I live and work in Suzhou, a town a lot of people in the US have never heard of. It has a population of a little more than 11,000,000, making it bigger than Chicago and a bit smaller than London. That would make it the 16th biggest city in China (although demographers and other sensible people would insist that it depends on what the specific reference is of the town’s name, hence, the numbers can vary widely). It is divided into the Old City (“City Center”), which has been around, pretty much, forever (well, since 514 bc/pce), and Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP). The latter is much newer, with very wide streets, lots of trees, lots of cars (many of which are trying to run me over), and a fair number of foreign universities (hence, a fair number of foreigners). There is also Suzhou New District (SND, which might be older than the SIP: remember that “New College” at Oxford was founded in 1379). So taxonomy can get confusing. I’ve never really figured out SND, but I understand it has some excellent Japanese restaurants, so I will certainly be going there.
In any case, I teach at Suzhou University (which keeps the old Wade-Giles transliteration “Soochow University”) in the SIP, but I live in the Old City. It is fairly time-consuming to get from one to the other on public transportation.
The consequence of all this detail is that the chair of my department took this into consideration when designing my schedule. I teach two classes; American Political Theory twice a week, and the History of Western Philosophy from Kant to 1900 twice a week. But my very understanding chair has me teaching them all on Friday. So while Friday is bit exhausting, since I have back to back to back to back classes (with a lunch break), I’m done from Friday at 3 pm until the next Friday at 10 am. This is a beautiful thing.
I have gotten a few comments from my readers about all the food pictures. All I can say is that there are two entry-points into understanding China (in addition to the standard reading of history, philosophy, art, religion, politics, etc. texts). One can learn Chinese or one can eat Chinese food. The latter is—this is science—400 trillion times easier than the former. If you want to know China, eat.
Eating is also a very standard way to get together with friends. Many of my Chinese friends don’t drink, or don’t drink much, or don’t drink with me. But they all eat, and that is frequently the best way to see them.
As far as learning the Chinese language (or one of them), well, apparently it can be done. Whether it can be done by me is an entirely different story. One example: there are four tones in Mandarin (Putonghua). But there is also a neutral tone, which makes five if I’m doing the math here correctly. Yesterday my Chinese teacher, the lovely and wise Xiao Shu, told me to pronounce something with a half-tone. I did my best. My best in Chinese, to use the most precise technical linguistic vocabulary I possess, sucks.
So expect more food pictures, more stories about the frustrations of learning Chinese, and more accolades for the Chair of the Philosophy Department at SuDa (Soochow/Suzhou University.)
And for my faithful readers, some things will remain constant: