Back to school because my lit, lit life leads me there, perhaps more often than I want. Bookstores used to be why writers traveled, but given the rise of E-Books, online book tours can be more efficient “travel.” Many festivals and writing conferences wouldn’t happen without university support, and even academic conferences admit a writer or two.
Which is how I ended up in Guangzhou, at the International Association of World Englishes (IAWE) conference, co-hosted this year by my and Sun Yat Sen universities.
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The starting point was CityU of Hong Kong, my “home institution” which looks increasing like a space station. Walking downhill past the soon-to-be-opened Academic 3, the future is now.
Likewise at the Shenzhen, China border, en route to Guangzhou by bus.
Why so many children, you ask. Watch and listen.
Short film clip at Shenzhen border
Home in Shenzhen, school in Hong Kong. One childhood, two borders. Daily. Those “World Englishes” voices, by the way, are the linguistic scholars at the conference.
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It was wonderful to be back in Guangzhou, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), at Sun Yat Sen University (“Zhongshan” in Chinese), not to be confused with the National Sun Yat-sen University of Taiwan, Republic of China (ROC).
One failed hero, so many Chinas.
Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925) was the revolutionary founder of the first Chinese republic. Every Chinese school kid is taught to love him; every Chinese knows his revolution was a grand fiasco of history.
But the world needs idealists and dreamers, because what could have been lets us ignore what is.
Here he is, memorialized on campus.
He had all the right boy-hero qualities – good looking, charismatic, and a gorgeous, much younger fourth wife (Soong Ching-ling 1890-1981) who survived him and ensured he wouldn’t be forgotten.
That political, political life bears some resemblance to the lit, lit life.
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Meanwhile, the campus on a sunny Sunday afternoon make me want to go back to school.
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So I did go back to school—high school.
Driving east out of the center of the city, this could be Singapore or Norway, or the Jersey Garden State Highway.
Familiarity can be strangely comforting.
I am in the “school van” of AISG, the American International School of Guangzhou, headed to their middle/high school campus (Grades 6 to 12), located in the Science Park to do a library talk about life as a writer. Some students had read a few of my short stories.
When I used to come to Guangzhou some years back, it was as a guest lecturer for the University of Hong Kong’s American Studies course at Sun Yat Sen University, where I spoke about American contemporary writing. Even earlier than that in the mid 1990’s, it was to research market potential for Leo Burnett Advertising, and my time was spent in shopping malls and bars, contemplating how cheap the city was compared to Hong Kong.
Now, Guangzhou can be more expensive than Hong Kong, which is already one of the world’s pricier cities, given the strength of the semi-floating Chinese Yuan. Where some goofball American politicians get the idea that China is a “currency manipulator” . . . . well, it’s time they got out and circled the globe.
But I was talking about that lit, lit life, not politics.
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Arriving at AISG, I contemplate “America” in “China.”
By law, Chinese citizens cannot attend these “American” schools. The students are mostly offspring of international business executives or diplomats who currently live in Guangzhou. About 30% Korean, says one teacher.
The students were a lively bunch who became the most animated when I promised to post them on this blog!
The students were almost entirely ethnic Asians, except for a tiny minority.
Most had lived in two or more countries, some in as many as four or five. All spoke at least two languages. A few loved to read; a few absolutely hated reading. All spoke English with native or near native fluency, with American characteristics.
The campus was engaged in that all-American activity, a bake sale. Only thing missing was a lemonade stand.
The teachers were all “real Americans” from every part of the U.S., and some had taught at American schools in other countries as well.
Here we go, I thought, America’s REAL power in the world.
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Bemused, I depart.
A rail journey “home” to Hong Kong that takes around two hours, faster than the 3-hour bus trip. The first time I traveled to Guangzhou to meet a former Chinese Flying Tigers pilot (research for a novel), it was by overnight ferry, now defunct – I think I was one of perhaps a half-dozen passengers on that leisurely, slow boat to China.
Here’s Peggy Lee’s & Bing Crosby’s version of “Slow Boat to China,” the 1948 pop song composed by Frank Loesser
How “China” and “America” have changed.
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At the Guangzhou East Rail Station, a dome response to New York’s Grand Central.
Riding up escalators, you can’t help noticing the billboard panorama, all the same ad.
On closer inspection.
“Cure Male Problem Come to Male Hospital of Guangzhou” it reads.
The more things change . . .
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So here’s THE END of this blog series.
Maybe it’ll continue elsewhere in future.
Thanks for reading and stay in touch, wherever you find yourself.Have you considered submitting to Ploughshares?