My hosts have been very generous with their time and hospitality during my four weeks at Xiamen University of Technology. Yesterday, my last day on campus, my colleague Zhang Ling and some students I have met, were invited to a farewell lunch at one of the campus restaurants. In the evening, it was an off-campus farewell dinner with the dean, Dr. Zhang Yuejun, and deputy dean, Professor Junming Chen, of the School of Foreign Languages. These events may well be a sign of the future good will and cooperative ventures between our universities.
A quick summary of my activities at XMUT:
- Two meetings with the Director of the International Office, Mr. Lin Hongwei.
- Meetings with administrators and faculty members to discuss possible cooperative exchange programs with Minnesota State Mankato: Vice President Dr. Zhao Zhenxiang; Dean of Digital Arts, Terry Guo; and Professor Zeng Haiquan, the director of the Modern Engineering Training Center.
- Three lectures: Two to student groups and one to faculty in the School of Foreign Languages.
- Three evenings at the English Corner with students who are keen to improve their English language.
- At least half a dozen meetings/meals with students for conversation in English.
- Several informal discussions with foreigners who teach English here: Hunter, Grace, Rachel, Keith, Peter, Josh and others.
- A number of morning walks/jogs around campus.
- Daily meals in the campus canteens. The Halal noodle cafe is particularly memorable.
- Numerous trips in to Xiamen City for sightseeing and shopping.
- Two farewell meals with students and faculty/administrators.
Particularly helpful during my stay were my colleague Professor Zhang Ling and Hong Bao (Sandra) in the Office of International Cooperation and Exchange.
Can you believe this? A 15-day freight connection by train to Poland from here!
So what have we noticed so far in our interviews? (My colleague and I are conducting interviews in companies around Xiamen to find out about their workplace communication.) A few themes are emerging.
- It is common that employees that write documents of various kinds are not necessarily titled “writers”. They might be from research and development, marketing, or IT. This is common in the States as well. Engineering students sometimes don’t realize that they will be asked to write a lot of technical documents on the job.
- Informal communication tools are important. This means in China that WeChat and QQ are used in some work places for informal, but work related, communication, just as I often use my own SMS application at home for my farm management communication and those of my university colleagues who have Facebook accounts, use FB chat to communicate informally, but often about work. This is usually “inward facing” or in-house communication, but not always. I visitor to the company, for example, might use WeChat to communicate about how to negotiate the security gate at the entrance to the company building.
- Company websites are important everywhere. The companies we have visited so far, however, used two different outward facing sites, one for international audiences in English and one for Chinese audiences in Mandarin. These two sites are sometimes quite different in content and are sometimes even on different servers, the English one outside China and the domestic one inside China.
- Professional communication/technical communication/business communication seems to be de-valued in these companies in as much as those who write are either employed mainly for some other skill/ability, or they are not titled writers.
Last Tuesday I was invited to English Corner, a weekly event where interested students work in groups with native speakers to answer questions on a worksheet and generally have fun. Last night was my second. I hope to attend one more next week before I leave. The students who attend tend to understand much more English than they can produce. This is a very common theme for me, since I found the same thing in Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
English Corner was held outside Building 8 last night, but the week before, inside. Should have been inside last night because it was in the 50s (F) and a little breezy.
Yep, I did it. I entered the McDonald’s at the Xiamen North Train Station as much as I hate to admit it. I really just wanted to have some coffee (there isn’t much around here) and I also wanted to compare to the stores in the States (which I almost never enter). This cup of coffee cost me 11 RMB or $1.61. That will get me a full meal at the campus canteen. The restaurant was full of travelers (the Xiamen North Station is a major rail hub for SE China) with their rolling suitcases.
It was quite a hike, but we made it up Shinui Mountain to the foot of Daixian Waterfall. Two miles up, first paved road, then stair steps through the forest. Lots of hikers out, some in appropriate clothing, some not. I really needed my running gear, but I survived.
Bamboo stand on the way back down.
Not the main waterfall yet, but beautiful nonetheless.
Top of the trail just across that misty bridge! We went all the way.
Starting out is easy.
Behind us is a rice straw stack which will be used for animal fodder later. In this shape it sheds rain.
Saturday was quite an adventure. Got to visit a rural area in Fujian province near the city of Dehua which practices traditional agriculture. Small terraced plots of rice, potatoes, green leafy vegetables of various kinds and lots of ducks, geese, and chickens. There were water buffalo for tilling the rice paddies, and a few goats grazing the fallow plots. Mountain springs and streams water the small plots. The wood house had packed dirt floors and they cooked over a wood fire. They have their own rice threshing and hulling machines. They store the rice straw for animal fodder.
Guo Bao village
Traditional cold storage cave.
I went to look at some sheep and found goats!
Water buffalo are used as draft animals in the small fields.
Chinese food in China is better. And there is lots of regional difference too. Here on campus, I often eat at the faculty canteen for breakfast where there is lots of choice. In the evening I like the Halal noodle cafe (food typical of NW China, I am told) which is in the same building. Students took me to a rooftop grill, also on campus, last week. Everything from fish and sliced potatoes to cauliflower and eggplant on skewers. Never have I seen a university campus so filled with excellent eating choices. One of the interesting things about food here is that the bread/rolls are usually steamed not baked. Another interesting thing is that the locals do not drink tea with the meal. They might drink warm water (that has been boiled) before or after. Tea, however, is a separate thing that welcomes guests to a home for example. Tea is sometimes served on a tea table that includes a drain for water or spilled tea. These tea tables are positioned on what we would call “coffee tables” and might have a lucky toad figure on them along with the tea cups and tea making tools.
One more interesting item is the “Year Cake.” I got to try these at the home of my friend in Dehua, Fujian. I first heard “eel cake” and was apprehensive, but then as we talked I got that he was saying “year cake” as in New Years Cake. His mom made them with sweet potato flour. I believe the ingredients include rice paste as well and they can have different fillings.
English Corner started up again for the semester tonight. I was invited and as it turned out, was one of 4 native speaker instructors. We were distributed around the room so that we each had about 8-10 students in our circles. We had some games and performances and probably 30 minutes for free discussion. I explained my family history to the students with me. That is usually interesting for people in another culture to hear about since they can then compare their own family stories. It’s personal and interesting. We all want to know about the lives of our fellow humans in other cultures.
Well, tomorrow is Women’s Day here. Not sure what activities are planned here at the university, but I will try to find out. Last Wednesday I went to Xiamen island, the original city, and found lots of elderly out on the promenade facing Gulangyu Island. There was a traditional orchestra of 6 musicians and I noticed that there were some card games going too, some where cash was involved.
It was a warm sunny day. Today is starting out cold and rainy. Might be the same tomorrow, according to the forecast.
XMUT campus entering from the South Gate. Part of my morning exercise route.