I arrived in China on Friday to start my semester teaching as a J. William Fulbright Distinguished Lecturer at the China University of Political Science and Law. Chinese universities start their spring semester after the Spring Festival and celebration of Chinese New Year, which is why classes don’t start until February 25. The spring semester runs until early July.
The nonstop flight from Washington Dulles to Beijing flies north-northeast, passing over western Greenland and then just east of the North Pole. Greenland was a frequent topic in my household growing up, long before thoughts of it centered on the possibility that global warming may melt its icecap, because my father had been stationed in Greenland during World War II. He described it as a cold and boring experience. The only “combat” he saw was a mission to destroy a German weather station on the east side of the island, which turned out to be unoccupied. I inherited the incredible Army parka my father used in Greenland, which I wore frequently during the Minnesota winters while in college. It saved me from serious injury when I was in a van that rolled over, killing the driver, who was my best friend and debate partner, on the way to a debate tournament.
The flight to Beijing, which takes more than 13 hours from Washington, passed over the North Pole in darkness. Nine hours after takeoff the sun rose as the flight entered Russian airspace over northern Siberia. While this was my ninth flight to China in the last three years, it was the first time the flight flew over Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake in the world by volume. The lake is located just north of the Mongolian border and east of Irkutsk (a place familiar to players of the game “Risk”). The lake has been the subject of environmental controversy concerning the siting of a paper mill along its shores. Our flight flew just east of Irkutsk, providing an excellent view of the ice and snow-covered lake and what most likely was the Russian town of Babushkin on the southeastern shore.
Just minutes before the flight landed in Beijing, it passed over a portion of the Great Wall of China just north of Beijing. A common myth is that the Great Wall is the only man-made structure visible from outer space. In fact it is one of many manmade objects that can be seen from space and it is far from being the most visible one (see http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/visible_from_space_031006.html).
On my flight was Jun Bi, deputy dean of the School of Environment at Nanjing University. I first met him in March 2005 when I gave a guest lecture in Nanjing. In July 2005 I had the privilege of introducing his family to American baseball by taking them to a Washington Nationals game at RFK Stadium. Prior to boarding the plane, Jun Bi wisely stopped at Vino Volo near the departure gate at Dulles to purchase wine to bring to China where wines are much more expensive than in the U.S. Also on the flight I met Susan Beth Farmer, a law professor from Penn State-Dickinson School of Law, who will be teaching this spring as a Fulbright scholar at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing. The U.S. Embassy in Beijing sent two representatives to meet us at the airport. They were nice enough to drive Beth to the hotel where the Fulbright orientation will be held and me to my apartment in downtown Beijing. My apartment is in The Towers above Oriental Plaza, three blocks east of Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City in the heart of downtown. It is above the best shopping mall in the city and the Wangfujin subway stop, and an easy walk to the Gui Jie “snack street”.
I love my new apartment and I am thrilled to be living in China.