| Alfred C. Snider | April 15-16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 2001| Other Journals | Debate Central |
As I awaken I realize just how nice my hotel actually is. This is a much nicer room than I almost ever have in the USA, but then I am fairly thrifty about such things, although not about all things. I pulled back my curtains to see the Hohhot skyline and find myself looking out on both the new and the old China. Under my window are one level houses made out of what looks like mud brick, they are tightly squeezed together with a few narrow alleyways separating groups of them. They looked like pictures I had seen from many years ago. However, off to the right I can see that many of them had been demolished and new apartment buildings were rising. I can also see that many of the bricks from the demolished buildings are being inspected and saved, I assume, to use again. I snapped a photo of my first real view of Inner Mongolia.
Views from my window at the Yi Tai Hotel in Inner Mongolia
I was instructed by Chen Yao to have breakfast in the hotel and that it was included in the room. I went down to the lobby and found the guest breakfast, and as always is was delicious. I especially loved the small bamboo steaming baskets, each of which contained a different treat, most of which I could not identify, but I chose based on appearance and found the food to be very toothsome. They have a music video channel on called the "V Channel" on a very large and beautiful TV. I also notice that every so often I would hear bird chirps, but they came neither from the TV or from birds, as it was always the same chirp and also was there the next day. I actually think it is an ambient sound track to make the place seem more relaxing.
After breakfast I see a copy of the English language China Daily on the reading stand in the lobby and promise myself I will come down to read some news before my day begins. Back in my room I work on my journal for a while and listen to some music (hooray for .mp3s on CD, each CD holding over ten hours of music).
I go to the lobby a few minutes early to meet Chen Yao so that I am catch up on the news. Having read many Xinhua News Service dispatches the style and content seems familiar, and is full of anger at the USA granting the Taiwanese pro-independence leader a visa to visit. Mr. Chen Yao was there to pick me up right on time and we found our way through the bust streets of Hohhot to the campus of the university and its administration building.
Streets of Hohhot | With the eight student finalists for the World Debate Institute
There I met with Mr. Liang, Party Secretary (as fascinating man from whom I learned much during my visit), Ms. Chiao (a professor who has studied in England and Vermont), and the eight students who were selected as finalists to attend the World Debate Institute. After introductions I gave them a brief introduction to the WDI program and then carried on an extended conversation with the students. I could tell they were nervous, all wanting to give me a positive impression of themselves while showing their skills in English, which were considerable and impressive. We had a wonderful conversation and I instantly took a liking to these students. They were bright sand curious and expressive and I saw in them the qualities which I love in debaters all over the world. I knew this choice would be very difficult. However, I knew that Chinese students are used to academic competition and evaluation when much higher stakes then this were in the line, so In reasoned that it would probably be harder on me than on them.
Author and Mr. Liang | Crowd to hear debate lecture
As this meeting adjourned, I went with Mr. Chen and Mr. Liang to a nearby restaurant, a place I would eat most of my meals at during my visit, and I had the first of what would be a number of fantastic meals. We had a wonderful and frank conversation. Focusing on comparing and contrasting Chinese and American politics. We all had questions to ask the other and were all interested in the answers. I began to love the food of Inner Mongolia, with its tasty grassland raised lamb and its savory spices, some wet and some dry, but all strong, unusual, and pleasing.
After lunch I was taken back to the Yi Tai Hotel for a short rest before my lecture. I had about 45 minutes so I looked over my notes, did some adjustments, and had a hot cup of tea. Every hotel room has a thermos which has hot water in it, and the thermos is so good that the water will stay very hot for at least 24 hours, so with some tea (always in your room) a hot cup of tea is almost always available.
I went downstairs and met Ms. Yijie Zhao. I had seen her in Beijing when we arrived and she had spent several months in Vermont and received a Masters degree in the UK. She is extremely personable and a wonderful English speaker, and is now a member of the faculty at IMNU (Inner Mongolia Normal University). She would be my facilitator today. We took a car over to the campus and she guided me to my lecture room.
The room was packed with about 200 students and faculty, anxious to hear my lecture. I got to meet two American instructors at IMNU, Liam and Frances. In a brief conversation with them it was obvious that they love it here. Liam tells me that he could gladly spend the rest of his life here, teaching and doing hat he loves, away from all stress and pressure. They gleam with smiles and I believe what they say. I wonder, could I ever do such a thing?
The lecture begins and I talk to them about debate and give them examples of the mental and communicative processes it develops and also discuss various formats and procedures. They are interested, but I think they are in some ways more interested in hearing a foreigner lecture. They all speak English and there seems to be no need for translation. The lecture lasts for about 40 minutes, because I am mostly interested in a question and answer period.
The first question was about the airplane incident over the South China Sea. I am glad that this is the first question, because it is on everyone's mind and it is a good way to create common ground. I simply give both sides of the story, the American and the Chinese, as I had researched them before coming to China, and then I give some new information I have gathered myself, and then I give my own conclusion. I use this to illustrate the debate process: consider all sides as described in public, gather and evaluate additional information not popularly circulated, and then come to my own conclusion. This seems to go over well.
Remaining questions are also excellent. Included are: how does one develop critical thinking, how does a debate team get formed, how do you argue against your own beliefs, how does one cultivate creativity in thinking of new ideas, and other related issues. After about 90 minutes I urge members of the audience who have heard enough or who have appointments to feel free to leave, but I am willing to remain. I invite them to ask any questions they wish about any issue.
About dozen people leave, and the remainder stay, listening attentively. I get questions about the limits of freedom, the relationship of freedom to politics, my feelings about the depiction of sex and violence in the media, as well as many other questions. Finally, after about 2 1/2 hours Ms. Zhao calls a halt to the session. Even then many remain to ask me questions and receive my name card. They are obviously very interested in my topics, and several students announce that they will start their own debate team at IMNU. Just bas I am about to leave a local radio station arrives and wants to interview me, and I am glad to be interviewed by Mr. Chong Bin. Then, finally, it is over.
We return to the administration building to a posh conference room and Ms. Zhao and I have a very interesting conversation as we await Chen Yao and party secretary Liang.
We leave for the same restaurant, and there Mr., Chen and Mr. Liang join us and we have a most delightful dinner. They are obviously trying to learn more about me, and who can blame them, as they plan on sending four of their most valuable students to the World Debate Institute this summer. I understand their need to find out more about me and my program. Soon we are having very interesting discussions about population control, demographic shifts, and the role of the media in creating the modern mind. Chen Yao speaks excellent English, and he and Ms. Zhao are able to translate for Mr. Liang. They comment about how students gave my rave reviews for my lecture and question and answer session that day, and I appreciate their kind comments.
Things went very well, and I was instructed in how to properly drink the traditional Mongolian liquor and how to make appropriate toasts ands finish the toast (both serious as in "Ja JA JA JA" for a Mongolian finish and humorously as in "Sorga" which is something Japanese soldiers would say during WW2 during the occupation of China). While discussing the use of English names by Chinese people, I mention how uncomfortable I am with this. They suggest the solution is that I receive a Chinese name, which they say is an honor given to foreigners they feel close to. I agree with this, and Chen Yao explains how usually parts of the English name are used to create a three part Chinese name. He uses parts of Alfred Snider to create the name "Ai Se Doh," which means "Love Knowledge Harvest." I like this name, and gladly accept it.
Carving of Ghengis Khan at the Yi Tai Hotel
Ms. Zhao takes me in a car back to the Yi Tai Hotel, and I work on my journal briefly and then crash after my active day. So far I am really enjoying my stay here in Inner Mongolia.