Let the games begin

Haze and smog have not lifted in seven days.

Yesterday (Monday) marked the first day of classes here at Nanjing University and there were definitely a few bumps in the road, but nothing insurmountable. Since this is the first year that NU is hosting the program there seems to be a lot of last minute, not thought through, lack of experience moments. For instance even though we arrived last Wednesday we were unable to go into our classrooms and check out the equipment. Whoever held that ring of keys was not available till Monday morning. So my response is just stay flexible–I can keep it loose and fast when necessary. No problemo. Right?

Well there was one problem that I was not so happy about. Imagine a building constructed sometime in the early 1980s, a concrete 7 story bunker that has not received the best improvements over the years. Most of the classrooms have the old style wooden desks with attached seats, bolted to the floor, dingy fluorescent lighting, curtains over windows that haven’t been washed in decades (but that may just be the effect of local pollution’s monthly deposits).¬† Ok I can deal with that. Then we check out the projector and my laptop hook up — ok.

But there was one issue that was nearly insurmountable. The air-conditioner for my class was broken–apologies were forthcoming as were promises for quick repairs, but for nearly 90 minutes 55 sweaty students and one sweaty professor worked our way through the introductions and administrative tasks that are a part of any class start up. The second and third classrooms were only slightly cooler. Needless to say it is was a long, exhausting day.

I got back to the apartment and was just too apathetic to go to dinner. But here’s where this story has a nice ending. Haoyang, my TA called to ask if he could come up to my apartment to talk about the classes. It was the last thing I felt like doing. Well, it was a ruse on his part. He appeared at my door carrying a whole watermelon for me. He knows I’ve been eating watermelon, drinking watermelon juice . . . it’s just so good here. Made my day and really showed the kindness and generosity of the people here in Nanjing. It’s going to be ok . . . hot, hot, hot, but ok.

And for the foodie fans out there, here’s an ode to eating unidentifiable foods. On Sunday night, after our first faculty meeting they hosted a dinner at a very nice restaurant. We sat at several large round tables with a huge lazy-susan in the middle. The meal started with big bottles of Tsing-tao beer, fresh orange and watermelon juices. And then the dishes just kept coming and coming and coming. I did not try them all, just too much food and also one bowl that looked like organ meats (not doing that). We had fresh, huge crayfish, a whole fish (very white and delicate like sole) poached in olive oil, there were steamed buns, dumplings, several vegetable dishes of various kinds of greens, I did eat something that looked like an earthworm, but tasted like fish . . . I think it was baby eel. No seconds on that one. They served Nanjing duck, baked tofu, egg broth soup and tea soaked eggs. I know I’m leaving several dishes out . . . oh, yeah, mushu pancakes and very spicy pork filling. It was a feast and more food than anyone at our table could eat. It was memorable and I’m sure I ate some things that it was better not knowing about. I sat next to another faculty member who is vegetarian and we both kept convincing ourselves that what we just ate was a mushroom, right? Yeah . . . just another kind of mushroom. It was a memorable meal and there was much toasting going on with glasses of Tsing-tao. Now that’s how you start a semester.

Dr. Dawn G. Marsh
Department of History
Purdue University


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