The Journey of a Journalist (Part 11B) – DOUBLE-DIPPING IN TIANJIN
Posted on November 7th, 2009

By Shelton A. Gunaratne©2009

My sojourn in China was part of my first sabbatical, which meant paid leave. In the 1990s, Moorhead State had an exchange program with Tianjin University in China that encouraged faculty on sabbatical to participate in this program. Tianjin agreed to pay me a supplementary salary of ¥ 1,500 per month and accommodate me in a unit at the university’s International Guest House in exchange for teaching English composition. That local salary was much higher than the salary paid to Chinese faculty although the tanhƒÆ’-¾ (desire) of some exchange scholars, who complained about their salaries, inflicted on themselves and the host university much dukkha (sorrow). However, the foreigners often had to pay much more than the locals for travel, rent, food, etc.

My 20-weeks in China began on Feb. 17, 1994, when I landed unexpectedly in Shanghai because poor visibility prevented my Northwest flight from landing in Beijing. It was the day after, a Friday, about 11.30 a.m. that I landed in Beijing.

 Li Xiaozhao, an administrator at the International Coordination Office of Tianjin University, was waiting for me at the airport. She shuffled me into a vehicle for the 130-kilometer ride southeast to Tianjin. The driver, Wong Yu, stopped at a typical Chinese restaurant half-way through the journey for lunch (cuttlefish, chicken, soup, etc.). The trip to Tianjin cost more than ¥20 in tolls. On the Tianjin campus, Li helped me to check in at the guest house. Unit No. 401 on the fourth floor became my office and residence for the next five months. From my experience, I concluded:

  • Chinese do not give priority to find office facilities to all faculty members in their colleges and universities. They make no distinction between the private (home) and the public (office).

 Teaching Composition

Tianjin had no journalism program at the time. Shude Ding, vice chairman of the department of foreign languages, and his colleague Yang Fengning visited me in my living quarters, which served as my office as well, on Saturday (Feb. 19) morning. They told me that they have assigned me to teach three classes in English composition””‚two for juniors on Monday and Friday, and one for seniors on Tuesday.

I conducted my first class, a composition course for double majors, on Feb. 21. Coordinator Chen Dezhong accompanied me to the classroom in Building No. 8. Chen introduced me to “Billy,” my class assistant. My diary entry says, “After the two-hour class, it was hard for me to feel whether the class understood my lecture even though I wrote most things on the chalkboard.”

The next morning (Tuesday), I gave my introductory composition lecture to fourth-year seniors””‚mostly females””‚in Building No. 18. My diary says, “The students did not appear to be familiar with the basic concepts I dealt with even though they have had composition for one year.” 

On Feb. 25 (Friday), I repeated the lecture I gave Monday to the third-year English majors.

This weekly routine of teaching the three classes continued for the entire semester.  I incorporated journalistic approaches to teaching English composition: How to compose a news story using the inverted-pyramid structure; and how to compose a feature story using narrative style and anecdotes. I compared the thesis of a traditional essay with the lead of a hard news story or the theme of a feature. I took this approach because the students told me that they have been inundated with lectures on the eight parts of speech.

As testing time approached, I advised the students to focus on paragraph development, an important aspect of essay writing.

I administered a two-hour final examination in Composition to the senior class on May 10. The results were OK. Only one student failed.

With the assistance of Klos, I administered the two-hour Composition Final Examination to junior English majors and double majors on Sunday, June 5.  The performance of the junior English majors resulted in two A’s, 15 B’s, nine C’s and three D’s. The grade distribution of the double majors was weaker: 11 B’s, 29 C’s, two D’s and two F’s.

 Re-union with Family

My family””‚wife Yoke Sim, son Junius and daughter Carmel””‚arrived in Beijing on June 9 to join me in China for the rest of my stay. I welcomed them at the airport and took them to the Xi Yuan Guesthouse of the Beijing Polytechnic University. We spent the next three days touring the main attractions of Beijing: Great Hall of the People, Tiananmen Square, Mao Zedong Mausoleum, Tiantan Park, Forbidden City (Gugong Museum), and Summer Palace (Yiheyuan)””‚”one of the best sights in Beijing.”

I brought my family to Unit 401of the International Guesthouse in Tianjin on Sunday (June 12) night. I introduced them to students and colleagues during the ensuing period. Philip Xiao and Mike Zhang, two of my students, agreed to purchase train tickets at the cheaper locals’ rate to enable my family to travel to (a) Taian and Qufu in Shandong Province, and (b) Shanhaiguan and Beidaihe in Hebei Province.

We took the train from Tianjin to Taian, where we spent two nights (June 19-20) to experience the arduous climb of Taishan (also called Dai), the 1,545-meter sacred mountain of China. My diary says:

Our climbing distance to the top was 7.5 kilometers from the Base. We started the climb about 6.45 a.m. We reached Zhongtianmen (the Midway Gate to Heaven) about 9 a.m. It was about 11.45 a.m. that we reached Nantianmen (the South Gate to Heaven).  The top part of the climb was very steep, and it was an achievement that all of us reached the top.

photo11B_Taishan01Photo –The Gunaratne family””‚Yoke Sim, Carmel and Junius””‚reach the top of Taishan (also called Dai), the 1,545-meter sacred mountain of China, June 20, 1994 

After resting in Lee Hwa Hotel in Taian for another night, we left for Qufu (June 21) to visit the Confucius Temple and the burial mounds of the great sage (551 BCE “”…” 479 BCE) in the Confucius Forest. We stayed overnight at Yingshi Binguan.

 Again, we took the train from Tianjin to Shanhaiguan on June 26 to reach the Eastern Gate of the Great Wall. Staying overnight at Jingshan Hotel, we explored the “First Pass under Heaven” early next morning. We walked north on the wall, then hired a motor tricycle driver to take us to Meng-jiangnu Temple, which tells the story of a woman whom Emperor Qin Shihuang wanted to marry but drowned herself in the Bohai Sea to demonstrate her dukkha concerning the emperor’s hand in the death of her husband; and the Old Dragon Head, where the Great Wall meets the Bohai Sea.

In the afternoon, we took a bus ride to the Beidaihe Beach Resort””‚the Communist Party’s summer retreat until 2004″”‚where we stayed overnight at the Guesthouse for Diplomatic Missions. Junius and Carmel enjoyed our visit to the Lianfenshan Park and the evening walk on the beach. We spent the next morning further exploring the Middle Beach and the surrounding streets of Beidaihe. In the afternoon (June 28), we got into an express train at Beidaihe that brought us back to Tianjin at 5.40.

On Wednesday (June 29), all four of us and four others attended a farewell banquet at the guesthouse given by Zhang Qing-liu, director of the International Coordination Office. Zhang presented a bell to me and a silk scarf to Yoke Sim.

Several of our Tianjin acquaintances, including the Sri Lankans, came to say goodbye to us the next day.  Early morning Friday (July 1), my wife and two children left the guesthouse for the Beijing Airport on their return trip to Minnesota. Zhang Qing-liu was at the entrance to the guesthouse to see them off.

I left Tianjin on Sunday (July 3) to continue my sabbatical at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. But my first stop was Seoul to attend, and present a paper to the annual congress of the International Association for Mass Communication Research.

 Indulging in Journalism

Although my short stay in China had very little to do with doing or teaching journalism, I could not resist the eruption of my journalistic itch to reflect on my China experiences. The China Daily published two of my letters: 

  • The letter headed “Tianjin needs English signs” appeared on June 7, 1994. I wrote it to demonstrate the problems I encountered in finding places during my explorations in Tianjin:

“Tianjin is attracting many tourists. It has two national universities””‚Tianjin and Nankai””‚where numerous foreign students study and foreign experts teach. …

“Yet getting around Tianjin is not easy for tourists who cannot read Chinese characters. Only a handful of street signs””‚Nanjing, Heping and Hongu streets””‚are written in pinyin. Places which travelers might visit or frequent, such as railway stations or subway stops, do not have pinyin or English signs.

“But the Tanggu-Kingang area, part of Tianjin municipality, does quite well in this regard and identifies most streets in pinyin or English. I hope that Tianjin can follow their example. Shelton Gunaratne. Tianjin.” (China Daily 7.6.94)

  • The letter headed “Ban swindlers from airport” appeared on July 1, 1994. I wrote it to express my umbrage about the swindlers who attempted to entice me into various scams on the day (June 9) I came to Beijing Airport to welcome my family:

“Tourists who arrive at Beijing’s Capital International Airport need some protection against unscrupulous taxi drivers who demand exorbitant fares. These drivers hang around the arrival hall of the airport waiting to pounce on unsuspecting foreign tourists.

“[On June 9] … one taxi driver demanded 500 yuan ($57) for the trip to the city. Another, who had the tacit approval of the clerk at the China International Travel Service (CITS) desk, wanted 200 yuan ($23). In fact, the CITS clerk told me that it would be inconvenient for us to take the airport bus and then take a taxi to our destination, the Beijing Polytechnic.

“[We] … took the airport bus which cost us only 48 yuan ($6) for four people. We got off at the second stop (Swisssotel-Hong Kong Macau Centra) and hopped into a Yellow cab that charged us 18.5 yuan ($2) for the journey to the Polytechnic. …

“The Beijing city government should take immediate action to prevent the unscrupulous taxi drivers from cheating tourists. …  Shelton Gunaratne. Tianjin.” (China Daily 1.7.94) 

  • I also wrote a letter to China Daily on April 17 drawing attention to overcharging for treatment at the dental clinic of the Tianjin Medical College. However, I have no record of its publication.

 Next: Part 12 A Summer Stint Back in Malaysia

[The writer is a professor of mass communications emeritus, Minnesota State University Moorhead. He dedicates this installment to the memory of his uncle, Keliduwa Vidanagamage Leslie Ariyasena (a.k.a..Ratagiya Mahattaya).]



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