Friday, September 5, 2008

First Day for Freshmen

The first day of class here at Liaoning Normal University was back on Monday, August 26, but the incoming freshmen didn't arrive until almost two weeks later. Excitement was in the air as the first-year students and their parents finally arrived on campus today (Friday, September 5).

The LNU sophomores are responsible for welcoming the new students. All last week, my students were busy cleaning the freshman dorm rooms from top to bottom and doing other chores to prepare for their arrival. Today, my sophomore students got up at 4:00 AM to begin greeting the newbies. They basically run the orientation process -- greeting incoming students, helping them register, showing them around the campus, and even carrying their bags and other belongings to the dorms for them.

The sophomores love being entrusted with the important task of welcoming the freshmen and they were especially proud to show me all of their hard work.

Classes for freshmen won't begin for yet another two weeks. First, they will have fourteen days of group-building exercises with their new classmates, including various drills, marching in formation, rigorous physical training, singing patriotic songs, and various orientation lectures. The same cohort of 25-30 classmates in each freshman "platoon" will stay together for all of the classes in their major for all four years. I'll try to add some pictures of freshman activities in the near future.

Here is a little album of scenes from the hectic activity on the day when the freshmen arrived:

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Flashback: New Mexico

If you are looking for more pictures of our adventures in China, don't look here! If you click on this link, you'll find an album of captioned pictures from our summer sojourn in Jemez Springs, New Mexico. Credit where it is due: many thanks to Charlie Ess, Ralph Stone, and Rose Mary Harty for sending me some of their great pictures.

Dinner Party

In our first three weeks here, Susie and I have been invited to three wonderful dinners and a fancy luncheon. The pictures in this album might give you a taste (at least a visual taste) of what such an occasion is like. The meal takes place at a round table in a private dining room. A "lazy susan" holds the many dishes (seafood, pork, beef, various sauces, vegetables, fruit, small cakes, etc.) and each diner uses chopsticks to help himself to a morsel as the table is rotated by one's companions. We often begin with a glass of bai-ju (a clear and slightly sweet distilled spirit) and then graduate to wine or beer. The host offers the first toast, after which we take turns toasting one another throughout the meal. On one occasion (not the one pictured here), the evening also included some of the diners singing along to a karaoke machine. Click here to view a small album:

Needless to say, everything is incredibly fresh and delicious. We may not know the name of the dish or its ingredients, but we know what we like!

Marine Life Quiz

Presenting the first Dalian Web Quiz of 2008. Dalian is important as China's northernmost ice-free harbor and boasts the third-largest amount of ocean-going traffic of any of the nation's seaports. Therefore, it seems appropriate that our first topic is Marine Life. The quiz consists of five multiple-choice questions to test your aquatic IQ. To play the game, simply click on the following link and answer the incredibly repetitious questions. The correct answers appear in the caption to the fifth and final picture in the album. Good luck to all our contestants!

How did you score? Did you qualify to take away the home version of our game?
(Hint: The fifth picture shows a tank of sea cucumbers, a rare, expensive, and health-giving local delicacy that has been served to us twice alongside sea anemone and sea urchins. They are also the main ingredient in sea cucumber wine, a pricey concoction that one presents to one's host on special occasions.)

New HGTV episode: Design on a Yuan

It's about time! Some blog entries ago we promised to give an update when we got the apartment squared away. Not that we have been living in a hotel all this time, mind you, but it always takes a bit of time when you land in a new city (country) to find just what you need to make your space feel like home -- we have always referred to his concept as "outfitting the nest." I won't elaborate on how to get your sometimes cumbersome (4" thick double-bed, mattress), purchases home.

In our photoalbum, you will see that we have developed a decorating scheme that utilizes craft items from our new country with a New Mexico twist of color. It is always fun to discover just exactly what your new country has to offer in terms of household fitout ( The smallest thing can sometimes be the biggest challenge (dish drainer, ice cube trays). I'm sad to say that I have not found a HomeDepot or Lowe's. But then again the university probably would not appreciate my tearing down a wall to enlarge the livingroom space. I was eventually successful in acquring a hammer, multi-head screwdriver and box of nails/screws. (Note: Before I found the tools, I was able to repair the vacuum cleaner and install a water filter only using Steve's swiss army knife!).

Of course, in an earlier blog we made reference to WalMart. Let me just say that options in an American WalMart vastly overshadow the options an average Chinese person has to purchase utilitarian household items. Where we would find a row of seemingly infinite choice of towels, sheets, bathmats in every color, size, style, & quality imaginable, here there is a single row with maybe 12-15 choices. Higher end stores carry imported goods -- organized by brand, not by function. So if you are shopping for towels, you might find them in several different locations or even on several different floors throughout the store. Makes for interesting (and always lengthy) shopping experiences. We have been very hard-pressed to find dental floss an only recently found this product at a store that caters to western clientele in the "development zone." This is an area where those who represent foreign companies live and work in Dalian, but have very little interaction with their host country and its culture. I much prefer shopping at the neighborhood grocery -- there will be another blog on that shortly.

I am pleased to say we have discovered several locations that carry very good quality local arts and crafts. These range from simple, but intricately tied "luck knots" to beautifully carved jade. Alas, the beautifully carved jade is out of our decorating budget, but we have been able to acquire one or two very nice, hand-painted scrolls that are now decorating our rather bland, white walls. In addition, we have a very nice Lucky Knot that offers all visitors good luck when they enter our home. The scroll at left hangs in our main room and represents the craggy, karst landscape that occurs more in the southern part of China (note small sailboat at bottom right) than in the area where we live. There is an area just north of Dalian, the Bingyu Valley, that we hope to visit on a week-end trip in the near future. This smaller scroll depicts red berries on a thorny bough. Works with the color scheme!