. A thief snuck in and fooled around. He played some movie theme song on a piano in the corner. Before he took anything, he heard footsteps. He froze amongst the women/dolls. The woman who came in dusted off the dolls and sat down to play the piano. As she was playing, the clock struck midnight and she was frozen. Then the girls came alive and started playing a beautiful traditional song. When they finished, the clock struck again and all went back to normal. My colleague later pointed out that there wasn’t a clear narrative or rationale. True, but they all played well and it was cool.

After the show we were taken to our hotel. Luckily, Mr. “Hill” (his English name) went inside to the reception desk. There are two Holiday Inns in Hefei and he’d brought us to the wrong one. He took us back to his car and he figured out where the right hotel was. It was a long day, and I had a lot of work to do for my other classes, but we were so welcomed that I’m glad we went to the show.

I Miss Time

I haven’t had much free time. As usual, teaching requires so much preparation and grading. I won’t bore you with that, but suffice it to say, there’s no end to the work. This term I’m trying to introduce a few basic research skills since our students come with almost none.

I’m taking one class, which usually isn’t too hard to fit into my schedule, but this time the teachers are disorganised, They roll out the syllabus week by week. I like to work ahead to balance my school and work responsibilities. There are just 10 in the class and we’ve got three T.A.s and a professor. Too many cooks. It never rains but it pours as last week we had to hand in the drafts of two papers and set up a digital library program on a remote server. We have to hand in drafts, because the professor gives such vague directions and then we “get” an opportunity to rewrite. I’d rather just get specific directions (or be given free rein) and do the paper once.

I haven’t had much time to blog or breathe. I have a long to do list, but it’s just getting longer. I could really do with an assistant, one who I can explain tasks to who doesn’t need much supervision. How do I get that?

Back to grading.

Back in China

I got back to China late Friday. The flight was long, which is inevitable. Luckily I expected a plane with only a few screens so there’d be few choices for entertainment, thus I brought a supply of DVDs. The food was much better and healthier.

The worst part of the journey now is going through security in Beijing for our trip to Jinan. In addition to walking through the metal detector, everyone had to get patted down. In the past this was done so that passengers felt some dignity. Now in any other context this intimate search would constitute sexual assault. As for our bags, everyone had at least one bag hand checked and had to find any coins or keys in their bags. For me coins can be in my wallet and some no doubt would have fallen to the bottom of the bag.

On the drive back to school our Foreign Affairs liaison asked how security was. Evidently, these humiliating, uncomfortable searches have hit the news.

And Another Semester Begins

Tomorrow I return to China and school will begin on the 7th. The fall is usually easier because we just have one course so there’s less planning to do. I’ve got a good schedule with Thursday’s off. I think I’ll have one class from the spring and they were a good group.

The day before departure’s always hectic. I’m more or less packed, but I have to go to the bank, get a flu shot (optional), have lunch with a friend and then tea with another, attend an online class, and I hope find time to see my aunt, who’s still in rehab. I’ll probably make one more trip to the grocery store.

Lots of rushing around, but it would be weird to just spend the day lying about.

June Staycation

Dragon Boat Zongzi

Dragon Boat Zongzi

Since Friday the 26th is our last day of class and I’d given two tests and they needed to be graded, going out of town for the long Dragon Boat Festival weekend seemed foolish. So my colleague and I came to Jinan’s Hyatt hotel where we frequently enjoy their Thursday Ladies’ Night music and cocktails.

We booked the executive floor, which perfect for “staycationers,” who can go to local restaurants anytime. The breakfast and cocktail hour were more than enough to delight and nourish. The cocktail hour offered salad or cold vegetables, breads, cheeses, hot appetizers, drinks and desserts. What more do you need?

How creative the chefs here are! Top notch! I particularly liked the mango pudding, scones, little cakes, fresh juices, and cheeses.

Congee and its accouterments

Congee and its accouterments

Grading was a breeze, if not a joy in this setting. I could take exercise breaks, had BBC, CNN or Channel News Asia to divert my attention, got three free English newspapers, and didn’t have to make my bed or tidy up. My time was so focused.

Sunday after breakfast a friend and I walked to Five Dragons Pond where we could take in nature and the art gallery.

The Hyatt staff speaks English well and are so eager to please. They strike the perfect balance of friendliness and professionalism.

The Hyatt’s right near a night market and Wanda shopping center so bargain hunters can find new goodies to take home. (I was able to avoid temptation in this area.)

Never Again

Today’s project seemed simple: Upload the $#@ job interview video and email a link to the university in Japan that wants this by Monday. Of course, my VPN isn’t working so I can’t upload to SkyDrive (now OpenDrive), Google, YouTube or Dropbox. I’m sure they’d accept a link to Youku.com, though. After all, all they have to do is click the link and then click the play button.

What I hadn’t expected was that this video would take 13 hours to upload onto Youku. It’s only 9 minutes long! I started uploading at 4:30 pm and still have hours to go. I’d hoped that the 11 hour estimate was way off base and that it would be done in a couple hours. Oh, no.

Remind me to NEVER bother applying to a job that requires a video.