I gave the second of my weekly lectures yesterday, this one on the American media.
I was relieved to see that the turnout was every bit as large as it had been the previous week, filling the 300-seat hall, which indicates that they found last week's content compelling enough for a second dose (or that there's nothing else to do on campus at 4 p.m. on a Thursday).
After detailing, albeit with a simplified approach, the history and variety of the nation's newspapers and magazines and the recent changes and challenges resulting from the Internet, I did my bit to promote the concept of a free press by pointing out to the audience that they could access any of the publications I'd talked about on the Internet, which would not only open up a whole world (literally) of information to them but would also enable them to practice their English.
After the lecture and dinner with colleagues in the dining hall (a bowl of seafood congee), I went off to help judge the finals in the big campuswide English-speaking competition (the winner goes on to the nationals). This was a major deal, with a lot of hullabaloo; they even decked out a couple of students in traditional garb to greet guests at the door (although they actually looked just like the hostesses at the fancier restaurants here).
Each of the 18 finalists had to give a three-minute speech they'd written on the theme "One World, One Dream," tied into the coming Beijing Olympics (the assigned theme for last week's semifinals was "My Olympic Dream"); improvise a brief performance with another contestant (in one sketch a shopkeeper helped a foreigner select an Olympic souvenir; in another a reporter interviewed an athlete who'd just won an Olympic medal); and read a poem they'd chosen from a selection of English works (none of which, remarkably, dealt with the Olympics).
I was one of six judges from the Foreign Language faculty, and while I don't think I was on the same wavelength as my fellow judges—the one contestant whom I thought was head-and-shoulders above the others didn't even make the top five, and the winner hadn't even been on my radar—I'm sure the winner will do Zhuhai College proud.
On my way home from the lecture, a student named David struck up a conversation with me. (Almost every time I'm walking by myself on campus—and even sometimes when I'm with someone—eager students approach me for the opportunity to practice their English; I enjoy the encounters as much as they do, because I always have questions to ask them about their lives or about something I've seen and wondered about.) He spoke better English than just about anyone I've met here, including the faculty members, so I was surprised when he told me that his major isn't foreign languages but business administration, which turns out to be a big frustration for him. He has no particular interest in business, but he had to pick a major at the time of his enrollment. David's a sophomore now, and the Foreign Language department didn't even exist when he was a freshman; it was newly established this year. And he explained to me that campus policies made it impossible for him to change his major. Bureaucracy can be crushingly brutal here.