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Hi, all!

Just sitting here munching on a bag of sweet and sour fish soup potato chips. Oh yes, Asia has the wildest flavored potato chips on the market. Nothing so mundane as barbeque or sour cream with onions.

Students cooking dinner in Greg's apartment



Speaking of flavors, they actually sell a dog-flavored condiment in the stores here, so you can add a canine taste to your favorite dishes. Great stocking stuffer, don’t you think?


I’d like to start this letter with two quotes from Peter Hessler. They’re from his latest book, “Country Driving.”


In the summer of 1996, when I first arrived in the country as a Peace Corp volunteer, I was immediately impressed by my own ignorance. Language, customs, history – all of it had to be learned, and the task seemed insurmountable. From my perspective, everybody else had a head start of three thousand years, and I felt desperate to catch up.



I can certainly relate to this, but I was struck even more by what he wrote next:


China is the kind of country where you constantly discover something new, and revelations occur on a daily basis. One of the most important discoveries is the fact that the Chinese share this sensation. The place changes too fast; nobody can afford to be overconfident in his knowledge, and there’s always some new situation to figure out. How does the peasant leave the farm and find a factory job? Who teaches people how to start businesses? Where do they learn how to make cars, and how do they figure out how to drive them? Who shows the small-town sophisticates how to dress and put on makeup? We were all out of place; nobody has today’s China figured out.



Now that truly resonates with my sense of things here, and is in large part responsible for my interest in staying. I am not so much exploring an ancient culture as I am witnessing an incredible social evolution. I
have no specific predictions as to direction; it’s the forest for the trees phenomena. But I have little doubt that when chronological distance makes this time more observable, history will bear record of a massive new direction in China.


A view of the College



Some odds and ends:


For their first month at college, the freshmen do not attend classes. Instead, they participate in military training. I run into groups of them throughout the campus standing at attention, singing military songs, or learning to march the goose-step.


While they evoke images of the world’s largest army, they are also just kids, many of them literally fresh of the farm. And the officiousness of their uniforms is offset by their eagerness to say ‘hello’ to a passing
foreigner.

That would be Greg in the middle.




In one of my classes, I have four students named Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow and Forever (I could do one heck of a good ‘who’s on first’ routine with this group). The latter signs here emails, “Yours Sincerely, Forever.”


By the way, if one reheats fried rice in the microwave, first cracking an egg over it to cook simultaneously; when a chopstick punctures the super-heated
yolk, there is a good chance that the egg will literally explode, sending small boiling yellow bullets at one’s face and the surrounding walls. Hypothetical situation, I’m sure.


While on the topic of food, are you familiar with those little black seeds that can be put on cookies and breads? They look a lot like mouse droppings. Conversely, mouse droppings look a lot like these seeds. You would be well advised not to leave your cookies in a place where they can be involuntarily
camouflaged. Again, purely hypothetical. Besides, I’ve spent enough years in Yellowstone to have developed an immunity to the hanta virus.

This baby waves at every foreign teacher.



So, I just had a 3-day holiday for Mid-Autumn Festival, and next week I have the week off for National Day (the Chinese equivalent of the 4th of July). For the former, I took a day trip to the bigger city of Nanchang, and stocked up on some food items unavailable in Gongqin. For the latter, I’m taking a train to Yiwu to visit with friends and former students.


Zaijian, folks!

Greg

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