Pandas and Presentations

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Traveling has its ups and downs, its lucky moments and bad breaks. Things don’t always go as planned, but then something else works out even better than before. That’s both the fun and the stress of traveling.

 

Our last day of the Horner Exchange (and our penultimate day in Fuzhou) was a perfect case in point.

 

We were supposed to visit the Fujian Medical Library, but they were frantically in the midst of an accreditation review and weren’t able to host us. But it turned out to be fine because that meant that we had time to visit the campus of the Fujian Traditional Chinese Medical University. Coming from a Chinese Medical school myself, this was very appealing to me – and as an added bonus, a friend and former colleague of Jian’s works there so she would host us herself.

 

Richard wasn’t feeling well that morning so unfortunately he missed the visit and stayed back at the hotel to recuperate before the afternoon presentations. But Jian and I excitedly headed back out to Fuzhou’s “University Village” to visit a completely different kind of library than the ones we have been visiting.

 

The campus of the Fujian TCM University is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. As one might expect, the grounds are designed with feng shui, health, and balance in mind. In practice, this means a beautiful, natural setting with flowing paths and open spaces that all work together to create a harmonious and relaxing atmosphere. The library director met with us and said that TCM students have to work and study extremely hard to learn the discipline – harder than other medical students since they also have to learn philosophy, ancient Chinese, calligraphy, AND western medical practices on top of learning the esoteric workings of Chinese medicine. Because it’s such a stressful discipline, the university tries their best to make a pleasant, stress-free atmosphere for their students.

 

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the view from the library lobby- Confucius looks out over the lake and mountains

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panda pillows ! We were gifted these adorable pillows with the school’s mascot, Luo Luo who reminds me a lot of OCOM’s mascot, Moco!

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to spend much time in the library which was disappointing especially since I was hoping to do some collection development research. Funny that after 3 weeks and 20 libraries, I was disappointed that we skipped the library! We did stop in briefly, however, and got to see their collection of famous doctors’ prescription sheets which were written in beautiful calligraphy. The library director told us that even now they encourage their students to write out prescriptions in brush calligraphy because it encourages them to be more thoughtful, clear, and precise. How’s that for a marked difference between Chinese and western medicine?!

 

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a preserved calligraphic prescription

What they really wanted to show us wasn’t the library, but their brand new museum of traditional Chinese medicine which was indeed very professional and impressive.

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They treated us to a lavish lunch in their impressive university “canteen.” And since this is a school of traditional Chinese medicine, of course, every dish had a curative property. Suddenly, my OCOM lunch options seem so inadequate…

 

We had spent too long enjoying the good people and placid campus of Fujian TCM University and had to hurry back across town to Fujian Provincial Library for our 2:30 presentations. But thanks to our driver’s skill and a little traffic luck, we scooted into the building about 10 minutes before our start time. No sweat! Okay, there was a little sweat, but it all worked out fine. Richard was feeling better after his morning rest and gave his presentation about reading promotion in Oregon and I presented on library data services in the age of big data. And Jian, so tireless and capable, presented on both topics since she translated for us!

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On that note, as we wrap up this trip, I want to give a special thank you to Jian who has been the superhero of this trip. We would not have had nearly as productive an exchange without such a skillful translator. Her language skills in both Mandarin and English excellent – Richard and I already knew how well-spoken she is in English, but she is also regularly complimented for her perfect Mandarin. One person said she sounded like a Chinese TV newscaster and she sheepishly admitted that she’d been her college TV station’s news anchor! But even more than that, having someone who’s so knowledgeable about so many aspects of librarianship has been invaluable. I would ask a half-baked question about, say, inter-library loan, and she was able to formulate my jumble of words into something meaningful that prompted a useful exchange of ideas.  On top of all that, she also has lots of professional connections here in China that added so much value to our trip – including this day’s university visit. Thank you, Jian! We really could not have done it without you!

In Which We Return to Fujian Provincial Library – Again!

Yesterday, we spent more time at Fujian Provincial Library today visiting two more departments. The morning was spent with the Technology and Cultural Sharing Department and in the afternoon we visiting the Reading and Lending Departments.

 

You may be curious about the title of the department, “Technology and Cultural Sharing.” Well, it’s two different departments together in one, but once you learn about it, it does make sense why they’re together.

 

The technology part is pretty much what you would expect from a library’s technology department – they deal with the library’s network infrastructure, databases, computer labs, etc.

 

The Cultural Sharing part, however, is something unlike any American library I have been in has. Due to an initiative from the national government, FPL (and other libraries around the country) was tasked with documenting the disappearing cultural heritage of the area through video, audio, and photography. They have tackled this task with great enthusiasm. They have a storeroom full to the brim with state-of-the-art, broadcast quality equipment and a staff of 12 dedicated to the production of video and multimedia products. They have several databases that contain searchable materials and the collection is ever growing. What’s all the more impressive is that the team is staffed by self-taught librarians who learned all this new technology on the job.

 

 

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makes me nostalgic for my editing days!

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yes, that is a drone!

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a cabinet full of professional cameras

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a still from a video about Fujian culture

For example, look at these two databases of Fujian cultural artifacts. All of the media were generated by the librarians in the technology department.

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Soushan Stone

 

We were deeply impressed with the work they’ve done and found ourselves wishing that our libraries were also able to do this kind of work.

 

In the afternoon we met with the librarians of the Lending and Reading Services – the patron-facing side of the library. We had a very animated discussion about current changes in circulation and reading programs. They are very excited about their impending remodel which will update the library old-fashioned subject-based reading rooms to more open and engaging spaces. I loved how enthusiastic and garrulous the members of the team were — we had a lot of fun just chatting about how our libraries do things differently. Throughout this trip, I have often reflected on how our similarities greatly outweigh our difference.

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Here’s a shot from the FPL website showing the big crowds the Reading Dept gets at their lecture series.

 

Finally, as a follow-up to Richard’s post from a couple days ago about smoking in China, I wanted to share the new poster for China’s new anti-smoking campaign:

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Meanwhile… I’ve been getting mixed messages in my hotel room:

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In Which We Return to Fujian Provincial Library and What We Saw There

Although we spent time at the Fujian Provincial Library (FPL) when we first arrived in Fuzhou over two weeks ago, this week we are getting in-depth visits with several departments at the library.  On Monday, we spent the morning with Special Collections and the afternoon with Technical Services.  Both departments were very interesting; highlights are below.

The Special Collections Department holds over 300,000 items, including manuscripts and local history materials. Most are in traditional Chinese string-bound volumes, although there are some hardbound as well.  They have also actively collected an assortment of ephemera that reflect local history, including tea wrappers, wedding certificates, and advertisements. The department has published high quality photographs of many of these items in book form.

One of the best parts of the Special Collections tour was watching conservators doing the painstaking work of repairing holes in worm-damaged pages.  With a brush dipped in water, they would moisten rice paper, paste it over the damage, then trim the paper very carefully. We were told that not many people are trained in this type of repair work and they were happy to have several conservators in their employ.

The other interesting sight was a room filled with shelves of wooden boards used for printing. Each board, centuries old, was carved with Chinese characters in columns, with one board for each page of a book.  Many of the boards were carved on both sides.  Most exciting of all, a staff member selected one such board, inked it, then laid a sheet of paper over it.  She then began brushing over the paper with a stiff whisk broom. The paper was gently lifted and – voila! – a page was printed.

I loved visiting Technical Services, undoubtedly because that’s my area of expertise.  I quickly realized I was once again with My People. We spoke the same language – well, sort of – and talked of RDA (which they have not yet adopted, though other libraries in Beijing and Shanghai have), MARC/Bibframe, authority records, and the like.  We Oregonians spoke about how and why we use OCLC, something which they had recently considered joining, but decided against, saying that it was not yet cost effective for them.  They were curious to know which discussion lists we subscribed to and what the status of librarians was in the United States. We also asked them questions.  I had the feeling that both sides of the table were asking: Are you like me?  And how are we different? I have found these kinds of interactions to be the most exciting, the best part of this exchange.

I talked a bit about the Program for Cooperative Cataloging, an organization that is very different from anything that they have in China.  Although they have made a commitment to following standards, there are few mechanisms for sharing records or contributing to standards.  FPL staff informed us that in 2004, the National Library of China sold a set of authority records to them.  In order to have local authors in the set, FPL created authority records and added them to their instance of the authority record database.  There was no mechanism to add these to the national authority file.  When the National Library found out about these local authority records, they expressed surprise (or maybe even dismay) that FPL had done this to the set of purchased records.  Recently, however, the National Library has changed its attitude and is encouraging other libraries to contribute records to their national authority file.

Since it was Halloween, they had set out plates of candies for us. They were very interested in how we celebrated the holiday.  I don’t know if we were very convincing informing them about Halloween as we ate very few candies. They must have understood, though, as in the true spirit of the holiday, we were given all of the uneaten sweets to take home with us! — Richard

Spotlight on Academic Libraries

We’re back in Fuzhou now, but I wanted to make sure to post about our last three days. We were being hosted by Mr. Li Fan of Huaqiao University who some library friends back home may remember as one of the four librarians to visit us in the spring. He has been wonderfully gracious and has spent the last three days showing us around the libraries and sights of both Quanzhou and Xiamen.

 

The focus has been on academic libraries and this region seems to have an abundance of higher education institutes. One can really sense the cultural importance of education in China by looking at how many resources are put into these institutions.

 

We started out by visiting Mr. Li’s home library, Huaqiao University’s campus in Quanzhou where he is the deputy director. We met with members of the network infrastructure group and the database administrator. We dove right into the nitty-gritty asking a lot of questions about their institutional repository system and how they deal with tracking access restrictions on digital materials. Seems we have a lot of the same problems – for example, when a dissertation includes information about technology that has a pending patent application, the library has to suppress access to the document until the process is complete. But It takes a lot of work and attention to make sure such things happen correctly and accurately.

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After lunch on the Huaqiao campus, we loaded our bags (which grow more voluminous with every stop as we are generously gifted many wonderful books and presents) into the van and headed off to Xiamen to visit Huaqiuao’s newest campus which only just opened in 2006. This campus focuses primarily on science and technology while the campus in Quanzhou focuses on the humanities. We met with the director and several members of his staff and had a very interesting exchange where, once again, we immediately shifted into full library nerd mode. We asked a ton of questions about how they deal with research data generated on-campus and also talked about the challenges and opportunities of building a million-volume library from scratch.

 

Like a lot of the library’s we’ve visited they have an extensive special collections room and a museum of artifacts from the university’s collection. These include archeological items from around the area, artwork, and dozens of calligraphy scrolls in many different styles. At the end of the tour, they invited us to try our hand at traditional Chinese calligraphy. We watched as they mixed the ink from a charcoal stick and then we were in turn watched by the people that gathered which included the museum manager’s adorable daughter. Jian’s calligraphy was the best, of course, but Richard did exceptionally well considering that it was his first stab at writing any Chinese at all!

 

The next day we visited Jimei University which, like Huaqiao, had a very new building which opened in 2009. Everywhere we go, I have been consistently amazed at how generous people are with their time, and maybe especially so at Jimei. The library director sat with us for nearly two hours along with several members of her staff we had a very candid and fascinating exchange about the state of libraries in the US and China. We shared our similar concerns and talked about ways in which we’ve solved various problems we’re struggling with. We talked about how their cataloging department has been shrinking even though there continue to be new resources in need of metadata expertise and Richard shared his experience with departmental reorganization at OSU.

 

 

In the afternoon we visited the newest campus of Xiamen University. We had just visited two brand new, very large university, but this one was the newest and largest of them all! They opened in 2014 in response to overcrowding in the central campus that we visited last week. Well, if elbow room was what they needed, then that’s what they got. The library sprawls over 9 floors, each of which seemed to be nearly the length of a football field.

 

The library director and her assistant toured us around the library and noted that because of the location of the campus far outside of the city they need to provide a lot of services and entertainments to their students so that they don’t feel isolated. They first showed us their English center where they host English-speaking events for students to practice their language skills. Attached to the English center was a very nice movie theater that probably seats about 60 or so students and is used for both classes and entertainment. They even treated us to a few minutes of a 3D screening of “Avatar”! We were impressed enough with that, but at the end of the tour they showed us their *second* movie theater which is larger than any movie theater currently in Oregon! It must seat 500 at least and has state of the art sound and stadium seating where they show current first run films. Wow!

 

On top of all of that, the library also has a 10th floor that only the library director has a key card for. Lucky for us, she wanted to show it to us and we got a commanding view of the surrounding area including a distant view of the sea. Like the library, the rest of the campus is massive, too. The student housing alone looked like enough to house a small city. They use solar energy for all their hot water heating (including for the world-class Olympic-size swimming pool in their rec center) and we could see all the solar panels on the buildings across campus.

 

Yesterday was a bit of a rest day – from libraries, anyway. Mr. Li took us to an area of town that featured a crocodile zoo which had more reptiles than I have ever seen in my life. Then we visited the home of famed philanthropist Tan Kah Kee founder of, among other things, Jimei University.  The home had a lovely garden and a small historical museum.

 

 

By our special request, Mr. Li shepherded us into downtown Xiamen city so we could see the Overseas Chinese Museum which we’d read about in Lonely Planet. After an hour on 2 crowded buses, and a bit of a walk, we finally got to the museum – and it was closed! Whoops!

 

But it wasn’t too much of a problem because we also wanted to visit the nearby Nanputuo Buddhist Temple only a half mile away. One can hike all the way to the top of Mount Putuo behind the temple — we only made it about half way up, but even so the view was pretty spectacular.

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When you think of visiting a Buddhist temple, you may think of calm serenity, but on this pleasantly warm Saturday afternoon the temple grounds were mobbed with families and couples enjoying the weather and the pretty surroundings. There were plenty of people worshipping at the various temples up and down the hill, but people were just as likely to be breaking out a picnic basket as they were an incense stick.

 

There was a treat in store at the end of our visit: the temple complex features a very popular vegetarian restaurant known for its creative, delicious dishes. It was a delicious and it was nice not to have to fret about which dishes were vegetarian and which weren’t. It was all edible to all of us!

 

We are so grateful to Mr. Li for spending so much time with us and introducing us to so many of the interesting libraries and cultural sites the area has to offer.

 

We’re back to Fuzhou today and we get to settle in for a full week before we leave. We hope to pack this week full of in-depth library visits – we get three full days at the Fujian Provincial Library where we will visit 2 departments a day.

A Blogging Potpourri

This post is admittedly a random assortment of observations drawn from our travels, but not focusing on a specific stop on our itinerary.

Several of the libraries we visited have book sanitization stations where users can zap their books with ultraviolet radiation.  Presumably, the books have nefarious pathogens that need to be destroyed.   These same libraries, and indeed most restaurants, tourist sights, and other public places, have restrooms that fail to provide hand soap (no paper towels, too).  Signs in restaurant bathrooms exhorting workers to wash their hands are, not surprisingly, absent.

I blogged last week about the traffic here and how chaotic it seems.  I have been informed by my two fellow Oregonian travelers that compared to Bangkok, or even Chinese cities in the past, the traffic here is orderly and not so bad.

While the younger generation here will undoubtedly learn more English than previous ones, they will have the daunting task of correcting the English already present on signs.  I would guess that many blog readers have seen examples of humorous signs from other countries, where misspellings and mistranslations result in unintended meanings.  I include here a few examples.  The gentleman below is not likely to be sued for trademark infringement.

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The bin on the right probably is supposed to say “organic waste.”

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The sign above below suffers from extreme editorial neglect.

 

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And finally, my favorite is below.  Please note the end of the last sentence.

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In one of the museums, interpretive signs used words that I didn’t know were English: “caducity” and “circumvallation.”  I would have chosen “senility” instead of the first one, but the second one doesn’t have a more common synonym.  It means that something is surrounded with a rampart.

On to food! Here’s a picture of my breakfast with some typical morning foods. Clockwise from upper right: hot soy milk (unsweetened), steamed bun stuffed with cabbage, tofu, and rice porridge.  The porridge is made from just rice and water; though bland, I would have to call it a comfort food – mild and filling.  Local folks often add stir fried veggies, so I can’t say my new habit of eating it straight is typical.
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I was already a reasonably competent user of chopsticks prior to arriving in China, but I have become even more proficient with them.  All my meals have been eaten with them, plus the wide spoon that is commonly used with soup.  Nevertheless, being the rarely-observed white Westerner in these parts, at several restaurants I have automatically been given a fork without being asked if I want one.

Speaking of meals, today we lunched at the Huaqiao University canteen in Quanzhou.  In the midst of the meal, I noticed the smell of cigarette smoke.  Glancing around, I saw two people smoking at a nearby table.  On the wall above where I sat was a sign stating clearly “No Smoking.”  After a brief consultation with Mr. Li Fang, our Huaqiao U. host, and my colleagues, I flagged down one of the servers and in my best English-to-Chinese arm-waving sign language, pointed to the “No Smoking” sign and then to the nearby table.  The server went and brought two ashtrays for our table. (Fortunately, Jian then spoke to the server about what we really wanted; the server asked the other diners to stop smoking – and they did.)

Although I had read about the sizable proportion of the Chinese population that smoked and have seen/smelled plenty of cigarette smoke here, the situation has been much less pronounced than I had feared. Mr. Li commented that the number of smokers has been on the decrease.  Few Chinese accept the notion that second-hand smoke is hazardous, so non-smokers may shrug off the importance of smoke-free spaces as a public health issue.–Richard

 

One City, Many Religions

(With apologies for posting this out of chronological order — Richard) Tuesday was a long, fun, sweaty day – as most days are turning out to be here.  It was the first day that there were blue skies, but the temperature probably hit 87, as predicted, with very high humidity. I’m sort of getting used to having a sweated-through shirt.

We began the day here in Quanzhou with a visit to a Buddhist temple library.  The library was a bequest of Guang Qin (1892–1986), a renowned Buddhist monk, and contains publications on Buddhist philosophy and practice.  Its library director used to work for Xu Zhaokai, our guide for the day and the director of the Quanzhou Public Library.  Their collection is too large for the current building, so a new, adjacent building is currently under construction (actually nearing completion).  This is the only temple library open to the public in China as all other such libraries are reserved for local monks. This particular library’s holdings are represented online in the Quanzhou Public Library’s catalog, completely integrated with the holdings of all the other libraries in the system.

Architectural detail from the old library — Front entrance to the new library extension

Mr. Xu grew up in the neighborhood of the temple.  He told us that as a child, he and his friends would climb on the stone turtle below, near where we exited the temple compound.    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

He also seemed to know everyone.  A couple of times, he exchanged greetings with people on the street that he knew and was friendly with the priest who ran the Buddhist restaurant where we had lunch. How is that possible in a metropolitan area of 8 million?

After the Buddhist temple, we walked to the Ashab mosque, the oldest in China and one of the oldest in the world (built in 1009), still in use by the Muslim community.  A large room in the complex of buildings serves as a museum on the history of Muslims in Quanzhou.

Further down the street was a Taoist temple.  We began to understand that the city’s character comes in part from the many ethnic and religious groups that have settled here over the centuries.

In the afternoon we went to the Kaiyuan Temple, another Buddhist temple and listened to the chanting of the worshipers there.  This temple is the largest in the province and one of the oldest in China, dating to 685. Hindu stone carvings are also found on the grounds of the compound, remnants of the Tamil Hindu community that lived in Quanzhou in the 13th century.  Within the compound is housed the remains of a boat dug up in Quanzhou Harbor about 40 years ago, along with all the artifacts from that archaeological dig.  Mr. Xu said his father had worked on that dig!  When asked why this museum was on the grounds of the temple, he stated that the boat had been transferred to some available space there and since it was too fragile to move again, they left it where it was.

We also visited a district (branch) library of Quanzhou Public and then capped the day with a trip to another museum, this one quite large, dedicated to Taiwan-Fujian relations – or  something of that sort.  It focused on all the ways in which the people of both places had the same religion, language, customs, ethnic origins, political relations, etc.  I did wonder if that idea was being driven home a bit much and perhaps was a reflection of mainland China’s claim to Taiwan – although there are significant cultural, religious, and ethnic connections between the two areas.

Dinner that night at a restaurant near the hotel was a very relaxed, with the conversation covering fasting, weight loss, veganism, and whether people are tall because of their diet, the climate they live in, how much sleep they get, or genetics.  We did not reach any firm conclusion, but I do find it rather implausible that people in warm climates are shorter because no one eats much in hot weather!

The answer, my friends, is blowin’ in the wind

The Horner Exchange was designed to be an exchange of ideas between libraries and librarians who live in two different worlds but share a common purpose. In preparing for this trip, I had thought that the primary topic of exchange would be libraries: their structure, processes, patrons, and processes. My narrow idea of “exchange” has been broadened immensely by these last few days we have spent in the amazing city of Quanzhou. I have learned so much about parts of history I never knew, about religion, politics, philosophy – and food! But more importantly, we have gotten to know our hosts who have really opened my eyes to new perspectives. Before arriving, I had many questions about what I might learn and see here; well, the answer has been blowin’ in the wind.

Yesterday (Wednesday) was an especially eye-opening, memorable day. We started off with a trip to Mt Qingyuan, a lush green park not far from the center of town. The park is criss-crossed with forested walking trails, but the main attraction is a huge 1,000 year old statue of Lao-Tzu (老子). It is said that if you can rub his ears you can live to be 160 years old! Or if you’re less ambitious, you can rub his nose for 100 years. Climbing, of course, is not allowed anymore, but Quanzhou Library Director, Mr. Xu, told us that when he was a boy growing up in Quanzhou, he and his classmates would climb up each other’s shoulders to get to the top of the statue and rub his ears. This wasn’t the first tale of childhood antics we’ve heard from Mr. Xu – let’s hope that his daredevil days are behind him so he can enjoy all of the 160 years he has coming to him!

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Since climbing is not allowed, Mr. Xu suggested that we take pictures that look like we’re rubbing Lao-Tzu’s ears — we all did it so I think we’re covered for a very long life!

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Lao-Tzu and a student of his who you may have heard of, Confuscius

When you arrive in Quanzhou you cannot miss the giant statue of General Zheng Chenggong, the 17th century military figure who is revered in both Taiwan and Fujian as a great hero of China. He amassed an army on the mainland to expel Dutch colonists from Taiwan and in 1662 the Dutch army surrendered to General Zheng. Oh, and where did General Zheng live? Quanzhou, of course! Not only does this enormous statue have a great story to tell, but the view from the hill is as commanding as the general himself. There is a 365 degree view of the city and a distant glimpse of the harbor – and maybe on a clear day (if you squint), you can make out Taiwan!

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In the afternoon we visited the Maritime Museum which not only housed boats and information about Quanzhou’s bustling port city past, but also a great deal of information about all the different religions represented in Quanzhou because of its cosmopolitan history. Quanzhou is known as the Museum of World Religions with good reason. The city has hosted and harbored people from all over the world with a great variety of faiths, including some now no longer practiced widely (or at all). For example, a religion called Manicheism originated in Persia and was thought to be extinct, but it was discovered that long after the religion disappeared in Persia, a community still existed in Quanzhou.  As a lover of history, I am so intrigued by this; and as a lover of diversity and community, I love how Quanzhou’s story is a story of interaction and harmony between very different cultures.

on the left, a 14th century tombstone showing elements from Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Taoism. On the right, an icon from a Manichean temple.

 

The Confuscius (孔子) Temple complex consists of several buildings surrounding a peaceful courtyard. We were treated to a traditional Fujian tea ceremony with a lovely, subtle tea that grows only in Quanzhou. The temple itself was impressive, so highly decorated and ornate with a large, imposing statue of the master teacher himself in the center. His teachings inform every part of Chinese life. We were told that the stones in the courtyard – over 3,000 – represent the number of students he had in his lifetime who then went out and taught his ideas. And that was 2,500 years ago!

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Perhaps the highlight of the visit to the temple was accidental – there happened to be a folk dance performance in the square in front of the temple right when we arrived. The dancers were dressed in traditional costumes and did some very energetic dances (in the tropical heat, I might add!). The dances included a traditional Fujian dance called the Chest Slapping Dance in which a group of shirtless men dance and kick energetically while, you guessed it, slapping their chests. We loved it! In fact, it’s hard to overstate just how delighted we were. The three of us were by far the most enthusiastic audience members in the small group that had gathered to watch!

Link to video of the dancers.

They had also arranged for us to see a traditional Fujian-style puppet show with marionettes. The puppeteer was amazingly skilled getting tiny gestures out of the multistringed puppet. But I think my favorite part was watching the enraptured children gathered around the stage who couldn’t get enough of the puppet’s antics.

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As wonderful as all of these cultural and historical stops have been, the most memorable part of the exchange for me has been the conversations we have had over these days. In particular, Mr. Chen and Mr. Xu have been incredibly generous not only with their time but with their thoughts. At lunch yesterday we had a long wide-ranging conversation with Mr. Chen after we’d finished eating. It was so fun just to chat in a relaxed atmosphere and get to know each other better without the hustle and bustle of touring and library visits.

 

We had dinner last night at the restaurant next door to the Quanzhou Library – Mr. Xu told us they think of the restaurant as the library’s cafeteria because it’s so close. But the food is way better than any cafeteria I’ve ever been to! But much more than the food, what made the evening special was the long conversation we had after the meal. We talked a lot about politics in China and the US. One would think this would be a dangerous subject to be avoided, but even though we had points of disagreement, it was so fascinating to hear a radically different perspective than what I’m used to. It’s forced me to confront my own biases and assumptions and think about things from an international perspective. And isn’t that what this exchange is really about?

 

But even as we have our differences, we also have plenty of common ground. Mr. Chen noted that Bob Dylan has just been awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature and then led us in a group sing-along of “Blowin’ In The Wind.”

 

I hope that’s something we’ll all remember for all our 160 years.

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A sign at the Islamic Museum — and I think it makes a great motto for the Horner Exchange!

 

 

 

 

 

Worm Killing Machines,Gusaota Beacon, and Traffic

A quick post to recap yesterday’s activities:

In the morning, we visited the Quanzhou Public Library.  Usually closed on Mondays, it was opened just for us, guided by the director, Xu Zhaokai, and assistant director, Chen Wenge.  Both have visited Oregon, Mr. Chen just this past May.  As with other libraries we have seen here, they actively collect materials on local culture.  In addition, they have an active program to record in pictures and video (and post to their website) various aspects of the local culture, including songs, traditional music, tangible objects (such as lanterns) and the like.  There is a danger of this heritage disappearing as traditional crafts and skills are lost if they are not passed along to the next generation – especially in this day and age of modernization.  The library has created many databases with top quality video, all done by their own staff learning the video skills and putting in time after hours.  We were very impressed! Amongst other interesting things was the worm killing machine, used to kill book worms in old tomes.  If I understood the explanation, it does this by creating a vacuum.  I imagine the worms explode.  At least the machine prevents further damage to the books.

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After our customary stuffing with the finest food at lunchtime, we proceeded to visit two branch libraries.  The second one, in Shishi City (which comes out as shi-shi-shi in Chinese, although the tones on each syllable are different – meaning stone-lion-city) is built in a traditional Minnan architectural style.  The result is a remarkably beautiful building, with commanding views of the city and harbor.

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Between the two branch library visits, we climbed to the top of the highest point in Shishi City to view the Gusaota tower.  The tower served as a lighthouse, warning sailors of the presence of land, and was built in 1131.

 

Lastly, a brief note on street traffic.  In Quanzhou, as in other cities we have visited in China, traffic laws are strictly observed. When I say that, I mean “observed” as in “seen,” as I am sure the drivers and pedestrians have seen the traffic laws written out at some point in their lives.  Beyond that, it would appear that the laws are more like general guidelines.  I have not yet seen a car driving on the sidewalk, although I have seen motorbikes there.  Cars and trucks either stay within the lines on the streets or straddle them, usually on the right-hand side, although it is permissible to wander into opposing traffic if you need to – especially if you are in a hurry, as most people seem to be.  As the cars, trucks and buses swerve from lane to lane down the street, the other vehicles (motorcycles, motorized bikes, and human-powered bikes) weave in and out, creating a pleasant, fractal kind of beauty out of what would ordinarily be termed chaos.  Pedestrians enjoy getting into the act as well at crosswalks – those imaginary lines drawn across streets wherever the pedestrians choose to imagine them.  Incredibly, I have not seen a single accident.  I would not drive here for all the tea in China.  Our hosts are evidently quite skilled at this kind of transportation and I am very glad to leave the driving to them. — Richard

Earthen Buildings; and, Here Be Vegan Dragons!

Last night we arrived at a rustic hotel in Pushan Village.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe hotel itself was a rambling set of wooden structures with small but clean rooms, windows that were sliding wooden panels, and doors that locked by sliding a small piece of wood to block unwanted entrants. Below is the view from the door of my room on the 2nd floor and then looking back up at the room where I stayed.

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We began our day with a walk along the river that runs through the middle of this historic village, making our way to visit our first tulou.

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Tulou (too-low) means an earthen building.  Tulous are a characteristic structure of the Fujian countryside and, with minor exception, are found nowhere else in China.  They are so special architecturally that they have been collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.  They come in different shapes and sizes, including square, rectangular, circular, oval, fan shaped, triangular, etc.  We visited several today, including the oldest (built in 1308) and the tallest rectangular one.

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We drove back to Nanjing to deliver Rosalind, Amy, and MaryKay to the train station as they will be leaving us to head back to the States or Hong Kong while Veronica, Jian and I continue to visit libraries in Fujian.

The three of us, with our trusty driver and our guide from the Fujian Provincial Library, headed to Quanzhou to have dinner with Mr. Chen Wenge, Assistant Director, and Mr. Xu Zhao-kai, Director, of the Quanzhou Public Library.  I must note here that, as a vegan, I was somewhat concerned whether accommodations could be made for my diet at our many banquets.  I knew that many dishes in this coastal province depend on seafood of all sorts.  I need not have feared, though, as I have been well cared for – frankly, I’ve been stuffed – with all sorts of vegan delicacies.  Tonight’s dinner in Quanzhou was exceptionally good, with a more dishes that varied considerably from many I’ve had this past week.  Toward the end of dinner we were served a fruit plate which included dragonfruit, which with its white flesh, tiny black seeds, and reddish purple rind, is not only sweet and tasty, but also visually pleasing.  I noted that we had had dragon’s eyes (a fruit somewhat like lychees when peeled) in the past week and then Jian pointed out that at lunch today we had eaten a vegetable called dragon’s beard.  Mr. Chen pointed out that all of these were vegan foods, so we decided that dragons must be of vegetable origin.  I hope we don’t eat all the dragons up, they are so tasty!  — Richard

Forty-Eight Fun-Filled Hours

In the year leading up to this visit to Fujian, I heard many times from past participants that our days would be packed with events, that we would learn so much and see so many things that everyday would be a fantastical whirlwind of libraries and new cultural experiences. Well, that has certainly proven to be the case! The last two days in particular we have been on the go from morning to night.

 

Here are the stats on the last 48 hours:

 

Cities visited: 3

Libraries visited: 4

Kilometers driven: about 200

Meals eaten: innumerable!

 

We started Friday morning with a quick tour of the impressively preserved historic district of Jinjiang which includes homes dating back to the Song Dynasty – making them almost 2000 years old!

 

Then we drove to seaside city of Xiamen. Xiamen is home to one of the most well-respected universities in the country and the university has a library to match. The library director and several staff members met us and talked about new developments in the library. They have a huge patron population and lots of different needs to fulfill. They have lots of innovative programs in reference and tech services, including virtual reference via WeChat, the preferred texting app in China.

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Richard presents the OSU Press book Rivers of Oregon to the Xiamen University Library Director.

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The Oregon delegation  with several staff members of Xiamen University Library (after a fantastic lunch!)

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All this excitement, PLUS, MaryKay tried her first geoduck!

After touring the library (and a fabulous lunch, of course), we took the ferry to nearby Gulangyu Island. There are no cars allowed on the island (well, technically there are four cars allowed on the island!) so pedestrians get the full run of the island’s charming cobblestone streets. Back in the 19th century when Xiamen was known by the name Amoy, many Western nations had their embassies on this island giving the neighborhood a European feel.

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There is a beautiful book store on Gulangyu housed in a 19th century office building. It’s one of the prettiest bookstores I’ve ever been in!

Even though it was closed for the day, they were kind enough to open the public library on Gulangyu for us to tour. Despite it being a fairly small community, the library was still quite large and full of many different services. We loved the art displays made by local kids and we were all wowed by the extensive exhibit about the Typhoon Meranti – that’s the typhoon that hit Xiamen just 4 weeks ago and they already had a very polished, museum-quality display about it. We couldn’t imagine producing something so impressive in such a short time span in our own home libraries.

 

After yet another fantastic dinner, we went to the opening ceremony of Gulangyu’s fourth annual international poetry festival. Much of the poetry was in Chinese, of course, which made it hard for the English speakers to understand, but it was quite a spectacle with dances, songs, music, and videos so we were still thoroughly entertained.

 

 

Dancers at the Poetry Festival and Xiamen from the Gulangyu ferry at night

Saturday morning we had the opportunity to meet with the staff of Xiamen Public Library. It is housed in a former airport hangar – and, boy, do they use every inch of that space! The place was PACKED with people of all ages, but the children’s area in particular was at capacity and beyond. The library director told us that they are working on a new standalone children’s library, but will keep the children’s area at the main library, too, with the hopes that the extra space will disperse the crowd a bit. In any case, all of us were delighted to see so much hustle and bustle at the library.

Video of the Children’s room at Xiamen Public

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The courtyard at Xiamen Public Library

We were also really excited to try out their high-tech 24 hour library kiosks. Anyone with a library card can unlock the kiosk at any time and check out a book using an RFID-based self-check out system. They have 116 of these stations all around the city, including one that’s accessible at all hours in the main library’s lobby.

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Our interest was also piqued by their PDA system for physical books. That’s right –we got all aflutter about patron-triggered purchases for print materials. Now we’re getting nerdy!

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We were all presented with these gorgeous paper-cut artworks with the logo of the library

We had a lovely lunch at the hotel and then packed into the van for a long drive inland. Our main goal is to visit the historic “tulou” or earth houses, an architectural style particular to the Fujian Province. But before we did that, we did manage to fit in one more library visit – the public library in the town of Nanjing may be small, but it is mighty. The library and its director has been nationally recognized and awarded for its outstanding programs that have greatly benefited this traditionally underserved community.

 

Whew!

 

That catches us up to tonight. We’re staying in a lovely farmhouse hotel in the countryside famous for its tulou. In the morning we’ll tour some of these homes which were built in the 14th century and still house most of the region’s families.