Landesberg, Eke participate in faculty exchange

 School of Communications faculty members Rich Landesberg and Ocek Eke are spending five weeks this summer teaching at Southeast University in Nanjing, China, as part of an Elon exchange program.

For more than 15 years Elon has collaborated with Southeast's Foreign Language Department to accomplish the exchange initiative. Routinely, Elon professors lecture students at Southeast's five campuses in their areas of expertise and in American culture. Conversely, Southeast professors come to Elon in the fall and stay for the balance of the academic year, teaching students the Chinese language and culture.

Landesberg and Eke arrived in China about a month ago. Since his arrival, Landesberg has maintained a blog that chronicles his experiences in a foreign nation. He has provided Connections with some of his blog entries to share with the wider community. When Landesberg writes a new blog, Connections will post it on the site. So check back often.

'Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky

I came all the way to China just to climb down a mountain. And up a mountain. And raft on a river and climb all the way to the peak of another mountain. Not my usual weekend in North Carolina.

It all started during one of our first meetings with our hosts. I suggested that I wanted to spend time outside the big city of Nanjing and wanted to spend time off the tourist track. Why spend time in a country if you’re not going to get to know the people. That’s how we got invited to the annual English faculty outing.

We were told that the bus would pick us up Saturday morning and take us to this mountain town about four hours away and in another province. We were told little other than that we will probably play cards—poker—and “maybe we will go rafting.” A cultural observation: when the always polite Chinese say “maybe we will” it means that is what is on the agenda and that is what we will do.

The bus picked us up at 6 a.m. and then stopped for another group of teachers across town, and we were on our way. The countryside looks similar to ours—I even saw Magnolia trees in bloom—but with distinctly Chinese character. There are still poor farmers, stooped over, working the rice paddies with their blue shirts, straw hats and with an Ox pulling their harvester. But there are gas powered harvesters replacing those oxen in some paddies. And dotted between those old rice paddies—the ones I’m seeing on the freeway as we race toward our destination at 75-mph—are factories and in some cases brand new factory towns with wide new roads traversing one end to the other but going nowhere after that.

After a quick stop along the freeway, the Chinese  equivalent of the Vince Lombardi rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike, we are in the mountain town of An Qing in Anhui province. So our relaxing weekend with faculty is about to begin. OK, define relaxing. We all pile off the bus at the hotel and immediately sit down at big tables for lunch. It’s only 11:30 a.m. but that’s all right, we’re hungry after the four-hour bus ride. As seems to happen when we are out eating with the Chinese, food just starts to arrive. Big plates of bean curd, noodles, pork, tofu, soup and fish along with other things. And rice. Lots of rice. Always. The food is all nice and spicy hot and tasty … good Chinese country cooking I am told. Suddenly, everyone is finished and leaves the table. We’re told to put our things in our rooms and meet again at 12:30 p.m. in the lobby.

A quick word about the room: It’s filthy. But it is big—about average hotel room size in the U.S. That makes it more than double the size of my room in Nanjing. That room is smaller than my office. If it were any smaller, I would have to sleep standing up. There are no drawers and there is no closet. The bathroom is small, too. How small? Think the bathroom in the smallest cabin on a cruise ship. Then divide in half. The shower is a rain shower head that drains on the floor. The toilet and sink are both within easy reach. But the water is hot and plentiful, the staff is very responsive to problems … and I’m in China! So there is no room for complaint. Now back to the weekend.

At 12:30 p.m., we are back on the bus and driving from the mountain town to the mountain. About one hour later we arrive at Tian Zhou mountain. A rough translation might be “Heavenly Pillar” or “touch the sky.” The headline is my rough translation. That’s because it is the second largest mountain in the area, about 1,400 meters high (4,600 feet). We started at what seemed to be a high point and climbed down. It was a bit rugged in parts and my heart was pumping pretty fast but I made it, and the payoff was a beautiful waterfall I would never have seen otherwise. So now it was time to get on the bus. But only in my dreams.

In reality, it was now time to climb back up the mountain, up the steep part. Climbing lots and lots of steps. And then some more steps. Along the way there are bamboo chairs mounted on bamboo railings that are sturdy enough to carry a good-sized person, and men offering to carry you in the chair up the mountain. But I was not about to show our hosts that I could be that easily defeated. And I am not a wimp. About two hours later I made it to the top of the mountain, exhausted, having done more exercise in one day then I had in the previous year, but satisfied with my accomplishment and ready to get on the bus, get back to the hotel, grab a cold beer as my reward. But not so fast.

The next stop was a 30-minute bus ride to a small bus that will take us to a lake for rafting. The route is a rutted, narrow, one-lane dirt road with a steep drop into the water or down the mountain-side. That didn’t slow the driver down. Nor did the big dump truck coming straight at us with no place to pass. He hardly slowed down backing up to let the truck pass. People in America pay good money for rides like this at Disneyland. Only we have no seatbelts and the dust, dirt and potholes make this far from the happiest place on earth. But once we get to the lake, it is beautiful.

The rafts are long, bamboo poles lashed together about four-feet wide. The raft is about 30-feet long, flat, with either end curved upward. About six, two-person seats are on the raft. So we get in and peacefully float down the river. Except for the tradition while rafting here.

When we got to the lake, I noticed a number of street vendors selling these big scoops—think the coffee scoops at an upscale supermarket but bigger and made of bamboo. How nice, we’ll pull up to some sandy beach and the kids with us will dig in the sand. They might even dig so deep that their parents will tell them they will reach Chin, er, America . A nice day on the lake. But in addition to those scoops, vendors also sold plastic rain gear—on a perfectly sunny day. Remember that tradition? Every time a raft passes another the occupants “attack” each other by splashing water—the scoops are giant water flinging devices and all of us got soaked.

 After that, we drag our wet, tired bodies onto the small bus for the bumpy long-ride to the big bus and then the long ride to the hotel. At the hotel we are told dinner is right now. We’ll change out of our wet suits after dinner. And breakfast is at 7 a.m.

We take a walk after dinner in the little mountain town and had great conversations with some of our hosts. Then, early to bed. Our new friends stayed up until 3 a.m. playing poker. The next morning, bright and early, after breakfast, we were back on the bus for close to one hour, heading to a different part of the mountain.

This time, we took a lift up the mountain—one of those open ski lift things. A beautiful view that would have been nicer but for my dislike of exposed heights. Then a small trek to the next lift—this one a small, open box. Now we are high enough to start our climb up the mountain—three hours to the summit and back down to the lift. Through caves. And on hands and knees over rocks. All the things I would never think to do—nor want to do—back home. But what a wonderful experience. Nothing like seeing how you can do something you didn’t think you could do.

Finally, it was time to get back on the bus—for a late lunch at some country restaurant. You walk in and food starts coming and coming. Our hosts were great—they told me what the dishes were and told me the fish was not good and I should avoid it. We stopped next at the little country town for a Shop Op—some things are consistent across cultures.

Back on the bus, we had some snacks that our hosts had picked up. I was very excited to see some bite-sized wrapped confection passed my way. This would be a real opportunity to try a Chinese snack. I slowly unwrapped the treat to discover what looked like a small yellow cake. The taste was familiar. Biting to the middle I discovered it had an artificial cream center. It quickly dawned on me: I was enjoying a Chinese Twinkie. Once again, their may be more that binds us then separates us. On the ride home, I got into some great conversations with my new colleagues. Academics, regardless of the system, have a lot in common. By 9 p.m. we were back in Nanjing and thankful for not having to teach in the morning.


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