Family and Friends,
Today is April 5, my 75th birthday and I am a long way from home as I celebrate
it. I am in the north of P.R. China, about two hours by air and seven hours by
train north of Beijing. My city is
Changchun and my university is Jilin
University. In terms of student
numbers it is the largest university in
China with 60,000 students. It is made
up of an integration of six colleges
and universities. One of them is the
Norman Bethune School
of Medicine. I am
teaching a graduate
course in evolutionary
psychology to 22
graduate students from
the Department of
Philosophy and
Sociology. Here,
psychology is part of that
department. It has not
yet broken free of
philosophy and
sociology. That may
because of the Marxist
influences here that make
philosophy and sociology more important than psychology. But it is never over
until it is over. Right?
My students had a little party for me in the break in my Thursday, April 5 lecture:
for my 75th birthday. They had a nice cake and sang happy birthday to me. A
photographer came and took pictures of the event, but I don’t know who he was
or what the pictures were for. But he seemed like a nice fellow. I also had some
of my students take some pictures and I paste them here so you can see the
When I blew the candles out I had wished that I would get back to China again.
But I didn’t get them all with the first blow so this may be my last trip to China, but
I hope not.
However, It was not my only birthday party. I have a good friend in Tianjin who is
a senior party official. She invited
me down for the weekend before
my birthday. I had several more
celebrations there. Two were with
her and her friends. Another was
with one of my former students
from my 2007 graduate course at
Tianjin Normal University. She is
now an assistant professor at the
university. She and her husband
have a one-month old baby boy.
They invited me to give him a
western name. I choose Isaac
after Sir Isaac Newton, the
physicist, and General Sir
Isaac Brock, the general
who saved Canada from a
US invasion 200 years
ago. I told his parents and
both his grandmothers,
who were taking care of
him and his mother, that
China had a need of great scientists and might someday have a need for a great
general. I met both grandmothers and the father. After the baby viewing the
grand mothers took over and we went out for a nice dinner.
In many ways China is very modern. Here the cell phone rules. If you don’t have
one you can’t function. one For example, when you book an airplane ticket it
comes on your cell phone. And of course it is in Chinese. So there is a certain
amount of Challenge in booking tickets here. However, women, even the most
educated, still follow the traditional birthing rituals. For example, they stay in bed
for a month and don’t take a bath or wash their hair for a month. I think some of
them may cheat if the mother goes our for a while. But both the women I know,
both with Ph.D. S, one from an American university follow the traditional birth
rituals. I think they find them a bit constraining, but I wonder what they will do
when it is their turn to be grandmothers. Grandmothers have a lot of clout here.
The next night I had family dinner with my senior official friend and her family and
friends. One was a just retired senior official who is a journalist and social
philosopher. He and I are going meet in the middle of May for a hard core, no
holds barred, in camera, off the record political discussion. His daughter says he
relishes the idea of a friendly argument with me. My daughter, Michelle, who
graduated in political science from SFU, will join the talk and the eating as she is
coming to take me home. I have been terrible trouble with my computer and
especially with iPhoto so I have lost most of the eating and family dinner pictures.
The next day my Party friend gave me VIP tour of TEDA, the Tianjin Economic
Development Area. It was a whole day tour. The zone is massive and there is
great energy in its development. When I saw the scale of it I thought, “Poor
Canada: poor Mr. Harper.” But he is slowly learning about China. I felt like Mr.
Harper when I noticed a car ahead of us with its taillights flashing. I asked why
the lights were flashing. My friend told me it was to warn cars not to get between
the cars in our group. She and I were in the back seat of her car. By the way it
was a standard “black” Toyota. All officials in TEDA have similar cars. It didn’t
have a sun roof so I assume it was not the top of the line model. There was a
third car behind us that contained several smartly dressed young women. When
our car stopped they jumped out of their car, ran forward and opened the car
doors for my friend and me. At lunch I had, what I think was the most exquisite
lunch that I have ever had. It was in a small, private dining room in a very up
scale Japanese restaurant. I generally avoid sushi, as it seems rather tasteless
to me. But this sushi was wonderful! The Chinese do love to eat and they love to
eat good food! Party officials especially like food.
I think I should end this by getting back to my university and my students. I live in
the Friendship Hotel that is owned by the university. It has students and teachers
from all over the world. One of the most interesting is a Spaniard who was
teaching in English. That is not unusual. That is what I do. But he was teaching
ancient Greek and Latin language and history to Chinese students in
English. Where else could that happen?
As you all know I am an old albino and have
been legally blind from birth. So everyone here
is terribly worried that I will fall in a ditch, be run
over by a truck or hit by an electric bicycle. So
my students have organised themselves into
teams to walk
me to and from
my class. An
advantage to
them is that
they can
practise their
English with me
as we walk.
As I said, I have
22 students.
Twenty of them
are women.
They all seem very young to me.
The professor who invited me to Jilin
is also a woman. One thing I like
here is my interactions with women,
especially, young women. Back in
Canada I pretty well avoid women
Upper left, my of-ice, upper right, Dr. Yanyan Zhang, who invited me to Jilin. Lower left, two of my students, Bianca centre and May left. unless they are a member of my family
or are over 60. I have a rule with women There pictures were all takenk in my of-ice. Do you notice soemthing in the pictures that would I meet back in Canada and especially at
be unsual in a faculty of-ice in the West? SFU. If I have coffee with a woman, I
may ask her to coffee a few weeks or a
month or so later. If she says no, I ask
her one more time. If she again says no without a very good excuse I never ask
her again. It seems to me like the prudent thing to do. But there is certain
innocence here about such matters which is very pleasant for an old grandfather.
Let me give an example. Yesterday I went shopping at a little Chinese mall, not
far from my hotel, for a bag to carry my notebook computer. In Changchun no
one, and I mean no one, speaks English. There are no English signs and there
are only a few menus with even a bit of English on them. I was trying to get the
price of the bag from the woman who ran the shop. A nice young Chinese woman
who spoke quite good English helped me with the deal. I talked to her for a little
while. I needed some other things, such as an Ethernet cable, so I asked if she
would like to help me find them. She readily agreed as she said her boy friend
was playing computer games and she didn’t have much to do. We bought them
and then wandered around for an hour or so. She tried to help me find a place to
get my glasses fixed. Finally, we got lost. I didn’t know where my hotel was and
neither did she. She got on her cell phone and called a male friend; not her boy
friend. He appeared in about five minutes and showed both of us where my hotel
was, so I invited them to coffee and we spent a pleasant hour or so in my hotel
coffee shop. When I went to pay the bill the young man said that he had paid it!
We got on to TV. His favourite program was “Prison Break.” Hers was “Match
Making.” Some things are cross cultural!
And now, back to my 75th birthday. I taught at Tianjin Normal University in 2007,
when I was 70. The going is harder here. First, I don’t have any Party friends to
ease the way for me. I am just a visiting professor at a monster university. There
is not a single staff member in my hotel that knows a single word of English.
There isn’t a good, cheap restaurant in the hotel. So getting my food is a bit of a
struggle. Getting my laundry done is simply amusing! Second, five years makes
a difference, at least at my age, and I am
not as adventurous as I was at 70. My
course has 40 contact hours. Most of
them have to be lectures. Forty hours of
graduate lectures is a lot of work. But I
am having fun.
I have a small, very small, four room
apartment. What is strange is that two of the rooms are bathrooms. So I call one
my kitchen and the other my bathroom.
I went dow to Beijing on this this
past Thursday to give a talk at the
Psychology at Peking University. It
was at noon on Friday. Apparently,
every Friday the have a talk for the
faculty and graduate students. That
is Professor Su introducing me. That
book she is holding is titled
“Evolutionary psychology; Public
policy and personal decisions. I
edited it with Catherine Salmon, who
was a post doctoral fellow in
evolutionary psychology from about
2000 to 2004. Apparently Su uses it
in her graduate course.
Left to right, Dr. Yanyan Zhang, who
invited me to Jilin, an old codger,
Professor Su, Cindy Liu, who was a
graduate student in psychology at
UBC a few years ago. She is now an
assistant professor at Beijing Capitol