By Jock Lauterer
Fulbright Senior Specialist

CHINA JOURNAL

Day one, Weds. May 16, 2012

Making a Tar Heel feel right at home: hoops in Beijing going full tilt.

The familiar sound of a basketball bouncing on concrete – the last sound I ever expected to hear on the first morning in China.

In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the first sound you may hear in the morning is the holy man calling the faithful to prayer. In Mexico City, the first thing you may hear is the mournful cry of the newspaper peddler calling “El Sol!”

So on how comforting to be 7k miles away from home and hear something so homey, and then to watch a father and son laughing competitively over a simple game of hoops.

China is like that; from what I can tell so far, a complex contradiction, a meshing of the ancient and the outrageously new; of zoomy new buildings towering over a wizened old man peddling a dusty bicycle cart.

Last night I wrote this about my challenging arrival here:

So it is a quarter of four in the morning in Beijing, where i arrived at midnight, too happy and jazzed to sleep yet, quaffing some quite acceptable local vino, and set up with my Mac in the International Scholars Hotel here at Communication U. of China, which ain’t too shabby, a suite of rooms, complete with two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen and bath. Don’t know how I rate this posh digs, but I’ll work like a junkyard dog to make it up.

When I arrived here in Beijing at the immense, modern sprawling airport, my Chinese colleague missed me, and there was an anxious hour of me wandering around the expanse, watching incoming Chinese passengers being joyfully embraced and showered over, while I wondered what the heck I was doing here, with no Yuan and no Mandarin, and a phone number for my contact that seemed to be invalid. I felt very alone, different and sweaty.

“Big Shorts” is what locals call this adventurous piece of architecture.

Then I put on my Journalist hat, along with my Anthropologist hat, and talked myself in off the ledge; it was quite a lovely experience, watching those tearful and joyful reunions there at the arrival gate, as if I had been beamed down from the planet Xorax to study these things on this planet in this particular country called China…and soon, a solution came to me, and I was able to navigate an airport free phone and connect with my host, who, it turned out, was only 100 yards away, but lost in the hordes of happy comers and goers.

“Stay this moment,” is what Sam Abell would say, and so I memorized that delicious moment of knowing I had conquered my fears, figured out the puzzle of being the alien, and knowing that in a couple of seconds, Order had Been Restored.

Being lost like that, with masses of Chinese staring at me: a tall, skinny, bald, white guy, will stay with me for some time. It’s good for every citizen of the world to push the envelope of his or her comfort zone. For only there, across that bright line, is there growth. I can only imagine what our forebears must have felt queuing up at Ellis Island.

“Lauterer? What kind of name is that?”

Well, I suppose I should try to go to sleep, so that tomorrow I will not entirely embarrass Tar Heel Nation.

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