Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Wheels on the (Homeschool) Bus

Jeanette White is a freelance writer and editor living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She and her husband are homeschooling two daughters adopted from China.

My daughters have been enamored with buses since they could point and say “Buh!” Spotting them on the street became a toddler game of Slugbug without the arm punch at every sighting. They knew all the words to “Wheels on the Bus” and sang them often. Too often. Even now, Mei-Mei and Jie-Jie like to watch kids disappear into school buses at a stop visible from our breakfast table.

My own fascination with school buses ended abruptly in first grade, after a few weeks of riding more than an hour a day. I remember pulled pigtails, boys’ belching contests and painful boredom. But while one of the best aspects of homeschooling is the freedom to think outside the box, I couldn’t seem to think outside the bus when it came to the girls’ first day of school.

That’s how we ended up standing at a city bus stop, chatting with strangers and soaking up a burst of September sunshine. We took the long way to a small Korean restaurant, passing parks and shopping centers and neighborhoods we don’t often see. It was high adventure for two kids who live nowhere near a city bus route.

It’s not your typical rite of passage, but their first day of school was commemorated with good kimchee, ginger candy, and a post-lunch visit to an Asian market, where we browsed and bought a bag of salty dried plums. I failed to take my camera, but the girls have 2-hour bus passes for their keepsake box.

Afterward, we were lured home by a stack of tantalizing new books and art supplies. For a book junkie like me, this part of homeschooling is a slice of heaven. First Language Lessons! Artistic Pursuits! Writing with Ease! The Case of the Fiddle-Playing Fox! (Oops, wrong stack.) Chalk pastels, watercolor crayons, whiteboard, 3-ring binders! Did I mention my fondness for office supplies?

I started our week with subjects we’ve been doing all along at a more relaxed pace, like reading, math and writing. As the days passed, we added new subjects to the routine one by one. I thought of jugglers who start their act with three bowling pins and add the rest one at a time, taking a moment to get their rhythm with each addition. I’ll write more about how our lessons are going a little later.

We’ve scheduled two weekly classes away from home—fiddle lessons and beginning gymnastics. Jie-Jie and Mei-Mei have been fiddling for several months, but gymnastics class fills a new time slot for us. Is it too much? Just enough? We’ll soon find out. Every friend I’ve quizzed has a different take on how much road time is too much. I’d love to hear your ideas about that.

We ended our week of homeschooling with a belated Moon Festival celebration at our friends’ house, eating Chinese take-out and walking around the block with colorful paper lanterns lit up by tea candles. Four giggling girls led the way, circling back only when a candle needed to be lit again. Cloudy skies made it easy to forget the moon was nowhere near full. In a weird blend of cultures, Mei-Mei and Jie-Jie played The Chicken Dance on their fiddles while my friend playfully tried to follow on her erhu, shipped here from Shanghai.

Something tells me we’ll manage to think outside the box after all.

Read-Aloud of the Week:
The Three Princes: A Tale from the Middle East, by Eric A. Kimmel

Quotes of the Week:
“I can spell a-e-i-o-u!” –Mei-Mei, 5

“It looks like a dot-to-dot W.” – Jie-Jie, 7, spotting Cassiopeia while stargazing


Monday, September 22, 2008

Back to School

Now summer fun is over and my son has started middle school. It's a new school popular for its academic focus. We were thrilled he was able to get into the school, but we didn't know how much studying he'd face since we'd become used to his "fun-filled" elementary school.

Now it's been three weeks, and I am totally surprised by the study load my son has been given and how many school rules he has to follow. Every day he comes home with a lot of homework. He has so many notebooks, folders and dividers from his classes and for his homework. They make his backpack so heavy that one day he wanted me to call the AP and ask if he could let students carry fewer books! The school is also very strict compared to his old school. Students can't be late for class and they must wear the school uniform. If they're late or don't wear their uniform, parents must meet with the AP. One day after he talked in class without raising his hand, his teacher asked him to write a 500-word essay about it. (This reminds me of how we used to write self-criticism essays when we were in school.) After only three weeks, they've taken tests for their subjects and parents were asked to sign on each test!

I'm not used to this at all. In the past five years, he just had too much fun at his elementary school. He didn't have much homework and never had to write so neatly. When he talked in class without raising his hand, he either got time-out or his behavior was ignored. He had no tests except the state-wide ones. I thought that was the standard of American education - fun, fun, and more fun, plus creativity! But now I see a totally different picture of American education, and this is in a public school in New York City!

I know it sounds a little bit like he's in school in China - study, study, and study! But I really feel that's how he can learn and grow. Today I asked him how he feels about his not-so-great grades on the tests. He said he thinks it's good to know where he stands and why he made those mistakes, and that he'll learn more and try his best to improve his grades next time. Wow, that's what I was looking for all these years in his education! I feel so relieved to know he understands the importance of learning and appreciates it. I'm also glad to see a public school like his focusing on teaching and learning!


Friday, September 19, 2008

Art and the Cultural Revolution

Before I went to see the Asia Society's exhibit "Art and China's Revolution," I didn't expect it would have much impact on me. I couldn't imagine that things from the Cultural Revolution period could be an art scene exhibited in the West.

But when I visited the exhibit this week, I was totally impressed with everything I saw. All those oil paintings were so familiar to me (they were the everyday scene during the Cultural Revolution), but I'd never seen the original paintings myself and didn't expect them to be so large and powerful! Besides oil paintings, there are posters, wood prints, sculptures, water color paintings, and more. Yes, the themes of these works of art are very revolutionary, but they are all art pieces that actually illustrate the period of time we experienced. I also saw the posters that were once on the streets, at schools and even in homes, the Mao pins each of us wore, the rice bowls, plates, and other household products we used, along with all things culture revolution. Together they reminded me of the era I grew up in and the ideology in which we were trained.

This exhibit may have shown the Cultural Revolution from a perspective new to many Westerners. Having grown up in that period - even though I learned Mao's quotations by heart every day, witnessed terrible scenes on the streets, and saw my Mom, who taught at Beijing University, separated from her family for about four years (I saw her only 12 days a year when she returned to Beijing from the countryside's unversity camp) - I still enjoyed my childhood, my school, my friends and whatever I did at that time. I believe I am who I am now partly because of what I experiened and learned in my childhood.

I don't mean that I want to go back to that period, but there is another side of the story Westerners may not know. Perhaps you can start with this exhibit. Please visit the exhibit if you're in the city; if not, you can see and learn about the show from Asia Society's website.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Go to China to see the future

I have been back in New York for a week. This is the first time that I don't feel excited to be back in this energetic city that I love. Usually, when I leave Beijing, I don't miss it much. Yet even though I haven't lived in Beijing for about 20 years, this time I really do miss it. I miss the excitement of the Olympics and Paralympics; I miss the Bird's Nest, the Water Cube, the National Theater; I miss the clean and wide streets; I miss the modern and smooth subways--all the things I don't see here in New York!

While I was searching for answers about my feelings for Beijing and New York, I read Thomas Friedman's Op-Ed "A Biblical Seven Years". Friedman put all those puzzles together and made such a powerful point when he said "... go to China to see the future." Then I read another blog "Beijing Diary", with the same message: "In many circles, China has moved beyond America and other countries, in looking forward to a future that combines the very best of East and West."

I would have never expected to feel about Beijing and New York the way I do now. For me, New York is a world class metropolitan city that hardly any other city in the world compares with. But now I am not so sure about this anymore. Look at Beijing's streets, subways, buildings - the city has transformed itself into a metropolitan city in a matter of years. Beijing has built six subway lines within seven years and two more lines will be completed by early next year. Contrast that to New York, whose negotiations for the second avenue subway line are still pending after more than ten years! Beijing's International Airport Terminal 3 - the world largest single building - welcomes travelers around world with its grand and contemporary architecture, but New York's La Guardia and JFK airports welcome travelers with "dumpy terminals" and bumpy roads. And it was only a few years ago, when Beijing's streets were dirty and dust was everywhere because of the ongoing construction. But now all streets (really literally all) are so clean and many narrow streets have been expanded to boulevards, some even decorated with beautiful flowers in between.

Of course, I know we cannot judge a city based on streets, architecture, or subway, there are many other important things that we should look at, such as the living standard, education, culture, housing, food, leisure, and more. However, I think Beijing has them all or are getting there at a rapid pace now. Beijing is not the same city as the one I grew up in, nor the one that I left about 20 years ago. It has became a modern metropolitan city that I can compare with even New York. Moreover, it has the grand ancient history and culture of the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, the Temple of Heaven, or the Peking Opera.

I know it remains to be seen if Beijing can live up to these new ideals and sustain the grandness, the cleanliness and efficiency now that the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games are over. I guess only time will tell.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Back to the Beach

Jeanette White is a freelance writer and editor living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She and her husband are homeschooling two daughters who are adopted from China.

I thought long and hard about how to make Jie-Jie’s earliest memories of first grade special. In the end, we went to the beach.

For a week.

I wasn’t really that desperate to sell my kids on homeschooling. So far, they’re believers. It’s just that we waited way too long to reserve a yurt on Washington state’s coast, and the only time we could find an opening was—surprise!—the week everyone else went back to school.

The morning we packed to leave, I realized we weren’t actually playing hooky. Consider this exchange with 5-year-old Mei-Mei:

"Mom, how do you spell ‘today’?"


"T-O ... and then what?"


"D ... then what?"


"A ... and then what, Mama?"

"Y. What are you doing?"

"I'm going to keep a diary of our trip."

This would be a very long trip, I thought. Then I smiled. Her first diary! The week would be an extended field trip captured in Mei-Mei’s own words! Why hadn’t I thought of that?

Admittedly, I’d already planned some of the week’s education. I’ve nurtured the girls’ love of audio-books since they were very young, so during the drive we listened to stories told by a first-rate storyteller, Jim Weiss. The Jungle Book was the favorite this time.

I’d ransacked the public library and our bookshelves at home for field guides and kid-friendly titles about the ocean and Pacific Northwest rain forest. I tucked the books between their rolled-up sleeping bags and booster seats. Halfway to our destination, I checked “reading practice” off my mental list. That was taking care of itself.

My face lit up again when Jie-Jie and Mei-Mei requested the Geography Songs: Sing Around the World CD and then asked me to put their favorite tunes on repeat. (“Bagpipes, the Beatles and Big Ben are found in the British Isles ...”)

That evening, when I watched Jie-Jie’s face as she saw the ocean for the first time, any lingering concern about leaving the math books behind melted into the sunset. I was reminded that life’s best lessons don’t necessarily come in books marked “educational.”

It truly was a week of firsts, as the girls reminded me again and again. They spotted their first banana slug in the Quinault Rain Forest, plucked their first sand dollar from the shore, visited their first cranberry bog. They learned what it’s like to fall asleep to the sound of waves slapping the beach, and oh, they blew their first-ever bubble gum bubbles just south of Seattle. They’d want you to know that.

Already, I’m wondering if back-to-school should mean back-to-the-beach for our family next year.

Now we’re home, and my attention shifts to the stack of new school books that somehow looks even more enticing than before. Our package of art supplies has arrived in the mail, and my niece remembered to flood the Nile while we were gone, leaving the delta surprisingly green. Instead of watching spellbound as the sun sets over the ocean, I’m contemplating ways to convince my husband he’d enjoy mummifying a chicken for that ancient history project.

All the shining moments from our beach trip are captured in photos and our collective memory—which is a good thing, because Mei-Mei showed me her diary when we got home. On a single sheet of flowery stationery, she wrote: “Today I am going to the sea shore.”

On the next line, she wrote: “I am halfway to the sea shore.”

That is all. And that’s enough.

Read-Aloud of the Week:
Odysseus retold by Geraldine McCaughrean

Quote of the Week:
“How do you spell ‘Mommy loves me’?” – Mei-Mei, 5


Sunday, September 07, 2008

Beijing Olympics and Paralympics

The Beijing Olympics ended two weeks ago, but the Games are still the topic among the media and Beijing residents. We still can watch and read collections of the best performances, biographies or stories of Chinese athletes on TV and in the newspaper and magazines. Wherever you go, Beijing residents talk about the Olympics, what they've seen in person or on TV, which games and athletes they like most, and what they think the Bird's Nest and Water Cube should become after the Paralymics.

And the most talked-about is if Beijing should keep the traffic regulations enforced during the Olympics – drivers can drive only on the odd dates if their plates have odd numbers and vice-versa. People debate it on TV and radio, and send their text messages to all media considered. Of course, people without cars, which are the majority, prefer the regulation because it controls the unbearable traffic jams and keeps the air cleaner. People with cars have varying opinions: some are for the regulations, some are not. Some who disagree say they'd buy another car with a different plate number, so they can drive everyday. Then people worry this regulation would help keep many cars away from the streets if lots of people purchase two cars. People from all backgrounds try to voice their concerns and are curious to see if the Beijing government will make the final decision based on what most residents want. This decision will be made right before September 20th, the closing date of the Paralympics and the day the regulation was supposed to end.

The Paralympics started on Saturday, September 6th. Although the media shows everything about the Paralympics, it's business as usual on the streets and for people in Beijing, compared to the opening day of the Beijing Olympics. (That day, all offices were closed, all stores were closed at 3 p.m., and flights were grounded at noon.) When I told my friend I'd like to join her family to watch the opening ceremony, they even didn’t know that the Paralympics would open on Saturday. But when we watched them together, everyone was surprised, excited, and moved by the great performances. We all thought it was as great as the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. When the Paralympic flame was lighted, people were so excited to see the flame burning again.

The next day all the media showed things surrounding the opening ceremony. Director Zhang Yimou discussed his ideas and visions for this ceremony. People talk about it at home and on the streets. When I went to the Bank of China, I saw crowds of people buying the tickets for different games, and all tickets for events at the Bird's Nest and Water Cube were sold out. Now Beijing has another 11 exciting days to celebrate the Paralympic sports and spirit, which will be just as exciting as the 16 days of the Beijing Olympics.

You can learn more about the Paralympics at the official Paralympics site.

Read more about the Opening Ceremony of Paralympics (ChinaSprout will sell the DVD of Opening Ceremony of Paralymic shortly).

And you can watch some games live on or


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

O is for Olympics

Jeanette White is a freelance writer and editor living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She and her husband are homeschooling two daughters who are adopted from China.

My first glimpse of a Beijing Olympics souvenir caught me off-guard. My husband and I were walking through Tiananmen Square on a pre-adoption tour six years ago when we met the men selling Olympic ball caps.

“Wow, these guys plan ahead,” I thought, distracted by more pressing matters like whether I’d packed enough formula and what my soon-to-be daughter might be doing at that very instant.

A few weeks ago, I watched the opening ceremonies with Jie-Jie and realized China had been planning for that moment her entire life. She beamed when I told her China was named host country the same year she was born – two special moments forever connected. In an instant, the ceremonies became more than a chance to stay up past bedtime.

For families with kids adopted from China, the Beijing Olympics have been a great springboard to exploring the country where their own story begins. Soon we were huddled around our desk globe, finding Beijing and seeing how far it is from the provinces where they were born.

We reread One Year in Beijing, a picture book I bought when Jie-Jie turned 6. We’re big fans of illustrator Grace Lin, and this book shows us China’s capital city through the eyes of an 8-year-old girl my kids can relate to.

Later we reached for C is for China, a book we like mostly for Sungwan So’s photos of day-to-day life in China. But we didn’t get past “A is for …” when Jie-Jie jumped up to grab the wooden abacus a friend from Hong Kong gave us. I couldn’t resist sneaking in some playful math, but we eventually made it to “Z is for Zen.”

While we continued our reading frenzy, another home-school friend with kids born in China stretched a strip of masking tape across their living room carpet so the three girls could do gymnastics like the Olympic athletes. They somersaulted, tumbled and walked the “balance beam.” Inspired by trampoline competitions, they bounced on a smaller model meant for exercise. (Their mom drew the line when the budding Olympians dipped into a box of powdered sugar to chalk their hands.)

When they spotted athletes from cities the family had visited on their adoption trips, the connection helped bring China to life for kids who don’t remember their time there. Other friends are recording the flurry of China-related TV specials to watch later with their kids, learning about the Chinese flag, and talking about things invented in China. Think fireworks!

Jie-Jie and her little sister were especially enchanted with the drummers and dancers at the opening ceremonies, so I pulled out our copy of Color & Learn: China and they colored pictures of ornamental fans and dancers wearing traditional costumes. (As a mom, I appreciate the educational paragraphs under each picture.) We added their creations to the three-ring binders holding their favorite art, handwriting worksheets and activity pages related to China.

It’s been fun to watch my daughters splash in their grandmother’s swimming pool, more determined than ever to learn to swim. I have to think Michael Phelps had something to do with that. And the Olympics definitely boosted their enthusiasm about the gymnastics classes that will be part of their P.E. this fall.

Now, some of our China-theme books are back on the shelves for awhile, and the powdered sugar is tucked safely away in the pantry. One adventure ends, and we’re left with room for another. As I think back to that day in Tiananmen Square, I can hardly believe the long-anticipated Beijing Olympics are ending and the baby daughter I hadn’t yet met is starting first grade.

Two big moments, forever connected.

Read-Aloud of the Week:
The First Olympic Games: A Gruesome Greek Myth with a Happy Ending retold by Jean Richards

Quote of the Week:
“If you break a law, do they have to fix it?” - Mei-Mei, 5.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Goodnight Beijing - Olympics 2008

This is the final video segment of a joint project with the Asia Society and ChinaSprout. Click here to learn more about the Asia Society Channel on YouTube.

Beijingers party for the Olympics closing ceremonies...find out why getting gold was so important, their beef with Western media, and what the Olympics legacy will be for them.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Beijing Olympics Closing Ceremony


China Youth Speak Out-Olympics 2008

This video segment is part of a joint project with the Asia Society and ChinaSprout. Click here to learn more about the Asia Society Channel on YouTube.

Beijing college students discuss internet freedom, Olympics pride, cultural differences with the West and how they're different from their parents. A frank dinner discussion with Chinese youth and Asia Society, recorded 8/20/08.


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Beijing Olympics and Beyond

As the Beijing Olympics wind down, Beijing and its people feel sad that the games are over, athletes are leaving, and the closing ceremony is tonight. TV moderators keep saying they wish the games would continue, and people on the streets wish they could see more live coverage of the games. Before I came to Beijing in July, friends told me everyone in Beijing couldn’t wait until the Beijing Olympics ended. Now the same friends tell me how much they enjoy the games and how they're impressed with everything from the Bird's Nest to the Water Cube to each game they have watched. They worry they'll never enjoy such a big festival in Beijing again!

I also met some American athletes at the U.S. House and chatted with them about their experiences in Beijing. Shaun Jordan, a member of the U.S. relay teams in the 1988 and 1992 USA Olympic Swim Teams, told me he's been to all the summer Olympics since 1988 except the Sydney 2000 games, and he thinks the Beijing Olympics are the most impressive. When I asked him why, he said, “Your people are the most friendly people I have ever met." I was almost in tears when I heard that and asked him why he thought so. He said that wherever he goes, people are so nice, helpful, and open to him. He even sat down with an old Chinese lady at a Siheyuan (traditional square yard in Beijing) and had tea and chatted with her. Shaun is also very impressed with the architecture in Beijing. He said he'd never seen a city with such ancient architecture like the Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven on one side and contemporary architecture like the Bird's Nest, Water Cube, and CCTV on the other side. He also appreciated the organization of the games, which created a smooth experience for athletes and spectators alike. Shaun loves Beijing so much that he extended his stay for two days.

Tiffany Scott, a figure skater who competed at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, came to Beijing on a study program during the Olympics. She loved Beijing so much when she came to compete and always wanted to come back. She and her classmates have been in Beijing for about a month to learn about Chinese culture and Chinese sports, particularly women athletes. While studying at the university, they also attended various games and toured Beijing. Tiffany said she loves Chinese culture and has learned lots about it this time. She enjoyed all the sightseeing and great shopping in Beijing! I also met a few more athletes who told me how much they and their families enjoy Beijing. They all wish they could stay longer or come back soon!

I just read an article about the Beijing Olympics at the New York Times. While the author mentioned the same friendliness and good organization, there are (as expected) words criticizing the Chinese government and people. Maybe the author has not seen Chinese’ spontaneous celebrations, but it doesn’t mean that the government controls people's celebrating or that Chinese don’t want to celebrate. In the stadiums, you do see all Chinese cheering for athletes--not only Chinese athletes, to whom they do shout louder, but all athletes. They wave different national flags, and stand up when people wave just like in any American stadium. At the beach volleyball games, many Chinese sing and dance just like the spectators from Brazil! Chinese may not always shout as loud or celebrate as spontaneously as some foreign visitors, but this simply reflects the Chinese mentality. We are just not the kind of people who shout and celebrate spontaneously as Westerners do! Hope you can respect this just like we respect your manner of celebrating!

I don't know if you've read about Beijing's skies lately, but today Beijing has sunny blue skies since August 15th. The closing ceremony will be held on a beautiful day that will make the Bird's Nest even more beautiful and impressive. We are sad that we have to say goodbye to the Beijing Olympics and see the Olympic flame go down, but the Olympic spirit and Beijing Olympics will be in our memory forever.


Chinese Kindergarten-Olympics 2008

This video segment is part of a joint project with the Asia Society and ChinaSprout. Click here to learn more about the Asia Society Channel on YouTube.

An American 7 year-old visits a Beijing kindergarten - and finds out what kids in China think about the Olympics, learning English, and more..."the world is getting smaller and smaller." Asia Society visits "Chris International Kindergarten" 8/21/08


Thank you, China!

This is from today's cover page of the Beijing Youth Daily, a very popular newspaper in Beijing:


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Beijing Rock - Asia Society at the Olympics

This video segment is part of a joint project with the Asia Society and ChinaSprout. Click here to learn more about the Asia Society Channel on YouTube. Click here to see ChinaSprout's contemporary music selection.

Beijing's hot bands - Xie Tianxiao's Cold-Blooded Animal, and Jiang Xin's Super Monkey. Join us for Day 2 of our week in the life of Beijing during the Olympics as pop culture and music industry maven Scarlett Li shows what's new and exciting in China's music scene.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

An Olympics Visit to Google Greater China

This video segment is part of a joint project with the Asia Society and ChinaSprout. Click here to learn more about the Asia Society Channel on YouTube.

Mixing the best of East and West at Google Greater China...see what may be the best and most fun jobs to be had in China, and how the Google culture is being adapted, to Chinese tradition. Hear the secret of the Google philosophy from Kai-Fu Lee, VP Google Inc and President, Google Greater China - interviewed 8/18/08 for Asia Society's special series on A Week in the Life of Beijing During the Olympics.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Michael Phelps and The Other Side of The Story (Continued)

When I posted a blog entry in June titled The Other Side of The Story, I never expected to be posting a continuation of that message during the Beijing Olympics. At the time, I'd witnessed differing press coverage in China and the U.S. about the Sichuan earthquake, and I hoped my message could bring a different perspective for people who can't see the other side of the story.

Now, I'm seeing gaps between the two sides again. I thought Olympics coverage would focus only on sports and was surprised when the reports included politics and continual criticism of China's achievements. Right after the Opening Ceremony, I wanted to know what the New York Times wrote about it, and I was surprised to read all the between-the-lines criticism when it tried to say it was a spectacular performance. I started to write about it in my last blog entry on the Opening Ceremony, but then I thought maybe this would be the only article in such a mood. So I didn't mention it. But now, after reading this article about how Chinese think of Michael Phelps, I feel compelled to write about it.

The author says Chinese don’t know much about Phelps because he isn't like NBA stars or Chinese athletes such as Yao Ming or Liu Xiang. The author says few Chinese know about him because “there are empty seats in the Water Cube aquatics center for his races, state-run Chinese newspapers are providing muted coverage…” I'm surprised the author didn’t know those empty seats are all from multinational sponsors (maybe also Phelps’ sponsor) who hold onto tickets for their clients who don’t pay for the tickets and didn’t show up. The swimming tickets are the most in-demand tickets, even more than track and field. Chinese buy them online or in front of the gate for 5 to 10 times the original price. All Olympic tickets were completely sold out in China in July, after all rounds since April 2007. So if you see empty seats at any game, don’t be surprised. Those were tickets that sponsors or their clients didn’t use.

About the “state-run Chinese newspapers” coverage of Phelps, I don’t know which paper the author meant, maybe one I don’t read and few other Chinese read. I read the two most popular newspapers in Beijing, Beijing Youth Daily and Beijing Evening News. Since Phelps arrived in Beijing before the Opening Ceremony, those papers reported on his arrival at the airport, his first visit to the spectacular Water Cube, and his medals in Athens and beyond. Of course, once the competitions began, these papers reported on him with long articles and color photos. I learned lots about Phelps, everything from why his body is superior as a swimmer to how much he eats and sleeps, how his mother raised him, and what he does in the Olympic village. If “a concern about inflaming Chinese nationalism might be at work in the restrained coverage of Phelps” as said by Susan Brownell, a Fulbright scholar at Beijing Sport University, how could all these reports come from “state-run” newspapers. And you can see some of them here:

I hope you can now see the other side of the story. By the way, have you read any articles about Beijing’s sky, blue and sunny since last Friday?


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Watching the Beijing Olympics

It is about ten days after the Opening Ceremony; about half of the competitions have been completed and nearly 400 medals have been given to the greatest athletes. The Beijing Olympics is the only topic the media covers, and people talk it about all over Beijing. Lucky ones see the events in person, but people don’t complain when they can watch live coverage on TV at home, in the office, or on the street. There are five TV stations showing live coverage of different events simultaneously.

When I shopped at the antique market, I saw big screens in different areas in the market. Buyers and sellers watched the games while doing business. In another shopping district, hundreds of people watched live coverage on a gigantic screen. When I went to the bank, people were watching live TV coverage in front of the clerk's counter. Of course, people can also watch TV on subway platforms or on buses. People such as taxi drivers, who don’t have access to TV, listen to live coverage on the radio. They haven't missed any important games even though they can't watch live coverage on TV.

Hundreds of thousands of lucky people watched the Olympics in person, and I was one of them! Last year I tried to reserve tickets on the official Beijing Olympics website and the U.S. site. But after bidding on more than 20 games, I didn’t win anything. I thought I'd never get a chance to watch anything live. Luckily, one of my friend’s companies has some tickets as a sponsor, and the official U.S. site opened up to sell tickets again. Don’t ask me why those tickets suddenly became available. I went to see a volleyball game, a gymnastics competition, and a track and field event in the past few days. Wherever I go, I see hundreds of people in front of entrances selling and buying tickets; some tickets go from 80 rmb ($11) to 5,000 rmb ($724). I don’t know if anyone really paid that price, but I did see some people pay 1,800 rmb ($260) for a ticket that doesn’t have face value in the suite area (free ticket for the VIPs).

Inside the stadiums, the atmosphere was just unbelievable. Everyone was cheering (if not shouting), clapping, and waving, especially for the Chinese teams. Many spectators have China's flag tattooed on their faces and hold national flags, small or big. They were continually shouting “Zhong Guo Jia You” (China, go, go!). They were so loud I worried they'd disturb the athletes’ concentration, and I had a terrible headache the morning after a volleyball game. Of course, they had reason to shout, because it was China versus Cuba, the two best women's volleyball teams in the world. The last three rounds were so close that each team beat point by point, and even went to 32 to 30 (usually the game ends at 25) in the fourth round. Finally, China lost to Cuba, 15 to 13. I thought people would complain about China's team, but instead, they all said it was a good game and cheered for Cuba’s victory.

Watching the Beijing Olympics is definitely a life experience. Now I want to go to competitions I wasn't interested in before, because just being in that atmosphere is an absolutely worthy experience. For those of you who can't see the Olympics in person or watch live TV coverage, visit these websites. You'll see the live coverage on your computer:


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Behind the Scenes: Opening Ceremony

The day after the Olympics opening ceremony, everyone in China talked about the performances and behind-the-scenes activities: Who were those drummers? How could those character holders make characters and waves in such clean sequences? Is that really a Chinese painting scroll? How could performers dance on that huge ball? Who were those two sweet girls who sang the song and played piano with Lang Lang? Why was the Olympic flame lit that way? Endless questions, endless guesses. The media reported as much as they knew about all things behind-the-scenes.

The 2,008 drummers and nearly 1,000 character performers are soldiers by profession, but ever since they were chosen by the directors of the ceremony nearly a year ago, they practiced daily in a secret place near Beijing, in the cold winter and hot summer. Since it's difficult to train all those performers at once, dozens of leaders were trained first, then those dozens trains hundreds, and the hundreds trained thousands. To make sure each performer knew his or her exact position during the performance, each one wore an earphone to listen to directions.

The big Chinese painting scroll is 147 meters long and 27 meters wide. It isn't a real scroll but a computer-controlled LED screen. But it has a special paper in the middle where dancers, opera performers, and children created the painting.

On the huge ball representing earth, there were 60 performers, along with 2,008 Tai-Chi performers from the same martial arts school near Shao Lin Temple in Henan province. They practiced for over a year. The people on bottom had the toughest challenge, because they had to perform upside down. Many had headaches and vomited during practice. The smiling faces of 2,008 children were collected around the world after the Beijing Olympic Committee asked for submissions of photos worldwide.

The girl who sang the song about the national flag (a song every Chinese knows) was a 9-year-old girl in Beijing who loves singing and dancing. The girl who played with Lang Lang was a 5-year-old Beijing kindergartener when she was selected to be interviewed this April. Director Zhang Yimou knew immediately she was the girl who would play with Lang Lang. But the Committee informed her only in June and she began practicing then. She and Lang Lang got a chance to practice together only in late July when Lang Lang came to Beijing.

Director Zhang Yimou said in a press conference that the thing he worried about most during the performance was lighting the Olympic flame. He worried so much whether the running and lighting could be completed without an accident. It's very hard to run when when hung in that way. Li Ning secretly practiced over 6 months; he practiced only late at night in a secret location and didn’t tell anyone, even his relatives and close friends. Every time, the 2.59-minute run was so exhausting that he couldn’t do anything else afterwards. Why did he run around the Bird's Nest to light the flame? It comes from the Chinese saying of Tian Ren Yi He – Heaven and People are Harmony Together, so he ran to the heavens to light the flame! Now the 31-meter torch with an 8-meter fire is seen from a distance. The Olympic flame and spirit are showing the theme of this historic performance – He (Peace)!

UPDATE: ChinaSprout now carries the DVD of these jaw-dropping performances at the opening ceremony. This is a wonderful keepsake.


Saturday, August 09, 2008

China's Dream Comes True

Finally the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games began on 08.08.08! It was the day Chinese have been eagerly anticipating since 2001. The countdown went from years, months and days to hours and seconds. That day in Beijing, all offices were closed, stores closed at 3 p.m., and all flights were grounded since noon. Newspapers, radio, TV and all media were focused on the opening ceremonies, how an audience of 160,000 was prepared to attend, what the weather would look like that evening, and who would be the person to light the Olympic flames. Everyone was so excited to be celebrating what was essentially the biggest festival in history.

I went to my father's home near the Bird's Nest to watch the ceremony around 6 p.m. (Even I couldn't see the live performance.) On the way, I realized the city streets were empty. The taxi driver said even Chinese New Year's Eve was busier. He told me over and over how lucky I was to see the fireworks near the Bird's Nest. We could miss the Chinese New Year Eve’s performance, he said, because we would see it next year. But we can't miss the Olympics opening ceremonies, because this wouldn't happen again in 100 years. This is our dream of 100 years, and we should not let it slip by!

While I was surprised the taxi could take me right in front of the building as usual, I did see hundreds of policeman, soldiers and Olympic volunteers in the area. They just stood there to make sure people and cars wouldn't go through the area even closer to the Bird's Nest. Hundreds of people were on the streets to see the live fireworks, too!

Finally the ceremony started at 8 p.m., with 2,008 drummers performing on ancient Chinese drums. The one-hour performance with 20,000 performers showed 5,000 years of Chinese history, ancient inventions, culture, and modern advances. Each performance was as exciting, astonishing, surprising and spectacular as the next. I was totally moved, and so were my friends who watched with me. The 29-foot fireworks along the Beijing ancient city represented the 29th Olympic games. All the fireworks were beautiful and exciting.

Finally, we found out the person who lit the Olympic flame was Li Ning. For the last few days, everyone was guessing who'd get this honor. When we finally saw Li Ning, we all got so excited! Really, no one would've been a better choice than Li Ning. Li won 3 Olympic gold medals in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games and after he retired, he started a sporting goods company that has become one of the most well-known brands in China. ChinaSprout also carries his company’s Olympic collections, such as the Olympic Mascot Thermoses, Beijing Olympics Jingjing Mascot T-shirt for boys, Beijing Olympics Jingjing Mascot T-shirt for girls, and more.

When the ceremony ended, people were still celebrating in the streets. The next day, all the media talked about the opening ceremonies and what happened behind the scenes. My friends and relatives talked about how proud they were to see the once-in-a-lifetime performance that shared so much Chinese history and culture with the world. One taxi driver told me he liked the performance, but felt it should have been more powerful. It seemed all Chinese were so proud to see our hundred-year dream come true!


The River on the Porch

Jeanette White is a freelance writer and editor living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She and her husband are home-schooling two daughters who are adopted from China.

My 5 year old was chattering about the Nile River when her uncle tossed a pop quiz her way: “Where is the Nile River?”

Mei-Mei didn’t hesitate. “On the porch.”

And she was right. You can’t get to our front door without passing the foil-lined river carved through potting soil in the kids’ old sand table. We’ve been having fun with it for a couple of weeks. We planted grass seed, flooded the river and watched the “crops” grow. We floated boats made from dried weeds, added toy pyramids, and read books with names like Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile and Croco’Nile.

The river model and a few other optional activities in our history book prompted me to start history lessons in July instead of September. Autumn always zips by too fast, and I didn’t want to end up skipping the best outdoor projects to save time or meet a work deadline.

Some home-school parents admit an aversion to crafts and hands-on projects. I totally understand. By nature, I’m much more inclined to read about a river than recreate one. But the things I remember best from my own elementary years didn’t happen at a desk. So, we kicked off The Story of the World: Ancient Times with something I knew my daughters would love—an archaeological dig. In the vegetable garden.

Where I once planted spaghetti squash, I buried “artifacts” from the kitchen, toy box and garage. Using small spades, a scoop cut from a milk jug, and sifting screens, the girls excavated a couple dozen items. They cleaned their finds with old toothbrushes and shouted “Eureka!” with each discovery. (They borrowed that word from a character in Archaeologists Dig for Clues.)

When we studied nomads, the girls used thick brushes to paint simple animal designs on cave walls that strangely resembled crumpled, inside-out grocery bags taped to the door. Soon they’ll try their hand at stenciled hieroglyphs on homemade scrolls. And when we study ancient China, we can make poster-paint pictograms and clay Ming bowls. Wondering where we'll put all this stuff? That’s what cameras are for.

I found a welcome time-saver in The Story of the World’s companion activity guide, packed with coloring pages, maps, projects, review questions and lists of good books to round out each chapter. The guide quickly became the main source for the colorful history binders my daughters are creating. I’ll tell you more about those educational keepsakes later.

Looking ahead, I know I want to delve deeper into ancient China than this particular book will take us. Please post any ideas you want to share! (The history lessons were originally meant for my daughter starting first grade, but her 5-year-old sister is intent on playing along.)

So, along with a little reading, writing and music lessons, that’s our summer school. The vast majority of their time is spent playing pretend, riding bikes and catching bugs. In the end, Mei-Mei and Jie-Jie may not remember which Egyptian god had a hawk’s head or who cracked the hieroglyphic code. That’s all right. They’ll cycle through ancient history twice more before finishing high school. For now, we’re laying a foundation and learning that ancient civilizations are absolutely fascinating.

Still, I do think there’s a good chance they’ll remember digging up coins in the garden and dodging the world's longest river to get to the front door.

This Week’s Favorite Read: Casting the Gods Adrift by Geraldine McCaughrean

Favorite quote: “Mommy, should Jie-Jie be playing in the Nile?” – Mei-Mei, 5


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Countdown to Beijing Olympic Games

Only one day left until Beijing 2008 Olympic Games’ opening ceremony starts on August 8th, 8:08:08 p.m. Wherever I go, all I see, hear, and read is about the countdown date: ONE day left until this exciting day. It seems everyone is ready in Beijing. I don’t hear people complain about the inconveniences like I did a few days ago. (I don’t complain anymore, even though our shipment couldn’t leave because the torch rally in Tianjin blocked all streets to the port; it finally left this week with increased shipping.) You hear “Beijing Welcomes You” or “One World, One Dream” wherever you go and you hear people singing along with it! Yes, Beijing is ready. We are ready! By the way, if you want to enjoy all these songs, get this official album of the Olympics for Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

The torch rally started yesterday for its three-day travel around the city. The torch runners include Yao Ming, Zhang Yimo, Lang Lang, and more than 700 famous and ordinary citizens ages 14 to 85. Each person runs only about 40 meters. It started at the Forbidden City, traveled along the ancient city and ended at the Temple of Heaven yesterday. Today the torch started at the Great Wall and will end at the Temple of Earth. Tomorrow, it will be at the Bird Nest at 8 p.m. and everyone’s still guessing who will be the last person carrying the torch to light the Olympic flame. You can see the torch rally live here or at

Everyone worries about the weather, and unfortunately, everything was gray and hazy the last few days with daily temperatures of over 90 degrees and 70% humidity. It will be the same August 8th, and it may rain, too. But don’t worry, if it rains before the opening ceremony, special rockets will be used to disperse any rain clouds. Let’s see what will happen tomorrow night.

Along with the excitement of the Beijing Olymics on August 8th, the U.S. Embassy will open its new complex in Beijing at 8 a.m. the same day, and President Bush will attend its opening ceremony! I’ve also been to the USOC’s official celebration site, the USA House in Beijing. The Olympians and U.S. officials will come here to celebrate the Games and their victories. It’s located on a beautiful lakeside with multiple floors and a roof deck. Large TV screens, huge photos of the U.S. Olympians, shops and restaurants together make it a great place to celebrate!

So Beijing is ready. We are ready! Let’s hope the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games are a great success.


Friday, August 01, 2008

Things Beijing Olympics

Having been in Beijing a few days, I’ve experienced many things expected and unexpected. Before I left the U.S., I read lots of articles about all that’s happening in Beijing. I also spoke with friends here and learned about a few things not covered by the U.S. media. But now that I’m here, I realize whatever you read and watch in the media tells just one side of the story. (See my post called The Other Side of the Story for more on this.)

We've all read about how Beijing has tried very hard to improve the climate. Manufacturing in the city and surrounding cities has stopped, trucks aren’t allowed to drive in the city, and drivers are assigned to drive on only odd or even numbered dates. One thing I didn’t know is that construction, even renovations for residents, isn't allowed! Even so, when I arrived in the afternoon, the sky was totally gray and muggy—a typical hot summer day in Beijing. I instantly wondered what all the athletes and foreign visitors would think. I worried the western media will have lots more to say about Beijing’s climate. Such weather lasted a few days; until today, I haven’t seen sunshine! And it rained for three nights straight, even during the opening ceremony rehearsal nights (2 nights already, and there’ll be another one Tuesday). Then I began to worry about what will happen August 8th. Will it be another gray muggy day? Will it rain? (That’s what everyone is talking about now.) What do people around the world think of Beijing when they see such weather on TV? I’m anxious yet hopeful the weather we can’t control will be on Beijingers’ side.

Although the weather can’t be controlled, everything else in Beijing can be managed. The streets are extremely clean and flowers are blooming on all major streets, even spelling out words like “Welcome to Beijing,” “Beijing 2008,” or “One World, One Dream.” All major streets—really almost all, not just one or two—hang the Olympic flags and Beijing Olympic logo. The flowers and flags make the city look so colorful and appealing in contrast to the gray sky! Beijing also opened all subway lines. Until April, there were just three, and now eight lines are open. The last line opened July 31st. It's just amazing to see all these modern and convenient new subway lines! A 1.5-hour taxi ride takes just 25 minutes on the subway. I wish we’d had it long time ago. Before I came back, I heard about the subway randomly checking people’s bags. Guess what? Now it’s not random but mandatory. Everyone carrying bags must go through the security check in each subway entrance across all stations. You think there’d be a long wait? No, there isn't a line. I haven’t waited more than a minute to go through. Amazingly, no one complains about going through such a hassle just to carry a bag. Think about what New Yorkers would say if they had to deal with such checks in each subway station!

ID checks are another inconvenience people encounter daily. Although I haven’t been stopped or seen such checks, I've heard stories about people from another city who had to leave Beijing because they don’t have residential permits. Some of my suppliers’ workers left for the same reason, and now we can’t source certain products because those factories are closed. I also saw residents in my father’s building check people walking in and out and ask strangers to register. Maybe that’s because their building is very close to the National Stadium – Bird Nest, which can be seen from many residents’ windows. Many streets, even up to 2 kilometers away, will be closed August 8th.

Media is also managed well. Now everything you read, listen to, and watch concerns all things Olympics. “We Are Ready,” a popular Olympic theme song, describes just how ready Beijing is. There are live reports from the Olympic village and airports about arriving teams, press conferences of President Hu Jingtao (so different from western press conferences!), rehearsal preparations and the soon-to-be-open Olympic park, volunteers around the city, ordinary residents preparing for the Games by learning English or hosting Olympic visitors. Everything seems great if not perfect. Everyone seems so happy and proud to be Beijing residents! Ten days before the Games, CCTV hosted an evening all-star entertainment show. The atmosphere was amazing. All the songs, dances and plays showed how proud Beijing’s people are to host the Olympic Games. As I watched, I wondered what the performers think about all the daily inconveniences. In light of all those hassles, how could they be so happy and proud?

But after just a few days here, I’m already used to it and realize why we have to experience the inconveniences. All I wish—and I believe all Beijingers wish it, too—is that the Olympics Games are a big success and show the world what China and Beijing stand for.


Thursday, July 31, 2008

Lessons in the Living Room

Jeanette White is a freelance writer and editor living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She and her husband are homeschooling two daughters who are adopted from China.

“I just cannot picture Jeanette as a mom.” That’s the first thing my brother said when he heard I was adopting a baby girl from China. I was surprised enough to jot down his comment in my journal.

But in a way, I understood. He saw me as his latte-addicted, career-obsessed journalist sister who considered indoor plants a huge commitment. I didn’t know the front of a diaper from the back and didn’t care.

Fast forward several years: My husband and I have two little girls, 5 and 6, and our lives have been totally and wonderfully changed by theirs. When I quit my job downtown awhile back, they helped empty my desk and blew kisses to the tall brick building as we walked away. I now work part-time from a home office (a.k.a. former nursery) with one daughter’s name still in animal-shaped wooden letters on the door.

When someone—anyone—shouts “Mom!” in the grocery store, I spin around. I’ve washed my best clothes with crayons and sent embarrassingly enthusiastic emails about potty training. I stifled a shriek and smiled when my youngest daughter handed me a bright blue newt tail, still wiggling.

These days, my barista’s name is Mr. Coffee.

If all that doesn’t sound like total-immersion motherhood, try this: My kids won’t be going to school this fall. When their friends board the bus for kindergarten and first grade, they’ll be meeting me in the living room for lessons.

We are joining the growing ranks of home-schooling families, and while that may raise eyebrows among some friends and relatives, I couldn’t be more thrilled. In fact, like a lot of eager, rookie home-school moms, I’m not waiting until fall to get started.

That’s partly because I’m excited, but to be honest, it’s also because I’m a little nervous. Will I be good at this? Will my daughters grow and benefit in all the ways I envision? Am I depriving my kids of an important rite of passage by keeping them home? Can I juggle the roles of mother, teacher and professional writer—an integral part of my identity? Without driving my entire family crazy?

To paraphrase my brother, can I picture myself as a home-school mom? (I don’t even own a denim jumper, but that’s a stereotype we’ll talk about another day.) I know I’m not alone in this adventure. I’ve even met quite a few home-schooling families with kids adopted from China.

I’d love to have you join me on my journey into the rapidly expanding, ever-changing world of home schooling. I’ll share the ups and downs, successes and stumbles, great curriculum, helpful websites and other education resources I come across.

I’m especially excited about the opportunity to make it part of our routine to dive into Chinese history and culture, from ancient times to the present. Over time, we’ll include everything from basic history and geography to learning the language. We’ll even dabble in Chinese cooking. In fact, we have a history chapter on ancient China coming up pretty soon. Time to start gathering materials.

I hope those of you who’ve been down the home-school path before me can offer advice, encouragement or words of wisdom. Chances are, you can save me a step—or a misstep. And so, here I go.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Summer Time Fun!

Summer is always fun time for kids in the US because they don’t have school, no homework, but only fun-filled camps, vacations, or just hanging around! Not Chinese kids, though! Nowadays, during summer break urban Chinese kids go to Olympic math, Oxford English, piano, swimming, painting and endless classes, in addition to doing their daily homework for the summer break.

When I first time heard about summer camps in the US, I thought these camps are only for learning different things because the direct translation of summer camps - Xia Ling Ying in Chinese means schools for kids to learn during summer break. I thought American kids, just like Chinese kids, have to study during summer break, too. Then I saw my friends send their kids to camps where they just played. Later, it was my turn to choose a camp for my son. I realized all those camps are only for play, sports, arts, dance or music. I didn't see any classes to study anything except computers, which is just for fun, too. Since my son doesn't want to do sports, arts, dance, or music camps, I just sent him to one of those fun playing camps. Every day they just went to different places to play. Parks, swimming pools, museums, out-of-city drives - he had lots of fun and loved it. When he was old enough to attend overnight camp, he started going to another fun-filled camp and stayed two to four weeks. He has so much fun there that he looks forward to going every year!

Last year, when a friend told me she sent her son to a writing camp, I thought she was crazy because now in my mind summer camps are only for fun, not for studying! How can kids go to camp to study? But a few months ago, I noticed my son really needed to improve his writing skills and I started looking for camps that teach writing, I found only one camp that teaches different subjects and when we received the demo DVD, we were disappointed and didn't know what to do. I asked my friend about that writing camp, and she advised us not to do it because her son didn't enjoy it all. You see, it confirmed how I felt when she first told me about it.

But I didn't give up. I signed up my son to do the overnight camp for only two weeks and hoped something would come up later. Luckily, his new school (he will start in middle school this fall) offers a summer program teaching creative writing, math, music, and studio art to prepare kids for the middle school. I was so happy that he can finally study during summer break. But when he came back from overnight camp, he was so sad because he wanted to stay longer! This made me feel terrible and I thought maybe he should only have fun in the summer, not study.

So now a week has passed with his summer school. He liked it very much, and even learned some grammar for writing that he didn't learn in the previous school. I am so relieved - finally someone teaches him grammar! Sometimes I still feel he should have stayed at the other camp longer to have more fun, but then I know it's worthy to go to summer school and learn something new! And compared with the schedules Chinese kids face in the summer, his classes are only a piece of sweet cake.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

What's life like in Beijing now

I don't think any Beijingers ever expected the exciting Beijing 2008 Olympic Games would make their daily lives so inconvenient. Like me, all of my friends in Beijing were so thrilled to be part of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. But the excitment ended last April. Now when I talked to my friends there, it seems they just can't wait until the Games are over.

I mentioned the frustrating traffic control issues during the Games in my last post. But some those restrictions actually started in late June. Only a limited number of trucks are allowed in Beijing. Starting July 20th, the cars with odd-numbered plates can be on the road only on dates with odd numbers, and vice-versa for even numbers. What does this mean? Residents have limited choices for their daily basic needs. I was told they either can't buy the vegetables they once bought or the produce became too expensive. Areas surrounding the national stadium are blocked and only authorized cars are allowed there, including the area of my father's apartment about a half-mile from the stadium. I'm curious to see what things look like when I return in two weeks.

What do all these restrictions mean for businesses? One supplier told me business is so bad she's never experienced such a slow summer before, as very few tourists are in China now due to strict visa application processes. Some publishers tell me they'll close their offices in about two weeks until the Games end, which means we might not be able to get many books we need for our customers. Our forwarder has increased prices more than four times for picking up goods and delivering them to the port in Tianjin. Shall I ship the goods we need anyway? Shall I increase prices, too? Now I must calculate really carefully to see what we need most urgently. I thought it would end August 25, when the closing ceremony is over. But no, all these restrictions will remain until September 30 when the Paralympics are over! I don't think we can afford to wait that long.

Now you know why Beijingers can't wait until the Games are over. I don't know if residents in London (2012 Olympic Games) and Chicago applying for 2016 Olympic Games) will have the same experiences as residents in Beijing. I hope not. But if so, I doubt they'll find this aspect of the Olympics very exciting.


Friday, June 27, 2008

The Other Side of the Story

It has been a few weeks since I came back from China where I witnessed the national mourning of the Sichuan earthquake victims. It feels difficult to discuss that topic or comment on my blog about it because what I have read, heard and watched in China is so different from what I read and hear in New York. I am puzzled and wonder which side I shall take and believe and why there are so many differences between the Chinese and US reports.

As you can see in my previous postings, I have only written a few stories from what I had witnessed about the earthquake tragedy while I was in China. These were only some examples out of thousands of moving stories, but I didn’t see any of those reported in the US. In the US news reports, most of the coverage deals with what went wrong during the earthquake rescue. These articles focused on the numbers of deaths that were only estimated by the local governments, and not by actual counts, the school collapses, with it the failure of the local governments and all the angry parents that protested against the local governments (which I totally understand and support them too). There was also focus on how Chinese scientists did not adequately warn the government that an accident like this could happen and the faultiness of building structures in potential earthquake zones.

I realize that the US media is just reporting the reality of the news, but I wonder why only the tragic and angry stories are being published. This is not new to anyone, China itself and every other country in the world publishes a “one sided” news report. However, this is awful to me, because it means that people in either country can only hear a one-sided view. This allows me to understand how so many Americans whom I have met who have been to China tell me how much they love China and how surprised they are to see that China is so different from what they read, watched, or heard in the US. If people in either country only see one-sided stories, they will only have a one-sided view of the other country’s people and its life. But luckily, over 200 million Chinese now have internet access and many of them can read English, so they can read more Western news. Even though some websites are blocked, CNN, NY Times, Time, and more are not, so you can imagine what Chinese can read about the Western media. Now how about Westerners? How many of them can read Chinese websites such as Sina, Sohu, or a fashion magazine like Bazaar China? Can you imagine what special coverage about the Sichuan earthquake that Bazaar China has covered? Bazaar China has run a poignant series about the earthquake tragedy ranging in topics from shelters for the elderly, how families rebuild after the incident , the sadness of the parents for their children and the general pulling together of the human spirit. There are touching pictures that show children’s backpacks without their owners and military personnel aiding the wounded and carrying them out of the rubble on stretchers, not to mention the solidarity of the Chinese people during the moment of silence in Tiananmen Square or the celebrities like Jackie Chan and Zhang Ziyi gathering to aid the survivors. This is not propaganda, but another side of the human spirit of China that few Westerners see reflected in their media. Can you imagine Bazaar or any other fashion magazine publish such series in the west? I know many people here say China’s media is government’s propaganda, which I agree, but how about Western media? Here is one article I would like to share with you.

Having puzzled on this topic for a few weeks, I finally got excited to see that a few reports about China are subjective and really can help Westerners understand China from different perspectives. First, I saw “Youth and Restless in China,” a documentary film about 9 young Chinese people who come from different background and have different dilemmas, dreams, and hopes.

And NPR’s On the Media Goes to China has a great series about the media in China, which I will discuss further in upcoming blogs. In this series, you can really have a better understanding on how media works in China and if all things you read, heard, watched in the West really represent about China. (You can either read it or download it to listen to it, four stories and a blog).

So here is to hoping that people in both China and the West will have more opportunities to read, listen to, or watch such subjective media reports so we all can have a better understanding of each other!


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

National College Entry Exam

I still remember when I took the National College Entry Exam in 1981. It was in the hot summer of July 7-9, when the dates had been set for all Chinese high school graduates across the country. All exams from 1979 to 2002 were taken during these three days. They were such important days for all Chinese high school graduates and their families that I don’t think we could ever forget it. So if you ask me when I took that exam, I can tell you without a second thought!

For anyone who has been to China, you know how hot it becomes in early July. Regardless of how hot it was, millions of graduates had to take the exams in sweltering class rooms that did not have fans, much less air conditioning! I cannot use a hand-fan either, because we had to focus on taking the exam. Of course, water was not allowed into the examination room either, so we couldn’t drink anything until the exam was over, one exam lasting 2-3 hours in the morning and another one in the afternoon, totaling 6 exams in 3 days! When it was over, what a relief it was for graduates and their families! Yet, the anxiety would continue because we didn’t know if and which university we could get into! I still remember that there were only 9% of graduates who could go to universities during my time, but now that number of Beijing graduates who attend university has risen to 73% in 2007.

Anyhow, every year people would complain how hot each July was and that such important exams really should not have been taken in such intolerable heat. Finally, in 2003, the government changed the examination date to June 6-9 which is so much cooler than in July. How lucky all these graduates are now, they are allowed to take the exams during cooler months and some classrooms even have electronic fans or air conditioners!

I just received an email from a Chinese teacher who shared these “creative answers” from this year's entry exam for the Chinese language. When I first looked at the questions, I thought they were too difficult for anyone who should fill out blanks. But then I realized that we all have learned these ancient poems and should have known the answers if we had prepared for the exam for so long! When you read some students’ answers you can see the difference from the past to now in how young Chinese students have become so creative and materialistic. They don’t seem to care about whatever answers they could have. Now I have to share this in Chinese because it will be hard to translate these “creative” and "fun" answers!

高考創意答案 看一组语文试卷中的填空题吧—

1,_____,为伊消得人憔悴 同学答:宽衣解带终不悔 (正解为“衣带渐宽终不悔”)

2,问渠哪得清如许,_____ 同学答:心中自有清泉在 (正解为“唯有源头活水来”,咱还是和水粘了点边)

3,何当共剪西窗烛,_____ 同学答:夫妻对坐到天明 (正解为“却话巴山夜雨时”) 4,蚍蜉撼大树,_____ 同学答:一动也不动 (正解为“可笑不自量”,一动也不动,赫赫,很符合事实阿)

5,君子成人之美,_____ 同学答:小人夺人所爱

6,穷则独善其身,_____ 同学答:富则妻妾成群  (正解:达则兼济天下)

7,_____,天下谁人不识君 同学答:只要貌似萨达姆

8,后宫佳丽三千人,_____ 同学答:铁棒也会磨成针 ̄ ̄ ̄ ̄ ̄ ̄ (正解为“三千宠爱在一身”)

9,身有彩凤双飞翼,_____ 同学答:拔毛凤凰不如鸡 还有个同学答:夫妻双双把家还 (正解为“心有灵犀一点通”)

10,东边日出西边雨,_____ 同学答:床头打架床尾合 还有个同学答:上错花轿嫁对郎 11,_____,糟糠之妻不下堂 同学答:结发之夫不上床

12,但愿人长久,_____ 同学答:一颗永流传 (正解为“千里共婵娟”)

13,西塞山前白鹭飞,_____ 同学答:东村河边爬乌龟

14,我劝天公重抖擞,_____ 同学答:天公对我吼三吼 (正解为“不拘一格降人才”,龚自珍)

15,天生我才必有用,_____ 同学答:关键时刻显神通 又有同学答:老鼠儿子会打洞 16,天若有情天亦老,_____ 同学答:人不风流枉少年! (正解为“月若无恨月长圆”李贺《金铜仙人辞汉歌》)

17,洛阳亲友如相问,_____ 同学答:请你不要告诉他 (正解为“一片冰心在玉壶”) 18,期末考试出对联,上联是:英雄宝刀未老 初三同学对下联为:老娘丰韵尤存

19,良药苦口利于病,_____ 同学答:不吃才是大傻瓜 人生自古谁无死,_____ 同学答:只是死的有先后

20,床前明月光,_____ 同学答:李白睡得香

21,管中窥豹,_____ 同学答:吓我一跳 (正解为“可见一斑”)

22,_____,飞入寻常百姓家 同学答:康佳彩霸电视机

23,葡萄美酒夜光杯,_____ 同学答:金钱美人一大堆

24,_____,路上行人欲断魂 初一学生的杰作:半夜三更鬼敲门

25,老吾老以及人之老,_____ 同学答:妻吾妻以及人之妻 (那个同学特别具有奉献精神)



Sunday, June 22, 2008

Beijing in Olympic Time

Only this April when I went back to Beijing did I begin to wonder if it’s really a good idea to be there during the Olympics. I used to be so proud that the Olympics would be held in Beijing and encouraged everyone to visit and experience the exciting atmosphere, even if they weren't going to the Games. I tried to get tickets from both the US and China official ticket agents, but didn't have any luck with that. I didn’t win any lotteries either (yes, it is a lottery process) after I requested the maximum numbers of tickets allowed. But never mind, I still wanted to be in Beijing to witness this life experience!

Then in April, I stood in a two-hour line to apply for a visa in the Chinese Consulate in New York. I was shocked to see the visa office more packed than I’ve seen it in a decade. Very few applicants in front of me got a visa. I heard the clerk tell them that they were missing this or that document. I had never heard such requests before and wondered why China changed its visa policy. In the past, you could obtain a visa without any specific documents, only just by filling out a form. Now, as a tourist, visa applicants must submit the CONFIRMED roundtrip air ticket and paid hotel reservations (a simple reservation is not acceptable). If I visit my family there, I must have them write an official invitation. For business visas, applicants must submit an official original invitation from a Chinese company with the original seal. No fax or email invitation is allowed!

In Beijing, my suppliers told me to make sure all goods were purchased by the end of June. Otherwise, I’d have to wait until September (too late for our Christmas season), because no trucks will be allowed in the city from mid-July to the end of August except those with special licenses for this period. Publishers in Beijing are rushing to print books that are usually done in July and August by the end of June instead, so they can distribute them nationwide in time for the semester starting in September!

For ordinary citizens, if your car's license plates have an odd number, you can drive only on dates with odd numbers, and vice-versa for the even numbers. It might be good for air quality, but it creates enormous inconveniences for people who depend on driving for their day to day activities! The government has also starting knocking on everyone's doors to check IDs. Every resident must have a Beijing ID, and migrant workers must have official permits to work in Beijing. If you can’t show these documents, you have to leave Beijing, no exceptions, and this includes all westerners. Some westerners who have lived in Beijing for a long time must leave because of visa issues. Read this New York Times article to learn more about what’s happening to these westerners.

And of course for visitors, hotel rooms will be the most difficult to get. Either hotels are already overbooked or those that are left are too expensive. Read this New York Times article about this topic. Here is another article about the empty Beijing hotels because Westerners aren't getting visas. I know that many Beijing citizens are renting out their apartments for the Olympic spectaculars and they are charging 1000RMB ($142.00) per night for a one-room apartment! See some sample apartments here.

So now you may understand why I’m not sure if it’s a good time to be in Beijing during the Olympics. Nevertheless, I will be there and I will give you reliable updates on the Beijing scene during that exciting time. For those of you going to Beijing, I really am sure you’ll have lots of fun there. And don’t forget to grab Cityweekend and Timeout Beijing at your hotels or restaurants; they give you the best advice (sorry, much better than any guide books) on everything you need to live in or visit Beijing.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Beijing and Dust

I am disturbed by the New York Times article about Beijing’s dust problem. It is true that Beijing used to "blow sand" in the springtime, but this spring I was there in April and May and didn't witness any “sand” as mentioned in one of my other blog postings.

When I saw the photo with this article, my first reaction was who would dare to come to Beijing if they saw this photo? However, this photo didn’t mention the date it was taken, which makes me wonder if it was from previous years when the weather was worse. In the past, Beijing has had this kind of weather for just a few days a year--never more than 10--and it happens only in spring, never in summer! This weather doesn't appear in summertime, so the Olympics should be safe from sand storms!

The author also said dust “seeps and creeps and glides and slides across the floor, under the door and all around the walls” in his apartment and that “it’s like living in a beach house.” I wonder why he lives there if the dust problem is unbearable. Beijing does have dust, but not so much it merits the critique of a “beach house.” If Beijing is so dusty and unpleasant to live in, how can 15 million people live there, including more than 100,000 westerners? Some of my American friends have lived in Beijing for more than 20 years; how could they possibly survive if their living rooms are “sandy beaches?” When I left Beijing for the US this past April, I ran into an American high school principal at the airport who had just visited China with his family. He and his wife told me what a wonderful time they had and how much they love China and Beijing in particular. I've met many school administrators across the United States who, upon their return from Beijing, have told everyone they love Beijing and want to go back. If the air in Beijing is so bad, why would they want to do that?

To be fair, in Beijing, I do have to wipe my tables once a day and mop the floors every 2 or 3 days; otherwise, you see dust everywhere. Here are two pictures I took in Beijing, one during spring and the other during summer 2007. Are these like the ones you see with the New York Times article?

Is all this dust coming from factories around Beijing and the increasing number of cars on the street? Read this blog to understand where all this dust actually comes from. I really hope someone can offer better solutions than closing down factories, banning trucks from the city, or driving cars only on even or odd days in July and August in Beijing!

In short, I hope you don't pass up a fabulous time in Beijing because of what you saw in this New York Times article. It is dusty there, but it is not as described!