Sunday, February 13, 2011


From a message sent to a prospective faculty member coming to China and Shantou for the first:

I live in Shantou and have for the past eight years.
The opportunity to be part of the founding and building of a J school built on the model of a combination of practical and theoretical training is what brought me here.

I recruited my colleague Peter Arnett away from the shot and shell of Baghdad and Kabul. He came to put his toe into the teaching waters and has stayed for the past four years. That is one endorsement.

I am biased because I have been part of the creation of this department.
The challenges are great. I do not know what experience you have had teaching or in the BBC's tradition: "training". I expect given your previous position you have had training opportunities with non-native English speakers. The challenge is magnified here. The English level of students varies from fairly fluent to barely able to understand. Chinese students have to achieve a level of English comprehension that permits them to take the classes taught by the foreigners. That said, teaching means careful use of non-jargon English, patience, and lowered expectations. The first job is teaching critical thinking because the Chinese education system has been top-down for centuries. Students have likely never spoken in class, never asked a question, or been asked a question. The "enlightenment" we bring precedes the content of what we teach. The reward is to see students liberated from the lecture format cannot be understated.

Five years ago we started the first Convergence Lab in China run by two Malaysian Chinese who are among the most adept multi-media-skilled journalists I have ever known.

You may know I am a "recovering journalist". I have attached a resume that puts me in perspective.

Family: The apartments on campus are comfortable and built to the Chinese version of a western standard. There are 2 and 3 bedroom apartments on this green, attractive campus. Kitchens include all but ovens that are not a part of Chinese cuisine. Washing machine included; clothes are air-dryed in China. A manufacturer of dryers would be bankrupt within a week. The apartments have balconies with built-in drying racks.

The U is a 25 minute bus/taxi ride from the heart of Shantou where we have the "benefits" of Lotus and Walmart supercenters. My own bias goes to Chinese food. I could happily survive on nothing but and indeed become homesick for my Chinese diet when I am out of the country. There are "canteens" on campus with super-inexpensive food aimed at students (faculty use included). The Academic Campus Center is our hotel. Excellent facilities, including a good but overpriced restaurant. The East Gate is a village just outside the campus that caters to students. a dozen restaurants and as many little shops with excellent inexpensive local food and basic necessities. Fresh fruit and veggie stands aplenty on and just off campus (wthin a short walk of the4 apartments).

Chauzhou is the name of the region. The cuisine is noted throughout China. The local dialect is a foreign language that even Mandarin and Cantonese speakers cannot understand. The climate is subtropical which means fresh food year-around. We are on a river delta and the sea which means fish, fish and more fish. For my palette it is heaven. Food prices have escalated but that is by Chinese standards. Food and other costs here are very low compared to UK or North American standards. The airport (a new airport will open soon) has growing traffic every quarter with connections worldwide through Guangzhou or Hong Kong. Direct flights to Shanghai, Beijing and many other Chinese cities. Flights in China, particularly with advanced purchase, are still relatively cheap. We are 45 minutes by air from Hong Kong, the flight, classified "international" is pricey. I take the bus on a beautIful four hour trip to Shenzen, cross the border and onto commuter rail into HK. Its a 5-6 hour trip door to door, but comfortable first class bus seating and cheap (about 20 pounds). High speed rail is coming. Within 18-24 months it should be operational. That will cut the Shenzen trip to 2 hours, Xiamen to the North will be about an hour.

I do not speak the language either, nor will I.
The choice was simple. It would take me 2-3 years of full time study to manage Mandarin. Not well enough to teach, but well enough for light conversation. Then another year to learn 2-3000 characters to read a daily newspaper. I came here to teach and help build this institution. That was my choice. That said, if your hard drive memory still works well, Mandarin lessons are available, tutoring can be arranged at low rates. Your son can definitely learn the language within a year. I have American friends in Beijing who dropped their two then 9 and 11 year-old daughters into a Chinese school "cold turkey". They hated it at first and then ran with the challenge. Within 9 months their Mandarin was fluent and they are now bi-cultural in the best sense of the word.

Shantou is what I call the "real China" as opposed to the mega, world-class cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Those cities have more in common with London, Frankfurt, New York and Sao Paulo.
Shantou is not a beautiful city despite its location by the sea/river delta. It is a growing city (name me one in China that isn't). A typical history: A former fishing "village" of 50,000 now about 4 million. As Swatow it was the center of contraband and piracy in the South China sea. It kept the "tradition" and was among the most corrupt cities in China until a decade or so ago when a clean-up occurred. It is one of the original special economic zones; the only one with a descending GDP (that tells you the level of corruption). The city is now growing rapidly and benefitting from the high cost of labor in the southern half of Guangdong Province. Expats are still relatively rare, but there is a lot of in and out traffic from Spain, Italy, Russia, India to the local textile and toy plants. Shantou is said to be the cheap brassiere capitol of the world. Also other light textiles, toys are big, light tools, and a long tradition of ceramics (see Peter Arnett's vast collection). In short no heavy industry. That translates into good air quality by Chinese standards. Hot summers (when there is no school) spring and fall are delights with daytime in the 20s and low 30s with cool evenings. Winter tends to low teens or high single digits. Rain season and dry season. The dry outnumbers the rain by a good deal but to keep you a-tuned to Southern England there can be periods of 2-3 weeks of cloud. Conversly there can be the same 2-3 weeks of bright and tanning sun, Yes, high humidity.