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

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.


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


The sign above below suffers from extreme editorial neglect.



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


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.

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!

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.



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.


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.



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.


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.


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

The Past is Prologue

Today we attended the annual conference of the Fujian Library Association. Unfortunately for those of us who don’t speak Chinese, there were a lot of presentations and speeches that went past us at the speed of light. Nevertheless, we were treated like royalty, being seated at the front of the auditorium in the Jinjiang Public Library where the conference was held. There were about 250 attendees at the conference as well as the head of the Fujian Ministry of Culture, a distinguished calligrapher with whom we had dinner last night.

While speakers are presenting today, I am taking this time to reflect on yesterday’s main event. Wednesday afternoon, after lunch and checking in at the 5-star hotel we are staying at, we walked next door to the Jinjiang Public Library for a very special occasion – a gathering to celebrate 20 years of the Horner Exchange and 30 years of the sister-province/state relationship between Oregon and Fujian. Assembled there were nearly all of the Horner participants from Fujian, including all of the directors, past and present, of the Fujian Provincial Library. For two hours, we heard many of them speak about the impact of the exchange on their lives and their libraries, with continuing expressions of gratitude for how much they had learned and the friendships that the exchange had spawned across the ocean. The whole event was very moving. They continually expressed how, on their return to their home libraries, they started making changes to how they did things, especially adopting American practices of customer service and implementing automation of library processes. Many of them received promotions at work within a few years of their participation, with many now serving as library directors or other positions of responsibility.

One particular comment really stood out for me. Fifteen years ago, Mr. Chen came to OSU with a colleague, spending 2 weeks in Corvallis and spending time in each department of our library. Yesterday, he recounted something he witnessed during that visit. I was to take him and his colleague to lunch and had just met up with them someplace in the Valley Library. I think we may have been waiting for one of my colleagues to join us when I saw a library user looking a bit perplexed. I asked him if I could help him with something, at which point he confessed confusion about where a book was that he could not find on the shelf. I asked our Horner visitors to stay where they were (they spoke no English, so this was done with hand motions, with me hoping they would stay in one place) while I went off to the next floor up in the library to look at the shelf where the user’s book should be. I returned to our visitors in a few minutes. Mr. Chen was so impressed that I would take time away from what I was already engaged in to make the extra effort to help the user that after fifteen years, the story still stuck with him. I was really moved by his recitation of this event, which curiously I remember quite well.

The reunion of the Horner Exchange participants yesterday was capped by the publication of a book in Chinese and English in commemoration of this 20th anniversary of the program, filled with photos of every year of the exchange.   It also chronicles the connections between the Oregon State Library and the Fujian Provincial Library, going back to 1987. Although many have been responsible for the strength of those connections, I would like to call out three people who really worked hard to establish and maintain them over the years: Rosalind Wang, Jim Scheppke, and Ke Shaoning. Their dedication to the Horner Exchange and the bonds between Oregon and Fujian is a model for all of us.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Ke yesterday and was impressed with his understated manner and humility. He is the retired director of the Fujian Provincial Library, his name very familiar to me from numerous emails over the years during the planning of each exchange of librarians. While waiting to check-in in the lobby of our hotel here in Jinjiang, he approached me and began conversing with me. We spoke about his retirement activities and my interest in birdwatching. It was such a pleasant and relaxed interaction.

Back to current events: at the conference this morning, awards were given to association members for various reasons. The ceremony was very formal, with names announced and then the awardees being handed certificates from association officers. While they walked to the front of the room to receive the certificates, music was played: the theme from the Magnificent Seven! — Richard

In Which We Visit Pingtan Island

Today, Tuesday, October 18, the six of us, accompanied by Wong Hui and Li Hanfen from the Fujian Provincial Library, drove down to Pingtan Island, about 2 hours south of Fuzhou.  We spent the day sightseeing the island, the fifth largest in China and the closest part of the country to Taiwan.  Stops included a monument to the 1996 standoff between Taiwan and the PRC, a tall towering structure with 129 internal steps affording a wonderful view from the top of the surrounding sea and island; a view of a floating abalone farm, complete with little houses where the fisherman live; a historic fishing village with houses made of stone; and Haitan National Park, which has spectacular sea cliffs and ocean-sculpted rock formations.  All of these were visited in a day that was warm (mid- to high seventies) with considerable humidity and rain/drizzle/you-name-it dampening our outings but not our spirits. – Richard