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We flew to Dalian, where I was invited to give two Fulbright speeches on educational psychology at Dalian Maritime University.  Dalian is a peninsula on the northwest coast of China, and the climate is breezy and mild.  The university has a unique seafaring psychology program.  As a huge fan of the fishing show Deadliest Catch, I jumped at the chance to meet Chinese sailors.

Seventy percent of DMU students are male, most wear uniforms, and they are preparing to enter the maritime shipping industry as captains, engineers, and shipping managers.  They will spend approximately 8 months per year at sea, which is a long time.                                                                         

I thought the audience might be interested in learning how principals manage discipline problems in American alternative schools, as it could possibly have some parallels with captains managing crew members at sea.  I shared some research from my book The Forgotten Room.  We also discussed topics related to contemporary masculinity, based on research by Michael Kimmel, such as hazing, dating, and inter-generational mentoring.  Finally, I talked about my own art therapy work published in Educational Psychology Reader

The girls and I were housed in grand style in a sunny two-bedroom flat complete with a stocked refrigerator.  We ate excellent meals, walked on a pebbly beach, and were given special attention.  Sophie and Kate were particularly interested in a decommissioned Chinese warship, known as Ship 104.  At one point, the docked ship even functioned as a youth hostel.  Backpackers could sleep in the bowels of the boat and eat in the mess hall.  Some contemporary art near portholes showed abstract battle images.       

Maybe you have seen the desktop Zen Sand Gardens that are sold in American toystores.  Well, sandbox therapy is an ancient form of therapy in China.  Sophie and Kate relaxed in the university’s sand therapy room while I lectured.  Students can choose from row upon row of small items to add to their sandboxes, and their creations can be interpreted by psychoanalysts.  Notice the two-way mirror in the background.


The girls also experienced a light, airy calligraphy room.  Sophie was told that she has a knack for calligraphy, and she beamed.  It was a Chinese compliment about a Chinese skill that makes our Chinese American child proud of her heritage.  Altogether, it was an unusual visit, and the girls give Dalian a big thumbs up. 


LATE MAY 2013 

             Girls buy a horse painting from folk artist Fan Guoqi

Early on Saturday morning, I hustled my sleepy children to the campus gate for a trip to Huxian, a village south of Xi'an. We were invited, along with other international faculty, to the home of folk artist Fan Zhihua and his son, painter Fan Gaoqi.  It hasn't rained much in three months but yesterday, it poured. We took a bus to Huxian then walked a long way to our destination. En route, we stopped to view a mural that was painted by Fan Zhihua.

Some people in our group wore ponchos, and the rest had flimsy umbrellas.  The cold rain ran in rivers in the gutters, overflowed onto the sidewalk, and gathered in potholes. Kate and Sophie were the only children, and I pressed them to carry on without complaining.  I didn't want them to hamper our progress, and I knew that the cultural experience would be worthwhile.  We would view galleries inside the Fan family home, have a traditional Chinese meal, and paint alongside the folk artists.  I thought that surely my daughters could slog through puddles for a mere few miles.  I tried to ply them with snacks to keep them going.  Sophie nibbled on a soggy granola bar but Kate wasn't hungry.  When we finally arrived, we sat with soaking socks for the rest of the day.  Sophie warmed up but Kate stayed chilled to the bone.  Here is Kate looking miserable during painting class.  I am sitting across the table with my Australian friend Gabi, and our bad hair is another testament to the ra

Mr. Fan Senior is a spry man in his seventies, who can even do jumping jacks. His parents were peasant farmers.  He rose from poverty to become one of the region's great artists. After traveling to America and selling his artwork overseas, he raised enough money to build his family home in Huxian.  As an adult, I marveled at the history of Mr. Fan Senior's paintings.  While much artwork was destroyed during The  Cultural Revolution, some folk art was overlooked and survived due to its association with peasants.

 Mr. Fan Sr. at work              Fan Guoqi autographs art for Kate before we leave
It was hard to choose our favorite paintings.  Sophie loved the painting of wild horses, and I later bought it for her as a special present from China.  For Kate, we chose a collection of three small paintings representing seasons; they featured fall leaves, spring cherry blossoms, and winter ice.

Fan Guoqi holds his Chinese Santa book                                                                                                 

Fan Guoqi (Mr. Fan Jr.) also showed us his Chinese Santa Claus book Joulupukki that was published in Finland.  I have never seen such unique Santa pictures.  Guoqi's book features remarkable scenes such as Santa doing tai chi, Santa on the Great Wall, Santa and the Terracotta Warriors, and Santa and the endangered Yangzte River porpoises.  The book is now out of print but a savvy publisher could purchase translation rights, reissue the book, and sell numerous copies in gift shops to tourists.  The images would bring joy to a lot of readers, and I'm scouring the internet for a used copy.

Wutai (5 Terrace) Mountain: Highest Mountain in Northern China                 Horse Hitching Posts

The Guanzhong Folk Art Museum is amazing.  It is a fairly new, private museum displaying one ancient house after another.  They have been relocated from original sites and reconstructed.  It must have taken an enormous amount of money to transport all of the stoneware and rebuild whole mansions piece by piece.  Although it is called a folk art museum, they are not humble abodes.  They were once the homes of Chinese upper class citizens.

The museum was surprisingly empty on a Saturday.  It was definitely peaceful, and you could hear birds twittering and live musicians playing violins.  In contrast, urban Xi’an is a rather noisy place.

  Girls find a Secret Garden                            Through the Arch

Kate and Sophie were delighted.  They explored on their own past Chinese lion statues, through arched doorways, and into courtyards.  They peered over velvet ropes into display rooms and marveled at the ornate antique beds.  There were also narrow alleyways, secret gardens, and rooftop terraces.  Kate discovered most of these.  She pretended that she lived in one Chinese mansion and assigned various members of our tour group to different rooms. 

I stuck with the tour group, while also trying to keep an eye on my daughters.  I remember, as a kid, sneaking off at the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina  and exploring a spiral staircase on my own.  So I didn’t mind Kate and Sophie venturing forth a little bit.  Kate ran back around a corner shouting, “Mom, hurry!  There’s a palace back here!”

The place was spectacular.  I could easily imagine it as a children’s book setting.  In E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, children stayed overnight in a museum.  Having the run of this place at night would really be fun.  They should have Sleepover Museum Camp like they do in the States.  The girls grew weary of my snapping pictures but I told them, “We may not see something this cool, again, for a long time.”

     Kate Operates a Rice Mill                  Sophie’s Stone Friend

As horseback riders, my daughters really liked the many carved stone hitching posts.  The thirsty Chinese horses that arrived at the mansions once drank from ornately-carved watering troughs. 

Thanks to the university’s International Exchanges Office for organizing this expedition for international faculty!  One Iranian professor told me that he had only seen this kind of large-scale relocation and reconstruction in one other spot in the world, in Alexandria in Egypt.  If you come to Xi’an to see the Terracotta Warriors, try not to miss this hidden gem, the Guanzhong Folk Art Museum.  It is nestled at the foot of Mount Wutai.

APRIL 2013

I am really enjoying teaching an American Children's Literature seminar using new books.  We all sit in a circle in my grand guest office that even has a chandelier.  I do some speaking but we also do book-related activities. 

Students read aloud Where the Wild Things Are in both Chinese and English.  Thanks to our friend Dan for finding the Chinese version at a local book sale.


Students also viewed some engineered books: pop-up books, die-cut board books with holes in the pages, and shadow books that are read in the dark using flashlights.  They cast shadows on the wall, and my kids love them.  China has a long history of shadow puppetry so I think there is a source of new shadow books in this nation. 

Here are graduate students doing tangrams, which are Chinese in origin.  They are fun and challenging.  Our tangram animals match the animals in Lois Ehlert’s Color Zoo, a board book featuring geometric shapes.

Sophie and Kate have to sit quietly in the back of my class when they arrive home from school.  I asked them to join me, one at a time, in demonstrating a popular clapping game that coincides with the book The Lady with the Alligator Purse.  We sat cross-legged on the floor facing each other, clapped hands faster and faster, and students whipped out their iPhone video cameras.  Afterwards, Kate declared, "You're a fun mom," which was music to my ears.  (No, I didn't pay her to say that.)

I had planned a Make Your Own Pop-Up activity but we ran out of time.   You can’t access YouTube in China but I managed to show an inspirational video clip of illustrator Sam Ita making a phenomenal pop-up book.  

In May, I’ll be speaking about children’s literature at a convention of nursery school teachers.  Sharing these wonderful books is a joy and a privilege! 
Here is a photo of a stray white cat on campus. 


He has a hardscrabble life but I’ve seen some grandmothers feed him.  I have juxtaposed his picture with that of our pampered cat Flicka for contrast.  Speaking of grandmothers, there is a senior citizen dance troop that does folk dances with ribbons every Thursday.  I’ve been hovering around trying to take a good video of them.  In the meantime …

We were surprised to learn that there is another big cafeteria on top of the giant one on the first floor.  The second floor canteen is more of a short-order place, and it’s packed with students.  You point at the different items that you want then chefs cook them together in big woks.  All of the signs are in Mandarin so ordering is a bit tricky for me.  My technique is to watch someone else in line then point at the exact same things for a similar product.  Here I am after successfully ordering stir-fried noodles.

This extra canteen is a great discovery because the food is spicy and very tasty.  There is also an adjoining bakery.  Sophie and Kate were very happy to find a cookie shop on campus.  There is even a third canteen, which does not serve pork, to accommodate Muslim students. The three giant canteens just reinforce that this is a big university with 60,000 students.  Xi’an, itself, is one of the largest university towns in the world with over 1.2 million students spread out across 120 universities … amazing! 

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