Thursday afternoon I gave the latest in my weekly series of lectures on American culture, this one on sports in the U.S. (delayed, ironically, by the campuswide sports event held last week). While I don't consider myself much of a sports fan (and many of you will call that assessment a vast understatement), as I told the students, sports are so pervasive in America that you can't live there for as long as I have without absorbing enough knowledge to talk on the subject for an hour or so. Even so, I was tempted to take Aaron's joking advice (based, I assume, on his current gig teaching Entertainment Journalism at Columbia College) to just make stuff up during my lectures, since who'd be the wiser? However, some of these kids follow the NBA avidly enough that I'd suspect they could call me on any fraudulent info on that sport.
However, the entire group of several hundred students possessed near-total ignorance of baseball or American football (just football, of course, refers to what we'd call soccer), although they feigned interest in my explication. Basketball is another matter: My previous visits to China had already revealed the high level of interest in the sport (when the Bulls were playing in the championships, the games seemed to be followed here nearly as closely as back home). I was a bit surprised, though, that while many of the kids — and not just the boys — watch NBA games, they play little attention to the Chinese Basketball Association. My queries revealed that the Americans’far superior level of play trumps nationalism.
The lecture seemed to be as well received as my previous ones, and I think that I managed to handle the questions fairly well; I even adequately fielded one on World Wrestling Entertainment (which I still think of as the WWF).
Afterwards, Mr. Wong — the president of the college and Ling's longtime friend — took me to dinner, along with two other foreign-language teachers: Hyoung Su (a.k.a. Leo), the Korean instructor whom I've shared a couple of meals with already, and Ken, the other American currently on campus. The faculty have been trying to get Ken and me together ever since I got here, but our schedules hadn't meshed till now. He's a Tourism Management teacher at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, which has a reciprocal arrangenemnt with the same department here (one of my own classes is under the Tourism department; obviously, English would be a valuable skill for anyone taking Chinese people to the U.S. or vice versa). Ken's only here for six weeks, and he's going back Monday; his imminent departure was apparently the occasion for the dinner.
Unfortunately, I didn't manage to get a very good pic of Ken; in this dim one he's between Wong (who was, obviously, seated next to me) and one of the college's vice-presidents (I didn't get his name or exact title; introductions here are often abrupt or even nonexistant, which is why business cards are so useful).
It's been a while since I've photoblogged individual dishes, so here's a selection of what Wong ordered. This was the first time I'd seen chicken feet other than as a dim sum item.
One of the best ducks I've had so far this trip, obviously surpassing the version I've been enjoying regularly in the campus dining hall.
I don't think I've been to a banquet here that hasn't included shrimp — but that's fine with me.
I think this delicately spiced fish soup, served in a coconut shell, was the best soup I've had here.
Two more regional standbys: whole steamed fish . . .
. . . and sea snails.
The picture's a bit dark-looking, but so was the dish: Pork cooked with black tea leaves.
Pastries for desert. Unfortunaely, I was still enjoying the other dishes when this plate was brought out, so I missed out on the custard tarts, always one of my favorite ways to end a meal. But I did manage to take full advantage of the plate of watermelon, papaya, and other fruits that came later (not pictured because I was too busy chowing down to shoot it before my fellow diners did damage to it).
This evening featured even more toasts than usual, many of them to mark Ken's leaving. We were drinking strong Chinese liquor (which I don't enjoy much normally — I'm a wine and beer guy — but the bottle we had here was top-shelf stuff, and even I could appreciate the difference) before we switched to pijiu later. At banquets, tablewide toasts are supplemented by ones between just two individuals: Wong and I drank a toast to Ling, and then another one to C***o. I drink enough without getting more than slightly tipsy that I now feel up to a real challenge: Hyoung Su and I are planning to go out drinking together next weekend.