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Final day in Wuhan

by Larry Moneta

Seems like ages since I last wrote, but only two days. But these were quite busy and interesting days.

Our last full day in Wuhan was spent at the university. We started with meetings with student affairs directors for the undergraduates and graduate students (two separate people). Wuhan’s approach to student support is somewhat different than US models but overall, we share identical objectives – to help students realize their goals academically and personally. Housing and dining as well as other ‘business’ activities are handled by the University’s Logistics office so Student Affairs is focused on personal support, student governance and programing and various forms of advising (academic and career). Wuhan has experienced 4 suicides in the last year (they can’t say the word…just said “very serious mental health incidents”…but we determined that that meant suicide. With 40,000 students, their ratio of 1 to 10,000 is roughly the same as US suicides rates for the college-aged population. We agreed that mental health concerns are our ‘keep us awake at night’ shared issue.

We then met with Vice President Fang who will represent Wuhan University on the DKU board. She’s sharp, intense and determined to have Wuhan very involved in DKU and in other potential partnerships with Duke. Following the formal meeting, we all went off to lunch where toasts ensued with waves of food. I managed to find enough options to satisfy me.

After lunch, we met with the leadership of the Student Union with their staff advisor. These are great young people with identical desires as our student government. They advocate for changes on behalf of the student body and provide many events of all kinds. The one significant difference is that they have to raise most of their money from corporate and commercial donors. I loved meeting with these students and hope that some will continue their graduate education at DKU. Check out our group photo.

We then visited the university health center. This facility serves all university members, so students compete with faculty and staff (and their families) for access to medical care. I’m sure that the physicians and nurses are well trained and offer good care, but I have to say that as I entered the clinic, I felt like I’d gone back in time 50 years. The building was dark, cold and dingy (not very clean either) and people where just parked in various waiting areas awaiting their turn. Some of the treatments are archaic and the pharmacy has two windows…one for modern medicines and another for herbs and other more traditional remedies. This model just won’t do for the DKU population, though I must admit to being intrigued with the prospect of acupuncture and other Eastern health care approaches.

From there, we visited one of the dining venues. Here, we just have to realize that US students have advantages that are quite substantial (and costly). In China, 4 undergrads share a dorm room and often rooms aren’t heated (never mind cooled). You can see from the attached photo where clothes get dried and this particular dorm doesn’t even feature showers. The dining is cafeteria style with windows featuring a specific food item. Students get fed and housed, but for DKU, US standards will be featured.

The evening was spent at yet another all vegan restaurant in a hip, new section of Wuhan. We could have been in Boca Raton or Santa Monica given the array of familiar stores and restaurants, save for Art Vegan, where we ate. The world is definitely shrinking!

Yesterday, we flew to Shanghai and the afternoon was mostly an opportunity to rest. One more vegan dinner with Roger and Albert (our JonesLangLasalle colleagues) as well as with Frank Chen (also of JLL) who then treated me to a boat ride to see the Shanghai skyline.

Today, Sunday, has been a day afoot for me. I walked for several miles, along the Bund, the length of Nanjing Road, through the People’s Park, to the Shanghai Museum and then for lunch at a Mediterranean restaurant featuring falafels! I then walked to YuYuan Gardens for some last minute shopping. Tomorrow, I’ll spend the entire day in Kunshan and the surrounds and I can’t wait to see the DKU campus! That should provide the details for a final blog post. Looking forward to getting home!

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Made it to Wuhan

by Larry Moneta

Here I am in Wuhan…after some back and forth about schedules, we decided to fly here for meetings with Wuhan student services and international relation folks. But, I digress….

Yesterday’s highlights included our visit to Peking University, China’s finest institution, where we toured briefly and then took place in closing speeches, final breakout sessions and our final banquet (which I mostly missed to get ready for this next episode in my journey). In my evaluation of the China Bridge program I noted how well were were cared for, what most events were enjoyable and worthwhile, but that in the future more in depth conversation with higher ed counterparts would have strengthened the program. I really enjoyed meeting the people…both US and Chinese and imagine that I’ll maintain contact with several.

Btw, saw the Cube (swimming venue) and Birds Nest (Opening and closing events facility) from the bus on our way to the banquet.

Now…on to phase 2 of the trip…focus on DKU.

I’m joined in Kunshan by the intrepid Ming, our ‘man in China” and two colleagues from JonesLangLasalle, our administrative support partners for the development of the DKU campus. We caught up on the construction process over lunch (pasta!) and were then given a tour of parts of Wuhan University by staff of their International Office. Wuhan is an assembly of four previously independent schools and the business school is the largest school of the entire university. We checked out several academic buildings and saw several dorms. Chinese building standards are certainly ‘different’ from ours…4 undergrads to a room in all dorms and all balconies, windows, etc. serve as clothes hangers.

We met four students from their Student Union and got a briefing on student self governance and their clubs and organizations. All well intended but somewhat rudimentary by US standards. But, these students were just terrific!

Dinner was just the four ‘Dukies’ at a nearby Chinese restaurant, so nothing special to report. Tomorrow, we’ll visit the health center and dining facilities and speak with seveal people doing Student Affairs sorts of things. I’ll also be meeting with the Wuhan Youth League (junior Communist Party) so am very much looking forward to that.

More to come…

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Last days in Shanghai before the next days in Shanghai

by Larry Moneta

Our last full day in Shanghai was a full one and extraordinarily illuminating as well as delightful. After breakfast (always extensive buffets…with cereal, fruit and bread as my selection), we bussed through the ever trying traffic to Shanghai Normal University (SNU). SNU isn’t extraordinarily distinctive overall but its one key contribution is that 70% of all the teachers in Shanghai (and trust me…there are a lot of teachers!) are SNU graduates. Thus, they lead the research and teacher preparation plans for Shanghai’s k-12 system. We had an extensive briefing on Shanghai’s extraordinary success with math, reading and science education for their youth (as measured by PISA and reported extensively in the NYT…look it up. US performance is frighteningly low) but the presenter acknowledged shortcomings in teacher-student relationships at which US schools excel.

From there (after a Chinese lunch) we drove another hour (all within the ‘downtown’) to an elementary school of 800 children. All I can say is…wow! The kids were amazing – confident, engaged, jubilant and eager to meet us. We watched them learn speed skating, build robots, learn in formal classrooms, grow vegetables and herbs on their roof deck, use their extensive library and, the highlight of the trip…sing various versions on Jingle Bells to us. I can’t post the video of their singing from here, but will add it when I get home. Make a point of coming back to check this out….it can’t help but make you smile, tear up and realize how much we have to do in the US to keep up. This was an experimental (but ‘public’) school, but others from our group who have visited more conventional schools told us this was not very different from what they’ve seen elsewhere.

Then we moved on to a middle school about to celebrate its one hundred year anniversary. It has 1000 students and was housed in a building that looked pretty much like any somewhat ‘industrial’ school building – not dissimilar from a US inner city school building. There we had a more formal presentation in an auditorium while we awaited the Asst. Principal’s return from a city school board meeting. Interestingly, she is also the Communist Party chair for the area.

The highlight of this visit was sitting in on a class taught by a science teacher. This wonderful teacher normally teaches in Chinese but realized that her kids excelled in their science education but had poor English language skills. So, once a week, she teaches her class entirely in English…and this was that day. She used technology creatively (suffice it to say that we were all dancing Gangham at the end of the class), engaged the kids and pushed them to advance their English conversational skills. Again, we’ve got to press our kids more to have other languages at their disposal, imho.

Finally, after dinner back at Shanghai University (those fantastic boxes again), we enjoyed a concert by the National Symphony Orchestra at the school’s theater. Those who know me know my aversion to classical music, but other than the struggle to stay awake, the difficulty breathing because of the cigarette smoking, it wasn’t bad.

Now, I’m in Beijing…we flew here yesterday and visited the Lama Temple right from the airport. We leaned about the three forms of Buddhism and enjoyed this remarkable temple. The only mishap was my dropping my camera…oh, well. Shopping!

After the temple, we went to the Hanban-Confucious center (our hosts) and learned more about their mission and Chinese culture.

Last night, I skipped out of the buffet dinner at our hotel and met up with Duke alumnus and Young Trustee, Kaveh Danesh, who treated me to a fantastic dinner at an all vegan restaurant near the Peking University area of Beijing. We both agreed that the food was fantastic and that it would be very hard for a meat eater to know that our Peking Duck was faux duck. The best part of the night though was catching up with Kaveh and learning about his life here in Beijing as a Fulbrighter. He’s an amazing young man doing research on cancer by studying population centers with larger number of cases than the norm. He’s also fluent in Chinese (thank goodness) and just the most delightful person to ‘hang’ with.

Now…getting ready for a final visit to Peking University for discussions and the closing banquet. I’m supposed to fly to Wuhan tomorrow for meetings there….but there are schedule ‘complications’ apparently from Wuhan. Hmmm….stay tuned.

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The weekend in Shanghai

by Larry Moneta, November 11, 2012

Lots to share…two days of activity to recount. Saturday was quite a full day on the Shanghai University campus. Before I talk about our formal meetings, I should point out that the campus annually features a chrysanthemum festival (which happens to be happening this week) and the massive and beautiful gardens, displays and much more are simply breathtaking. I have way too many pictures so will post just a couple to convey the scope of this event.

The meetings with university personnel (Shanghai Univ was heavily represented, but we me with people from many other schools as well) was quite formal with opening speeches by the Shanghai Univ president and Peter Negroni from the College Board. We then heard talks from three other Chinese college faculty/administrators and then talks from three US delegate including yours truly. I spoke on how American colleges and universities are preparing students for the global economy both in and out of the classroom.

Clearly, the Chinese higher ed institutions are eager to establish partnerships and would have been happy to sign various agreements right then and there. It will be interesting to see how the College Board and Hanban follow up on these conversations to further promote cooperation and collaboration between US and Chinese colleges and universities.

We ended the evening at an elegant banquet featuring an abundance of toasts, warm camaraderie and further invitations for return visits and formal partnerships. The array of food offered was amazing but my favorite mela so far was the ‘lunch box’ provided earlier in the day. Check out the picture of my vegan version.

Sunday was reserved mostly for Shanghai sightseeing and we spent the morning enjoying the amazing views from the TV Tower. The glass floored deck was particularly ‘stimulating’ so check out the photo of my toes hanging out over the viewing platform. I the afternoon we visited Nanjing Street where we could clearly observe the health of the Chinese economy, at least for the million or so people strolling the avenue and packing the shops. Interestingly, as I type this CNN has begun a story on the two sides of China – those with money, and the many others who struggle to get by.

Finally, I peeled of from the group dinner last night and joined a few other Duke colleagues for dinner at a local (and delightful) restaurant. Some are here for continued work on the development of the Duke Kunshan University project as well as to further advance study away opportunities here and throughout the region. That we are truly a global university is more and more apparent.

One more day of school visits today (I’m writing this early Monday morning) before Tuesday morning’s flight back to Beijing. Until next time, xie xie…


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On the Ground in Beijing

Arrived in Beijing yesterday afternoon and connected with many of the more than 400 US participants. We eventually bussed over to a nearby hotel for brief orientation and dinner (those who know me and my diet always find this part interesting....nope: no vegan options despite the pre-request. I ended up with boiled noodles). It was fun to meet new people and delightful to connect with old and dear friends as well. Janina from UCLA, Michael from UCSB and Judy from the UC system are all here as is Rick Johnson's wife, Mildred, the admissions director from Va Tech.

Tried to sleep last night but watched lots of CNN coverage of the Chinese Congress (and likely new President Xi JinPing). This morning, the higher ed delegation flies to Shanghai for our meetings and tours there, so hopefully, more substance by tomorrow.

I see that my colleagues back home have dubbed this blog a "Where in the World..." bit. Well...I'm in China, a fascinating, complicated, beautiful and mysterious country. This is my second visit, with my last in 2000. I'm anxious to see the differences.

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Shanghai Day 1

by Larry Moneta, November 9, 2012

It’s just after 5 am on Saturday and I’m looking forward to our full day ahead at Shanghai University. I’ll be the opening speaker on a panel of American educators speaking to our China Bridge delegation and about 30 Chinese university administrators. My topic will be “Preparing students for the global economy”. I have so many examples from Duke and hope my remarks will help stimulate a lively discussion. We have several other topics on the agenda and will be touring the campus and meeting students as well. More on this tomorrow.

Yesterday was a rainy though warm day (60′s f). We toured Shanghai and spent a couple of hours at the Yu Gardens, among the last remnants of old Shangai architecture…now a shopping district, of course. We had dinner at the one restaurant Judy and I ate at in 2000. Its easy to remember because of the Bill and Hillary Clinton photo in the lobby. And yes…they had vegan options for me.

After dinner we took a 30 minute boat ride on the Huangpu River which offered great views of the Shanghai downtown (lots of colored lights everywhere) albeit in the rain.

A couple of general observations:

1. Traffic! O.M.G. It took forever to get from the airport to the hotel (basic Holiday Inn)…forever to get from the hotel to Yu Gardens and nearly forever to get back to the hotel even after 9 pm. There way more cars than I recall from 2000, way fewer bikes and scooters (though plenty) and insane drivers barely following rules of the road (or following local, unwritten rules). We’ve already seen one bad truck accident and I fear more to come.

2. Construction cranes still abound. Perhaps not as many as I seem to remember from 2000, but the city sprawls with more than 22 million people and apartment towers can be seen for miles and miles with more under construction.

3. The young people, all college students, with whom we’ve met are very informed about global matters. When we were here during the presidential elections in 2000, we could hardly find news about it. Now, the Obama victory and the campaign intensity are well known and most seemed pleased with the outcome.

4. National pride for China’s economic growth is evident. The students were excited about having the second largest economy and clear that they intended to pass the US and be number one. We’ve only met a few students so far (and obviously hand picked ones by the local hosts), so I’ll be interested to hear if more express similar competitive and entrepreneurial sentiments.


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Just 13.5 Hours to Go

by Larry Moneta

Made it to Newark…of course, there’s a storm coming (another Nor’easter) that’s supposed to hit the area about noon. My flight’s at 12:10 pm so hoping we’ll be up and out before the disruption begins. I feel terrible for all the folks hardly recovered from Hurricane Sandy. Think good thoughts!

Quite the night last night, so not much sleep. That may work to my advantage as I try to sleep on this 13.5 hour flight. We land at 3 pm China time, which is 2 am est, so will need to will the body to adjust.

Now that we’ve settled the US presidential election (if only that meant smooth sailing ahead…), we turn our attention to the selection of the Chinese Premier scheduled over the next couple of days. Here’s some info.

That both country’s leadership transition is this week is notable and critically important. I hope to get a sense of the different ‘feel’ of the process and of public interest while in China. If anyone can suggest what English language newspaper or online periodical I should follow while there, I’d appreciate it.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned, this means that our delegation (about 40 people from US higher ed around the country) will have to fly to Shanghai early next day to begin our China Bridge programs since Beijing will be otherwise pre-occupied. I still have few details about our plans in Shanghai though I know we’ll be visiting schools and having conversations with Chinese higher ed counterparts. The ‘downside’ of knowing one of the College Board staff (Dr. Jim Montoya) is that I’ve already been asked to kick off one of the discussions with a 10 minute overview of what it means to prepare young people for the global economy. Another project for the plane ride..

Next post from Beijing…


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Packing for China

by Larry Moneta

Hi friends,

Here I am again…packing this evening for my upcoming trip to China. I leave for New York tomorrow (and hope I can get to my hotel without too many travel problems) and then for Beijing on Wednesday. I’ll be in China for two weeks with the first week as part of the China Bridge program hosted by the College Board in concert with Hanban/Confucius Institute. We’ll be in Beijing for a day, then in Shangai for three days, returning to Beijing for a couple of more days.

My second week with be spent focused on the Duke Kunshan University project with trips to Wuhan University and then Shangai to visit the DKU campus now under construction. I’ll share more about that project throughout the trip as well as further details and observations about the China Bridge program and the many places we’ll visit. My only regret is that Judy won’t be joining me on this trip, so two weeks will feel like an awfully long time!

Stay tuned for posts and photos!



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