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January 05, 2004

modernity on display

My study program -- ICCI (Intensive Chinese Culture Immersion) -- emphasizes exposure to everyday Chinese life. In this way, a student can understand the practical applications of classroom Chinese.

Depending on each student's interests, ICCI also offers various cultural tours to museaums, etc. I de-emphasized this type of outing, both because I have seen many of the sights in the past and because I was more interesting in the "nuts and bolts" of managing everyday affairs. I did take in two impressive sites on the same day last week, though -- a five-storey exhibition center that highlights the achieved and planned urban development of Shanghai and the Jin Mao Tower, an ultra-modern building that was completed several years ago. The exhibit confirms what I have observed during my visits from 1991 until now -- the rapid, well-planned building of new commercial, industrial, residential, recreational, and transportation facilities and networks. It also uses a 3-D model and various graphic displays to foreshadow planned further development, such as a new deep-water harbor. The Jin Mao Tao was impressive in a more intensive way. It is billed as the third tallest building in the world, ranking behind one in Tapei and the twin towers in Kuwala Lumpur. Most of the visitors were Chinese, but the fact that the brochure is printed only in English sends a message (I think) that China is positioning itself to become one of the leading modern nations. That is, the target audience seems to be educated, young, urban Chinese who are studying English from middle school onward and foreigners for whom English is the langauge of modernity, whether as first or second language. Like the Sears Tower in Chicago, this one has a high-speed elevator that brings vistors to an observation deck in just minute or two. The lower floors house offices and the upper ones are occupied by a hotel. An American architectural firm won the international design contest for the building.

On the way to the Jin Mao Tower, I practiced using my Chinese to ask directions. I asked several people which subway exit to take for the Tower. The first couple of people I asked were young and replied in English. To work around that obstacle (for a language learner), I next asked a couple of older gentlemen. They were apparently visiting from another province. They understood my question and told me to follow them, because they were going to the same place. Cao Pingping pulled me back, though, and explained that they were going to end up on the wrong side of a street that is difficult to cross. So, I learned that there are three dimensions to asking directions: first, ask the right question; second, understand the answer; third, ask the right person.

Two days ago, Cao Pingping's parents took me to an afternoon music recital by the popular singer Sun Mei Na. Late in the performance, I was surprised when Lao Huang (Cao Pingping's mother) joined seven or eight other woman and went onto the stage to sing. It turns out that she has been an avid amateur signer for all her adult life. After the program, she explained that Sun Mei Na was donating proceeds of that day's sales of her CDs to a hospital for young girls that she has been supporting for some time.

Terry arrived yesterday. According to my hosts, my face says that I am "hen goaxing" (very happy). Of course, they are right. Before the day was over, we both got a 45-minute massage that cost about $12 in total. Terry was impressed by the amount of conversation I was carrying on with my masseus (spelling?), but she didn't realize that a third of the time I was saying "Duibuqi, wo bu dong" (sorry, I don't understand).

-- Norty

Posted by now at January 5, 2004 01:39 AM