#16 糊涂

China can be confusing. Chinese can be really confusing.

“了” is sometimes (often) “le.” But sometimes it’s “liao.” Confusing.

“长” is sometimes “zhang.” But sometimes it’s “chang.” Confusing.

The saintly, wise Yoda from Star Wars, in Chinese, is  “You da”[尤达] while the very unsaintly guy who sits in Satan’s mouth in Dante’s Divine Comedy is “You da” [犹大] (different characters and different tones). Without context, this can be . . . confusing.

You da
You da

But these are just some of the idiosyncracies that can be found in any natural language. Try explaining to someone learning English the differences among “though,” “cough,” “bough,” and “slough.” Details matter: after all, consider how slight the differences are between “flatter” and “flatten.” Would you prefer to be flattered or flattened?

But this week was more a conceptual, or logistical issue, than a linguistic issue. Certainly “confusion” would be the best word to describe the big event of this week, my participation—”participation”—in the 7th Urban Philosophy Forum. Or, perhaps, “unprepared.”

The philosophy department here, and, in fact, everyone at Suzhou/Soochow University, has been extraordinarily kind, helpful, generous, and gracious. (And possibly thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.) The department welcomed me and made me feel part of the show; I’ve given a couple of talks, and it was not really surprising that I was invited to a meeting this weekend.

However, I was told I was to talk for 15 minutes, or give a paper. Opting for the former, easier, option, I naturally asked “what am I supposed to talk about?” I was given a five-page document; the only thing I could read on it was my name and the time I was supposed to speak. Finally, I figured out how to get it translated, and discovered the meeting was on “Globalization and Regionalization: Urban Logic in the Development of Contemporary Society.” Of course, now the only thing I could understand, sort of, was “logic.” I’m familiar with Aristotelian logic, Stoic logic, the Port-Royal logic, truth-functional logic, predicate logic, modal logic, intuitionist logic, second-order logic and deviant logic (Hi, Robyn). Urban logic? Not so much. I suppose I am in favor of it.

I go to the meeting, which is entirely in Chinese with (as one can probably guess) quite a lot of technical vocabulary that I wouldn’t have a chance of knowing (possibly in English, certainly in Chinese). Then we had a break for tea and fruit (that I could handle), and came back. The chair looked at me and said, more or less, “go.”

My friend Taozhen keeps reminding me of the Chan Buddhist idea (I think that is where this comes from: don’t blame her or the Buddha if I’m wrong) that a Fulbright scholar should learn to “flow like water, bend like bamboo.”

Well, I did some earnest flowin’ and some serious bendin’. I got up, said in the Chinese I could muster that it was embarrassing I could not speak Chinese, that I would be speaking in English, and a bunch of other basic self-effacing moves. (I also mentioned, briefly, the three Ts and an X, although I’m not sure that made it into the translation that followed. I think I did state that one of the Ts “is and always has been part of China” although, again, it was not clear that the irony with which this was stated came through in the translation.)

I then mumbled about income distribution, the demographics of an aging population, and how the split in urban and rural populations imposes distinct needs on a government. This entailed more mumbling about how China and the US should work together to achieve our mutual goals, that we have much more in common than what keeps us apart, that the Fulbright program contributes to that through the exchange of scholars in both directions all around the world, and closed by thanking them for making me feel welcome to Suzhou University, the city of Suzhou, and the People’s Republic of China. I also took (naturally) a shot at the current US President, noting that he makes all international relationships—and particularly that between the US and the PRC—”more difficult.” I believe this, in Chinese, is 瞒报—at least that is as close as I could find to “understate” something. Maybe it’s “轻描淡写.” 我不知道.

I had about ten minutes to prepare these profundities, while not really knowing what the hell I was supposed to be talking about. While I meant what I said, there may have been a bit of boilerplate and yada yada.

Continuing to try to fit in, I sat there listening to (hearing?), sort of, what people were saying in a language I did not understand. I did better at lunch, where I met a lovely Yoruban woman from Lagos and a different but also lovely woman from Xuzhou. I then went home. I felt about as guilty as I ever do (which is not much) leaving early, but it was not quite clear what I was going to accomplish, or contribute, the rest of the day at the meeting.

So I basically dominated the entire 7th Annual Urban Philosophy Forum. At least it might look that way on my c.v..

The other highlight of the week was some Italian food at MammaMia! My friend, the sartorially-resplendent Andrea Baldini, told me it is the best Italian restaurant in Suzhou. I’ve tried most of them, and I now agree. This was one of the best meals I’ve had since I’ve been here.

Acqua frizzante, of course
A lovely salad. With corn, of course.
(Mista Di Stagione Condita Con Limon e Olio Toscano)

Spaghetti Aglio Olio e Peperoncino con Calamaretti alla Griglia Pane Croccante e Nero di Seppia
I know I should have concluded with espresso. I went Americano, damnit.

To conclude, pictures of my children. My son Henry hasn’t shown up yet in this blog, mostly because he hates getting his picture taken almost as much as his father. But here he is, hanging out (I think) in the New York City subway. On his phone, of course: he would fit right in on a Suzhou subway.

And here is daughter Emma and her beau David, as the bride of Chucky and Chucky (respectively). I like to think this was for Halloween, but they are in Philadelphia, so one never really knows.

#15 棒球

This blog entry will have very little to do with the Middle Kingdom, and will have a great deal to do with baseball.

When I was 10, in Kansas City (technically, Independence Missouri, home of Harry S Truman), there was no major league team. The A’s had departed for Oakland, and the Royals had yet to arrive. Fortunately, KFEQ from St. Joseph carried the games of the St. Louis Cardinals, and the broadcasters were two Hall of Famers: Harry Carey and Jack Buck. The Cardinals also had a great team that year, including the phenomenal pitcher Bob Gibson, and won the World Series (over the Red Sox in 7 games). It was a great introduction to baseball—and led to an early realization that baseball may be best enjoyed over the radio. It also made me a lifelong Cardinals’ fan, with a soft spot for the Royals of my high school years.

Fast forward to 1975: a ridiculously great World Series (Reds over the Red Sox—again—in 7), featuring a very famous homerun in game 6 by Carleton Fisk (and a generally ignored but at least as important homerun by Bernie Carbo). I watched it in my college dorm, and swore I would never miss another World Series game. And I didn’t, until 2007: I had no internet and no one in Nanjing (my first time in China) was interested in watching baseball. And since the games here start at 7 or 8 am, it seems unreasonable to find bars open then, which would have been the best chance to find the game. (It turns out, however, that if you want to watch rugby at 7 am in a bar, there is at least one place in Suzhou where that can be done.)

So I missed the Series in 2007 (a boring affair where the Red Sox—again!—swept the Colorado Rockies.) But I don’t think I’ve missed one since then, so another streak is ongoing. As I write this, the Houston Astros are just about to tie the Series up 2-2, after losing their first two games at home.

I’m not sure why baseball is not popular in China. It is, of course, very popular in some parts of Asia (especially Japan and South Korea). Maybe Major League Baseball™ should hire me to be an American ambassador to China, marketing and promoting their fine product.

What I’d really like to do is introduce WiffleBall™ to China. That should not be as difficult; as some reading this may know, I am a long-standing member of the Oakwood Wiffle and Ale Club, a group of malcontents and sybarites who play a disturbingly-competitive game every Saturday morning if it is 40° (F) or warmer. There are some yankees (geographically, not in terms of baseball affection) who like to play when it is colder. They are maladjusted.

Wiffleball, in any case, is a great game and would be perfect for China. It doesn’t take much room, it is very fun, and teams can be relatively large. Of course, if it got popular, 19,218 people might show up to play, which could be a challenge. China sometimes is crowded.

Otherwise, the week was pretty uneventful: I tortured two groups of students with exams, and the other highlight was the bizarre conversation at a Thai restaurant here. This restaurant is supposed to be good, but it had no appetizers—Thai or Chinese—or small dishes. The menu listed only entrées, desserts, and drinks. I wanted an entrée and an appetizer, or at least something else. So this was the conversation, which is pretty accurately reported since it was hard to forget. (I’m putting this all in English, although it was in a Thai restaurant  where I am speaking bad Chinese and good English with a server who spoke bad English and good Chinese.)

Me: Do you have any appetizers? Dumplings, shumai, something like that?

Her: No. Just main dishes.

Me:  Could I get an extra bowl of rice?

Her:  No. Just main dishes.

Me:  So I can’t just get another small bowl of rice?

Her:  You can get all you can eat [food? rice?] for 10 dollars (she said “dollars,” not RMB/kuai/yuan)

Me:  All I can eat for 10 dollars?

Her:  Yes. But no rice.

Me:  OK; I’ll just have the green curry chicken

She brings it, with rice. The curry costs 68 块. I eat, I pay, and the bill is 78块. I ask why it is 10块 more. The answer: that 10块 is for the rice.

The curry was good. But I was confused.

Pasta with crawdads/crayfish/mudbugs.
To the best of my knowledge, Pizza Hut in the US does not offer this.

Gustave Flaubert, in his Correspondence, refers to a language-learning struggle of his as his “eternal Greek.” I’ve studied Ancient Greek; it’s not easy, but compared to Chinese? 哈哈哈。

Someday soon I will discuss this in more detail. In the meantime, an example of my homework (before the lovely and wise 清泉got to it). As I said, 哈哈哈。

#14 螃蟹!

The famous crabs of Yangcheng Lake

It is crab season in Suzhou now—the famous “hairy crabs” from Yangcheng Lake. People come from pretty far away to eat these. This Sunday, some friends were nice enough to invite me to join them in a crab extravaganza.

The star of the show was, of course, the baby: Xu Liman, or 徐黎曼. Her mother works at the China Institute, where I used to teach; perhaps you can tell her father is a mathematician, since they gave her the English (well, German, well, Western) name “Riemann” (which is “黎曼” in Chinese). I congratulated them on not choosing “Lobachevski” (which, if you are interested—and you are—is 鲁巴切夫斯基).

I must admit that eating these things is a lot of work. I have heard that one actually loses calories eating raw celery, because it is mostly water and digesting it takes more energy than it provides. This may, in fact, be nonsense. But I could see how one could lose weight consuming Yangcheng crabs, given how much effort they require. But they are, indeed, tasty, and it was a very pleasant day all around. Above you see the “before” picture; here is the “after”:

To be fair, this is really the “before” picture.

I live in the old city, on a street that used to be called “bar street.” Most of the bars moved out, and have relocated to another area called LiGongDi; most of the bars that are left are, um, a bit, um, sketchy. Many of the women who work there greet me in the most animated fashion, and really seem to want to get to know me. Walking home I am often greeted with enthusiastic “Hello!”s in English. I remain slightly suspicious that they are dying to know about the metaphysical deduction in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason—I could be wrong. But mostly my neighborhood is jade shops, some tea shops, and hookers.  

It takes awhile to get to where I teach and, mercifully, my department chair arranged it so I don’t have to do it very often. There are two ways: one is shorter, but involves a brutally crowded bus.

It is not quite this bad.

The other way takes longer, but I can stop at Starbuck’s between the first bus and the second bus and it is not crowded: hell, compared to the other route, it is serene.

The excitement this Friday was discovered just as I arrived to teach, when I was told that classes were cancelled. I could have stayed home if I’d known, but the obvious thing to do at that point was to go eat. And when in Suzhou, clearly one thinks of feta, kalamata olives, and souvlaki, right?

And, finally, for no reason at all, here is a picture of my daughter Emma with a troublemaker I know, Art, in Washington Square Park (NYC). I met Art in graduate school and we have been good friends since; I have many amusing stories about him, most of which I cannot share here. He despises the current US President as much as I do.

#13 西瓜汁

“Watermelon Juice” may well be what my audience thought I was providing at my talk. In any case, this week was a talk to philosophy students and some philosophy faculty, on Kant and Rousseau. I know those reading this are dying to know the basic claim, so here it is: in On the Social Contract, Rousseau claims that “freedom is obedience to the law one has prescribed for oneself” [“l’obéissance à la loi qu’on s’est prescritte est liberté”]. I argue that in spite of the almost-exclusive focus on Rousseau’s influence on Kant’s moral philosophy, this sentence actually provides a strategic hint that encapsulates Kant’s strategy throughout the Critical philoosophy, specifically the Critique of Pure Reason. So there.

The talk went pretty well, although it was a bit technical in places. This may be why one of the first questions (from a faculty member) was to ask me to summarize the main points of the paper. A student asked a very good question that raised an important point Frege emphasized, that of the normativity of logic. So there.

Perhaps you are wondering why I mentioned watermelon juice. It is because it is extraordinarily good: refreshing and full of that prized lycopene. It is also one of the things (along with coffee) that I can successfully order in Chinese: there is some sort of moral victory walking up, ordering in Chinese, getting what you ordered, and paying for it, all without having to resort to bizarre hand signals (I don’t know what the hand signals are for “watermelon juice,” anyway). It should be much more widely-available in the US.

I’ve been working with my tutor on ordering food in Chinese restaurants. It is not made any easier by some dishes having names that are a bit tricky: after all, if you see this dish on a menu— “Seven Sparrows Flying Across Purple Mountain”—would you order it? It could be chicken feet (no thanks), fried duck tongue (surprisingly good), or a dreaded vowel food (eggplant, oysters, artichokes, etc.) It is a slow process, summarized beautifully by this meme.

So a week spent on scholarship, reading, and a lovely evening walk that took me to the Northern Pagoda.

Finally: how can I not frequent a restaurant that sports this winning slogan?

#12 黄金周 Golden Week

The Seventieth Anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China was this week (October 1, for those keeping score at home.) Lots of businesses close, people travel; there is a big parade in Beijing although, from what I understand, the proletariat generally has to watch it on TV.

Most people I know just like having the week off. I know I did; I spent most of the time reading (in English) Outlaws of the Marsh/Water Margin/水浒传. It is a lot like the Robin Hood stories Westerners are familar with: the good guys whuppin’ up on the bad guys, often corrupt government officials. The Outlaws of the Marsh, however, has way more alcohol consumption, quite a bit more craziness, and a lot more heads being detached from one’s opponents’ bodies. (Just imagine Friar Tuck after a couple of bottles of mezcal, with substantial anger management issues and a propensity to extreme violence.) Fortunately, Song Jiang, their leader, keeps them in control, for the most part. No Maid Marian figure, however, and it is five volumes (1500 pages) long. I have five more chapters (out of 100), and then it is on to The Scholars/儒林外史. Only 600 pages!

Other than that, I got ready to give a second talk. This is a philosophy talk, on Rousseau’s influence on Kant. It’s a paper I’ve been kicking around for quite awhile (and if Kristen Oganowski is reading, she is snickering), but I don’t have access to the kind of library I need (and my Internet access these days, possibly because of the holiday, has been—at best—sporadic). So we shall see how it goes.

I did try to go on another “Walk with Steve,” this one exploring the city walls and gates (or at least half of them). It started raining hard, I guessed it would continue for the rest of the day, and left. I guessed wrong. My loss, to be sure.

This picture has nothing to do wiith anything; I just liked it (and stole it from someone on WeChat). The characters on the building (known as “the pants” or, sometimes, as “the underwear” building) say “Suzhou,” in case you forget where you were.

In general, an uneventful week. But a good one for nerding out, playing guitar (working on Blind Blake and Blind Boy Fuller, currently) and mandolin, and walking around Suzhou. So I shall close with my pictures from Panmen—”Panmen Scenic Area”—one of Suzhou’s old gates, where there is some pretty seriously old stuff. It is also beautiful although, due to the holiday and the nice weather, pretty crowded.

For those who have heard the story—and those who haven’t—last time I was here I climbed up the pagoda (a very good view of this part of Suzhou). A woman and her daughter were trying to get past me on the stairs (I was coming down, they were going up) and were yelling at me in Chinese. I yelled back “I don’t speak Chinese!” (in my best Chinese) and they both gave me the oddest looks. As I left the pagoda and reflected on the encounter, I realized I had been saying (in my best Chinese) “I don’t speak English!”

No, I had no clue about this either.

#11 太忙了!

I don’t know. I seemed pretty busy this week. I gave a talk, taught four classes on Friday and four on Sunday, went to an official dinner to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, walked around a bunch, and had to wear a tie.

There are no pictures of me wearing a tie, nor are there pictures of me toasting with the Suzhou Chair of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, nor the Mayor of Suzhou. In spite of the fact that we are all pretty much now besties, some won’t believe any of this without evidence.

The talk went well. The issue was whether the current President of the US is the worst president in US history. I tried to stick to facts; the basic premise is that the US has had some bad presidents, because they were corrupt, incompetent, racist, dishonest, and/or divisive. Trump is all of these. Thus he is the worst president in the history of the US, and any other candidate one might mention (Buchanan, A.Johnson, Harding, Nixon) was not as bad. Since he is worse than the worst presidents, and a worse one cannot be named, he wins. (I did suggest that we need to leave a special place in our hearts for William Henry Harrison, since he was only in office for 31 days.)

I ended up with 54 PowerPoint slides, could have had another 50—at least—on the topics I addressed, talked for an hour an a half, and still didn’t even address some very important aspects. Hence this slide:

I got a pretty good crowd, and all the questions (both from the audience, and then later on WeChat) were informed and insightful.

I’m confident that the eponymous target wasn’t aware of my talk—which is sort of funded by him—but this letter did generate the smallest, tiniest, itty-bittiest glimmer of some emotion one might call “guilt.” I got over it.

I like to think I demonstrated American values: independent, critical thinking

Suzhou is sometimes called the “Venice of the East.” This is, of course, nonsense; Suzhou began in 514 bc/pce, and Venice didn’t really get going until 568 ad/ce. So can we agree that Venice is the “Suzhou of the West”? Suzhou is a very beautiful city, which is why I asked to come back here; it is my favorite of the Chinese cities I’ve been in (Beijing, Guilin, Chengdu, Xi’an, Shanghai, Nanjing). Here are a few pictures, with many, many more to come.

A couple of closing photos, the first from the campus of Suzhou/Soochow University, where I teach.

This is pretty hard to find at the University of Dayton.

And, of course, some food; this from a good—not great, but good—Uighur restaurant. Some of the best restaurants in Suzhou are from Xinjiang Province.

Happy National Day, everyone!

Or 以优异成绩向国庆献礼!

#10: Yak Yak Yak

I’m giving a talk this week, so most of my time has been preparing for that. Details about all of that will be the topic of next week’s entry. Since that entry will be mostly words, this entry is mostly pictures of the few things I managed to do, with captions. (My apologies if some of these pictures load slowly. Blame Emma.)

As usual, a lot of walking and exploring; these are some lovely potatoes, with an even lovelier sauce, from the famous (and touristy) Pingjang Road. If you want to see 老外,this is the place.

Undoubtedly the distinction between “philosophy” and “ideological training” is a delicate one. Fortunately, both can be found in my building at Soochow University.
This is a good zone in which to find oneself.

The excitement of the week was to take another “Walk with Stephen”—Stephen Koss, author of Beautiful Su: A Social and Cultural History of Suzhou, China. Last week’s walk was on Guanqian Street, and while I learned some new details about the area, this part of Suzhou was quite familiar. Our walk this week was all completely new, in an area of Suzhou I had not been in and looking at things I’d never seen. It was 六六六。

The tomb—supposedly—of 孙武. Nice juxtaposition of the old (he died somewhere around 500 bc/pce [?] ) and the new. This juxtaposition is pretty much a constant in China.

First up was a site dedicated to Sun Wu (Sunzi), famous as the author of The Art of War (孙子兵法).

Inside the small museum, where many, many versions of The Art of War (and books about The Art of War) have been collected.

The walking group in front of a statue of the man himself. There was much discussion about just how high this statue is. No definitive conclusion was reached, since we did not really adopt sound empirical principles to determine the answer.

Next up was the Suzhou Museum of Imperial Brick. Indeed, this is a museum devoted to bricks. But these suckers are special bricks. Before the end of the Imperial Era, these were the only bricks (known as “Golden Bricks”) that could be used in the Forbidden City in Beijing (and possibly a couple of other sites special to the Emperors). Hence the process is very precise, and as we learned, out of the bricks produced, only about 20% were good enough to be shipped to Beijing for the emperor. There was a lot of detail about mud, how the mud was treated, formed, cured, baked, shipped: about everything you would ever want to know about Imperial Bricks. While one might say “Brick Museum? When I could go to a toaster museum, or maybe a museum devoted to watching paint dry?,” it was very interesting and fun to see.

Entrance. Read about bricks.

See bricks. There were a lot of bricks in the brick museum. This may not be surprising.

Buy bricks. You can even buy a brick if you have 块38,000 (that’s about $5,425 US). There was a cuter, much smaller one for only 块1,800. The first one seemed a bit extravagant; the second seemed like it would not be that easy to take back on the subway.

Last stop was the tomb of Wen Zhengming (文征明), one of the four great Southern painters of the Ming Dynasty. Steve had some good stories about Wen that brought him to life. He was a bit . . . idiosyncratic, which is surprising, since famous painters are always so stable and predictable.

Wen Zhengming’s tomb.

One of Wen Zhengming’s paintings. The other three great Southern Ming painters—you were wondering, weren’t you?—were Tang Yin, Shenzhou and Qiu Ying

And I shall close with a little non-Chinese weirdness. My daughter Emma, for reasons that are complex and, indeed, a bit mysterious when seen from a cosmic perspective, lived for a year in Slovakia, and speaks Slovak. It would be a bit of an understatement to say that she has a great deal of affection for Slovakia. This may explain the following picture.

Emma with Zuzana Čaputová, President of Slovakia (and the first female President of Slovakia).

#9: Bureaucracy

As noted in the previous blog entry, my schedule is, um, forgiving. I met with my students and taught my classes on Friday the 13th (in spite of my being a recovering triskaidekaphobe). Then MidAutumn Festival arrived: along with many mooncakes and threats of more mooncakes, school was closed Friday, so I had the day off.

My courses meet Friday the 20th, but I have to fill out some forms to establish long-term residency before my current temporary status expires. Hence, I will be off Friday afternoon to do that. But I do have to teach my morning classes! (And I think the afternoon classes will be rescheduled.)

The bureaucracy is rather unbelievable: I’ve had to get a health exam, including an ultrasound; I had to open a bank account; I had to register with the police; I had to register my short-term residency; now I have to register my long-term residency. The bank alone required me to sign what seemed to be 1,519 documents—probably closer to six—all in Chinese. I had help (Jill and Tianyu to the rescue, again!), but I did mention that I was a little uncomfortable signing things I could not read. I also mentioned that if I returned to the US to find this bank lady living in my house, that I had somehow signed over to her, I would be a bit miffed.

Quality bank help from Jill and Tianyu

I admired the MidAutumn moon and walked around Suzhou. I pretty much walk around Suzhou every day. But this Sunday I actually walked with others, doing a walking tour with Stephen Koss, author of Beautiful Su: A Social and Cultural History of Suzhou, China. I’ve read about half of it; it is quite good, and Stephen knows, evidently, all there is to know about Suzhou.

He arranges relatively small, relatively informal tours during the part of the year he and his wife live in Suzhou (the rest of the time is spent in some place called “Manhattan.”) This tour took us to Yi Yuan (The Garden of Harmony), one of the many gardens of Suzhou. This particular garden is small and fairly new (middle 19th-century), and, as Stephen pointed out, it lacks the originality of the other, more famous gardens (e.g. the Humble Administrator’s Garden and the Master of Nets Garden). For these reasons, presumably, there were very few people there—always a plus, and a rarity, in China—and it was quite pleasant walking through it. It is also close to where I live, so I will return.

Yi Yuan

The group, in front of the Taoist Temple on Guanqian Road

Otherwise, it was a relaxing week, with a fair amount of looking around and a fair amount of reading. I have started The Water Margins/Outlaws of the Marsh (水浒传) one of the (four? five? six? depends on who is doing the counting) classic novels of Imperial China. I’ve read The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Dream of the Red Chamber/Story of the Stone, and Journey to the West (all in English translation, of course). They are long, full of many names, but very, very much worth reading. After Outlaws of the Marsh, I will turn to the Plum in the Golden Vase (JinPingMei/金瓶梅)—when I tell my Chinese friends I’m going to read that one, they always laugh because it has a reputation for being somewhere between being risqué and pornography.

For the obligatory food picture: I made it to Rong’s for lunch. It may not be the best restaurant in Suzhou—it would be hard to identify the best restaurant in Suzhou, although I’m working on it—but it is pretty close to being my favorite. Excellent pho, excellent bánh mì, excellent spring rolls, and Larry Rong remembered me from almost a year ago, as well as remembering that I was there with a student and famous (well, maybe not so famous, yet) rapper “Legend.”


And for the obligatory China weirdness: I see a lot of people wearing shirts with English on them. I like to think that some of them don’t know what the English states, such as the woman working at a store in Chengdu while wearing a black shirt with enormous white letters that said, simply, “FUCK.” I have also seen a very old man, at least 85 years old, wearing a Public Enemy “Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” shirt (clearly he was OG), as well as a surprisingly-woke 10 year old Chinese boy wearing an “I Can’t Breathe” shirt.

She wouldn’t stand still long enough to get a good picture: “Make Money Not Friends.”

#8: Overworked

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.

American Political Theory, Soochow University Fall 2019.
I forgot to take a picture of my History of Philosophy class, so their fame awaits.

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.

Xinjiang Lamb

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.

Friends outside after a good meal at a dumpling restaurant in my neighborhood. I’ve omitted names because some of them may not regard this as the most flattering picture ever taken of them.
Except Jige.

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.

My textbook. I did, in fact, unwrap it.

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:

For those keeping score at home: Madagascar Vanilla

#7: DO(H)!

One of the hazards of taking (or teaching) logic is wondering about things from a particular, possibly idiosyncratic, perspective. No one else seems to care about the paradox (antinomy?) of the Vatican Museum: as mentioned before, what if everyone buys a “jump the line” ticket? Similar kinds of questions keep appearing: since the Fulbrighters had their Pre-Departure Orientation (PDO) in North Carolina, what was the orientation called in Beijing; the Departure Orientation (DO)? And, if what I learn from Twitter is true—and it undoubtedly is—is it true that nobody uses the phrase “it is not the case that” unless he or she has taken logic? Also why, in the civilization that invented paper, are the napkins so small? Finally, is the rule for left turns when driving in urban China that there are no rules? There is only one pizza that can help with these conundra:

We spent most of the Orientation hearing presentations, including two good student presentations about their expectations of teachers, particularly foreign (American) teachers. We also were told some technical information about ID, crime, and how to avoid rabies: standard kinds of things you think you don’t need until rabid you shows up at the hospital having just been pickpocketed, only to discover you have no ID.

We also heard from the professionals about politics and economics. Bottom line? It’s complicated. The word of the day to describe the Trump Administration was “interesting,” which I have come to discover can be said in a virtually infinite number of ways. The payoff for this was to eat Western food and hang out with the US Ambassador to China, former Iowa governor Terry Branstad. I asked, but he was unwilling to state a preference for Hawkeyes vs. Cyclones. Hey, he’s a politician. As you can imagine, no one discussed politics.

The next day was Fun Day. We were taught by the fabulous Michelle Tang, the Pride of New Zealand, how to make hand-pulled noodles (along with a basic tomahto sauce). The two surprises, given it was a bunch of academics cooking? No injuries and the food was not just edible, but good. I sense Michelle was largely responsible for this success, and I highly recommend checking out The Hutong if you ever get to Beijing. (You could check it out if you never get to Beijing, but that would be fairly pointless.)

We also got a great tour of a Hutong from Jeremiah Jenne, the Pride of New Hampshire. My dad used to refer to people as being so smart that they needed two heads to carry all of it around in. Jeremiah might need three heads. He is also connected with The Hutong, if you want to get the inside skinny on Beijng.

And we finished off the fun day with . . . beer. (Wise King Serge stuck with water.)

Then off to catch the bullet train (fast, clean, reasonably priced, efficient, on time: US politicians might consider how US transportation . . . ah, never mind) to Suzhou.

I had a very helpful tour of, and informative welcome to, Suzhou University, from Jill and Tianyu (aka Jairo).

Then it was off to some of my old haunts: Zemos, Costa, Blue Frog.

And the week concluded with a magnificent banquet with the Dean and several other administrators of Suzhou University, as well as a couple of other people whose lawyers insisted I leave nameless. It was a great evening, with many toasts and a little bit of food: it made me feel very welcome. 干杯!

Finally, some China weirdness. I saw this mug and had to have it: there is no love deeper than Elk Love, as is clear from the phrase “Heart to the Distance.”

And, yes, I thought I was buying some Kleenex™.

I came home to discover I purchased a package of 卫生护垫 (panty liners.)

The packages look pretty similar, but I have been told I sometimes don’t pay attention.