Friday, April 25, 2014

Mark Henderson Hired by Columbia College

Mark Henderson, who defended his MAA thesis on April 20, has been hired by Columbia College (Columbia, MO) to work as an instructional technologist. Mark begins work on June 1.

Mark is our second instructional technologist to complete our new MAA in technical communication, and the second employed!

Congratulations, Mark!

Literary Journal Launch 2014

Dr. Bill Church welcomes the crowd to the publications launch
The 2014 editions of Canvas and Mochila are ready for prime time! The staff of the two journals met in the Junior College Room in Blum Student Union to launch the new editions and read some of the work that made it into print.

Mochila is now an online journal that features the work from undergraduates nation-wide. Thanks to the efforts of Candice Prussman, the site is up and running. Mochila's managing editor is graduating senior Katie Walkup. Her staff includes Roxanne Chase, Jihyun Lee, Lindsey Lucas, and Crystal Crawford.

Canvas Editor Crystal Crawford
Canvas is MWSU's journal of contemporary literature and art that features the work of MWSU students, faculty, and staff. Canvas, available in the EML, is edited by Crystal Crawford. Her staff includes Katie Walkup, Lindsey Lucas, Roxanne Chase, Jihyun Lee, Kayla Harris, Jodi Stamback, and Ashley Snyder.

Web designer Candice Prussman shows the new site
Jihyun shares a poem
Lindsey reads her award-winning poetry
Dr. Bill Church steps down as faculty adviser to the journals this year. We thank Bill for working with students over the years to develop two very fine publications. Dr. Marianne Kunkel will join us in the fall to teach creative writing (poetry) and the publications courses. Bill will continue to teach creative writing (prose).

Starting this fall we will offer a new emphasis area in our BA, English in creative writing and publishing.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Outstanding Graduate Awards Presented

Outstanding Students and Some Pretty Good Mentors

The awards for outstanding graduates were presented on April 22, 2014. Faculty members who have worked closely with the graduates presented the awards.

Dr. Robert Bergland presented Mattew Hunt with the Outstanding Graduate in Convergent Media Award; Dr. Elizabeth Sawin presented Katie Walkup with the Outstanding Graduate in English award; Dr. Susan Martens and Mr. Tom Pankiewicz presented Jay Scott with the Outstanding Graduate in English Education award; Dr. Susie Hennessy presented Anna Guilkey with the Outstanding Graduate in French award; Dr. Miguel Rivera-Taupier presented Lauren Ferguson with the Outstanding Graduate in Spanish award. The EML literary studies committee presented the Sandra Jacobs Award in Literary Studies to Roxanne Chase. The award was presented by Dr. Trish Donaher.

Congratulations to our students for an outstanding undergraduate career!

Literati Roxanne and Dr. Donaher

Jay with Education mentors Tom and Susan
Lauran and Anna Celebrating Spanish and French excellence

Sigma Tau Delta Initiates New Members

Sigma Tau Delta conducted its initiation ceremony on Tuesday, April 22. On hand were advisers Dr.Trish Donaher and Dr. Ian Roberts. Past president Katie Walkup and current president Roxanne Chase conducted the rituals.

Sigma Tau Delta is, as explained by is official website, an English Honor Society at four-year colleges and universities established in 1924 to confer distinction for high achievement in English language, literature, and writing. MWSU's is one of 850 local chapters in the U.S. and abroad.

The new initiates are Daniel Cobb, Krista Hague, Matthew Hunt, Betsy Lee, Casey Leslie, Joseph Tucker, and Jessica Voelk.

Congratulations on your outstanding achievement!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Retirement Reception for Pankiewicz and Fulton

Karen and Tom Smile at the Idea of Grading Nothing

Faculty and students from EML as well as well-wishers from the campus and St. Joseph community gathered yesterday, April 22 to celebrate the teaching careers of Karen Fulton and Tom Pankiewicz.

Tom and Norma Bagnall scheme the Prairie Lands Way
Tom is a 1967 graduate of St. Joseph Junior College who spent many years as an English teacher at Benton High School in St. Joseph. Shortly after his retirement, Tom was hired to teach as a full-time Instructor of English at MWSU in 2000. Perhaps Tom's greatest legacy is work that he has done with Prairie Lands Writing Project, which he helped form with Norma Bagnall in 1987. From that time until his retirement--and beyond that--Tom has worked to help area high school teachers improve their writing pedagogy as well as their own writing.

Karen began part-time work at Missouri Western in 1985. In 1986, Karen was hired as an assistant professor of English. While rising through the ranks of associate and then full professor, Karen was instrumental in the development of the ENG 100 program. Karen also served as the university's Study Away Director and chaired the department's literary studies program. Eager to get a jump on the theater season, Karen retired last December.   

Dr. Fulton runs a meeting sometime in the last millennium
Karen and Tom leave both figurative and literal holes in our department. Not only will we miss their warm collegiality and wit, but there will be a noticeable emptiness in the area surrounding their respective offices (just a few feet apart) where countless students sat and waited for an audience with these two student favorites.

We hope that they'll come by the department and share some of their newly won free time. We were glad that retired faculty Frances Flanagan, Ken Rosenauer, Ann Thorne, and Rosemary Hoffman could be on hand to welcom Tom and Karen into the club.

Karen's husband Richard (L), Dr. Sawin, and Dr. Rosenauer congratulate Karen

Retired French Professor Rosemary Hoffman (C) chats with Claudine Evans and Ana Bausset-Page

Mercedes Lucero a Future Jayhawk

Mercedes Lucero, a MWSU graduate in literature with a minor in creative writing, is working on her MA in English at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. Mercedes was recently awarded  a fellowship to attend the University of Kansas where she will pursue a PhD in English and continue her work in creative writing. She will begin her time in Lawrence in the fall of 2015.

Check out Mercedes website for other news of her writing.


Monday, April 21, 2014

Foreign Language Day

Spring means Foreign Language Day, which brings enthusiastic high school students from the area to compete with each other. The approximately 150 young women and men had the chance to demonstrate their skills in a foreign language by participating in events such as the poetry recitation, poetry Slam, culture bowl, spelling bee, and a “sell it” contest.
There were also team competitions such as lip-synch performances, a representation of a historical event of the culture of the language they are learning, and the creation of video commercials.  From St. Pius X High School, the students of the French II class reenacted the famous poem “Déjeuner du matin” by Jacques Prévert to sell a coffee product. This high school has the largest representation in French as well.

The students from Maur Hill Mount Academy used their language skills and other talents to make an infomercial.

The event is an opportunity not only for the students to practice language skills, but also for MWSU to keep close contact with foreign language professionals in our region. We acknowledge the efforts of those teachers; they give their students a jump start on skills that they can continue developing at the college level. We hope to see many of them here engaged in modern language course work at Missouri Western.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Alum's Novel Getting Noticed

Alumna LeAnn Neal Reilly's latest novel, The Last Stratiote, is a contestant in the Breakthrough Novel Award. Last week she learned that her novel made it into the quarterfinals, which means that it is in the top 5% of the 10,000 entries. Publishers Weekly is reviewing quarterfinalists now and semifinalists will be announced on June 13.
Amazon has posted the quarterfinalists' excerpts and Vine reviews in the Kindle store for Amazon customers to read, rate, and review .
Ultimately, the finalists will be chosen by Amazon editors, but if you have a chance, read the excerpt and give a review!

Mark Henderson Defends MAA Thesis

Congratulations to Mark Henderson, who successfully defended his Master's thesis on April 18.

In his thesis "Thinking Digitally: Metacognition's Role in eLearning," Mark analyzed training materials from an international company based in St. Joseph. As part of his thesis, Mark wrote and submitted an evaluation report to his client.

Mark's committee included Dr. Kaye Adkins (committee chair), Dr. Robert Bergland, and Mr. Thomas Pankiewicz. Mark is in the Technical Communication option of the Master of Applied Arts in Written Communication.

Friday, April 18, 2014

ENG 100 Reception

Discovering the Student, Discovering the Self:

On Wednesday, April 9, 2014, Dawn Terrick, Director of Developmental Writing, hosted 80 people at the annual reception for the ENG 100 student publication Discovering the Student, Discovering the Self.  Dr. Vartabedian kicked off the reception.  Then students received certificates and awards and read their original work.  Students were joined by their family and friends as well as MWSU faculty, staff and administration and all enjoyed an afternoon of celebration. 

This is the eighth edition of Discovering the Student, Discovering the Self.   The essays that appear in this publication were selected by the English 100 Committee from submissions from English 100 students.  These student essays reflect the struggle and the joy, the hard work and the rewards that these students have experienced both in their lives and in the classroom.  Furthermore, these essays reflect the diversity of our English 100 students and the uniqueness of this course.  Our students are entering college straight out of high school and are returning to the classroom after years of work and family, come from urban and rural areas, and represent different races and cultures.  And this work is truly their work -- the committee has not made any revisions or corrections to the essays.  We invite you to read these essays on our website and hope that you will discover the same things that the students have discovered:  during their first semester in college they are discovering themselves, realizing that they are part of many communities and defining themselves as individuals, students, scholars and citizens.

MAA Alumna Stephanie Hartley Wins Mentor Award

2013 MAA graduate Stephanie Hartley, now an Instructor of English at Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ, is
a recipient of a College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Mentor Award. The award recognizes Stephanie's efforts to help develop positive relationships between the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) and the students living in the resident halls who are studying in CLAS. She received her nomination from a student in her composition course.
Congratulations, Stephanie!


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

EML Trivia Team Wins Silver

 Last Friday night your EML Trivia Team fought bravely against seven other teams in the annual Alpha Chi Lambda (Western’s Honors Society) and SHO (Student Honors Organization) fund raising event. EML trounced them all—including a nasty collection of Ohio State alumni—with the exception of one team: the Brain Busters. 

The Triva Team. Partial Meditation was Key to Near Victory (Jenéy photo credit)
Team captain Dana Andrews led a rag-tag bunch of people (Martens, Cadden, Katchen, Charlton, Adkins, and Jenéy) who clearly needed to know more about things like geography and science.

Questions that the EMLers answered correctly?

What narrow pass was held by 300 Spartan warriors against a vast Persian attack force?

Answer: Thermopylae

Who directed the Godfather movies?

Answer: Francis Ford Coppola

Who was Aristotle’s most famous student?

Answer: Alexander the Great

In what town in Italy was the Stradivarius violin created?

Answer: Cremona

What three-word American idiom means to go past the point of no return?

Answer: Crossing the Rubicon

Incorrect answers

What alloy is the result of mixing copper and tin?

Our answer: Pixie dust

Correct answer: bronze


What is the westernmost city on the African continent?

Our answer: Cheyenne

Correct answer: Dakar


What is a Badger’s dwelling called?

Our answer: Badger’s House or Toad Hall (depending on the scene in The Wind in the Willows)

Correct Answer: a “Set”


What are the thread-like substances in the nucleus of animal and plant cells?

Our answer: Biology thingees

Correct answer: chromosomes

Your second-place EMLers scored a 74/100, losing to the Brain Busters by 2. The outcome is being contested because it is suspected that the contest emcee, Bill Church, owes several of the Brain Busters some serious cash. We were also thrown off of our game by the Rorschach cookies, which we found distracting. C.J. insists that they are meant to look like Griffons. Meredith saw the Anti-Christ. Dana his landlord, which may be the same thing. Kaye thought it looked like a restrictive clause. In any case, as you can imagine, we missed a few questions fighting over an image that is clearly that of our twenty-first President of the U.S., Chester A. Arthur.

The EMLers’ second-place winnings ($200) were donated to the YWCA’s Abused Women Services in St. Joseph, MO.


An Update from Kris Miller

Kris Miller, a 2013 MAS in Written Communication graduate, has been working for American Business & Technology University since October of 2013 back when it was AC&T. The University is a 100% online institution, and major student populations are military students and adult learners.  
Kris (second from left) with his graduate committee
After starting out as an Academic Support Coordinator working with the Registrar and handling enrollment agreements and counts, Kris was moved to handling uploads of course material nd tests for the school's online network. Kris was told by his employers that there might be advancement opportunities in the future because of his Master's degree and overall experience that is related to online education, such as instructional design and manual and policy writing.  
Kris found his niche when he was asked to help with work on Articulate, a program for video capturing and animation technology. The purpose of working with Articulate is to engage students during lectures. Students will have the opportunity to interact with the content they are learning while the instructor gives a lecture. He will be helping the University further by building its interactive materials and writing its policies and manuals for how to upload course material and addressing college credits.  "I feel I am growing to be a valuable member of this rapidly growing institution," Kris reports.
Congratulations on a fast start, Kris!  

Monday, April 7, 2014

First Exchange Program Graduate

Congratulations to Michelle Yue Zhang on completing her Master's degrees in English at Xidian University and in Written Communication at Missouri Western.

Michelle is the first student to graduate from the exchange program with Xidian University in China. Students in the program complete coursework at Xidian, and then spend a year completing coursework at Missouri Western. They then return to Xidian to complete their thesis and defend it. Michelle's thesis is titled "A Contrastive Analysis of News Reports of Snowden Events in Chinese and American Newspapers from a CDA Perspective."

Thursday, April 3, 2014

March Activities

Dana Andrews and Cynthia Bartels, Instructors of English, attended the Conference on College Composition and Communication in Indianapolis, IN.

Michael Charlton, Assistant Professor of English, gave the paper “Writing with the Door Closed: Proprietary Information and Professional Writing Students in the Age of Open Source” at the Conference on College Composition and Communication in Indianapolis, IN.

Meredith Katchen, Instructor of English, attended the Great Plains Honors Council Conference in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

On Friday, March 28, Mark Henderson, and student in the Master of Applied Arts in Written Communication presented "Thinking Digitally: Metacognition's Role in Instructional Design" to the Technical Communication Teachers Workshop at Missouri State University. His presentation was based on his Master's thesis, which included evaluation and recommendation for improvement of on line training materials for a local company. Dr. Kaye Adkins also attended the workshop.

On Saturday, March 29, several students in the Technical Communication program participated in the Student Technical Communication conference at Missouri State University. Brandon Herring, Brenda Kohrs, Brian Ramsay, and Jessica Voelk presented posters of their research on technical documents. Mark Henderson and Jennifer Heater, students in the technical communication program, and Dr. Kaye Adkins also attended.

Work with teachers involved in the College Ready Writers Program (CRWP) funded by Prairie Lands Writing Project’s i3 grant continued in March with model lessons, book study groups, and other sessions with teachers and students in Braymer, Hamilton, and Breckenridge.  PLWP Teacher Consultant Kathy Miller (Weston High School) joined Co-Director Tom Pankiewicz (MWSU) and Principal Investigator Jane Frick (MWSU, retired) in delivering these programs.  On March 6
th  and 7th, Teacher Consultant Terri McAvoy (St. Joseph, retired) conducted model lessons and met with teachers at Pickett Elementary as part of the SEED 2 Professional Development in a High-Needs Schools grant. 

Episode 15: Pandas a Go-Go

Pandas a Go-Go

Living in a cave or under a rock would likely still not protect you from the connection between pandas ("Da Song Mao") and China. My initial reference linking China and pandas was when I was 9 years old and Richard Nixon was all over the news for something good: shaking hands with Chairman Mao and
acquiring Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing for the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Many folks remember Nixon for Watergate. But, at nine, the thing that stuck in my grey matter was Nixon, China, Pandas.

I remember various photos of the seemingly happy Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing. There were also periodic news reports of the poor couple’s inability to mate, or mate successfully (several pregnancies resulted in dead or quick-to-die cubs). A match made by Mao and Nixon. No wonder they couldn’t get it on with any good results. Theirs seems like a tragic international love story, but one that riveted many people: the panda couple brought to America only to suffer a sad life of frustrated breeding. Something in the bamboo, I presume?

One would think that pandas would be everywhere in China. Not so. Not so. In fact, very few exist in the wild, their habitat destroyed by “progress and development,” their eons-old mating habits a futile exercise in an ever-shrinking gene pool. If one wants to see pandas in China, one needs to go to Chengdu, specifically the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.

Chengdu is plane ride (about 90 minutes) or a train ride (about 12 hours) from Xi’an. We chose the plane due to time constraints.

If you were paying attention to the news last week, you knew that Michelle Obama was in China. She came on a “girls’ trip” (daughters + grandma). There was a stop in Xi’an for one day (see the Warriors, walk around the Old City Wall, meet some high school students for some softball Q and A: check, check, check, and moving on . . .). I am fairly certain that the cultural highlight of their trip to China was not Xi’an, The Great Wall, or the Forbidden City. It was a visit to see the pandas, at the preserve in Chengdu.

We landed in Chengdu a short 48 hours after Michelle et. al. left. Unlike the First Lady, we were not offered the opportunity to feed the pandas apples on sticks. But that is OK. We were still wowed and wooed by the big black and white bears (although we were told they have a completely different genetic lineage from other bears, so can we really call them "bears"?) who ambled around and lounged about like sloths. Even if we didn’t feed them an apple, Z got to get up close and personal with a baby named HeXing.
For a “donation” (a fairly steep donation, to be sure), you can cuddle and hold a baby panda while it slurps honey off the end of a bamboo shoot. The moment I booked the trip to Chengdu, Zephaniah could not stop talking about how he was going to cuddle a baby panda. He had various ongoing fantasies

Panda Kissing
about what it would be like, what he would say, what the panda would think, and how much they would both love each other for those few minutes of cross-species ecstasy.

The donation to hold a panda was a foregone conclusion before we even packed our bags to go to Chengdu.

I was skeptical about the preserve, being no fan of zoos or any other type of animal enclosure (see my post in October “Trip to the Zoo”). However, I was surprised and impressed by the Chengdu preserve. Not only was the area a beautiful idyll of bamboo, trees, and forested paths but there were several pavilions throughout the preserve devoted to education on the history of pandas, breeding habits, what the scientists were working on at the preserve, and why the preserve was essential to keep the pandas from disappearing from the planet. There were labs that could be observed in action. The panda nursery was off limits, but for a few minutes in the morning, the curtains parted and we could view baby pandas while they were being fed and handled. The areas where the pandas roamed were better than any I have seen, much better than a zoo – lots of natural landscape as well as human-made benefits added for panda pleasure (structures to climb and trees to perch in).

After moving through several of the educational pavilions and watching a documentary on the mating and birthing habits of pandas, it was abundantly clear to me that if humans had not intervened, we would no longer have this species on the planet. Development has destroyed much of panda habitat; add to that a small gene pool that creates a real barrier to breeding healthy offspring. These twin curses will quickly result in the demise of any species.

The scientists who work at the preserve are most interested in creating healthy babies. They have gone to great lengths to make that happen. Each panda’s genetics are mapped and they are then presented with mates which are least like them genetically. But that is only the beginning.  For pandas who are raised at the preserve, they really don’t “get” how the whole mating thing goes. Most animals learn by watching other animals mate. But with a small population, there is little chance pandas at the preserve will happen upon a couple of pandas coupling. Therefore, they are more in the dark about reproduction than a couple of Jehovah Witness newlyweds.

Ke Lin (female ) watching a mating video to get the idea
Last year the scientists tried a little “adult panda video” strategy: they videotaped a pair of pandas having some adult fun and then played the video for a female who was having troubles allowing her male mate to mount her. It worked. By watching the video attentively a few times through, the female panda was able to successfully mate with her science-match male panda. This could be the beginning of an entirely new market for panda porn. Watch out Hugh Hefner.

Getting a female pregnant is the first step, but the problems of panda preservation do not end there. Apparently the panda gestation cycle is as wild as a Midwest winter. She could gestate for three months . . . or six months. Who knows? Apparently, no one. Pandas are big and bulky, so her body size and shape doesn’t change much. She births the baby when it is practically a fetus (about the size of a hot dog and remarkably similar in appearance, only a hairy hot dog with a bleating mouth, 3-5 ounces and 7 inches long). The fetus-hotdog-panda-cubs are easy to lose or miss entirely (some pandas have given birth and walked off . . . “What was that? Oh, just a hot dog. Wow! Is that thing noisy. I think I need to head off to the old bamboo patch for a snack.”).

new born panda (naked-mole-rat-hot dog-fetus)
Even if she does notice and accepts that she has, in fact, given birth to a screaming hot dog that she wants to nurture, the cubs are frail; they have a hard time surviving. And, as we all know, motherhood is a thankless job. No matter how much you might enjoy that hot dog-baby, carrying it around by your nipple for months on end will try even the most patient mother. But leave it behind for a moment or two for quick break and something is liable to gobble it up as an afternoon snack.

There was some riveting footage in the “panda cinema” pavilion that showed a mother who gave birth and promptly was batting the baby around, as if trying to figure out what it was or how to get rid of it. The baby, a squalling naked mole rat-looking mess, would squeal piteously with each swipe of the mother’s giant paw. Panda hockey. When the uninterested mother finally turned her back, a quick keeper dashed in and saved the baby. Happy ending. 

As these things go, some mothers are better than others and take to child-rearing with aplomb. They nurture, they nurse, they produce enough milk to feed the cub. But many are unable to do any combination of the above tasks required to raise the cub, so typically the babies are raised together in a nursery setting. It has taken the scientists years to figure out the cocktail required to keep a panda baby alive and thriving. It has also taken them years to figure out processes that monitor hormone levels in females so they can predict when a pregnant female will give birth. Add to that the years it took to figure out how to breed (artificial sperm collection and insemination were du rigeur) a panda pair successfully and it quickly became apparent to me that the pandas owe their current survival to the scientists at the preserve. 

This link takes you to the preserve web site so you can watch a panda birth:
Baby Panda Pile-Up
Even so, the ultimate goal is to return pandas to their natural habitat. I was happy to learn that the preserve is starting to send pandas back into the wild. This process is just beginning (only two have been released and are being monitored) and it requires a whole different level of training and rearing for the pandas who need to be able to identify predators, escape predators, find their own food, and be able to problem solve without human intervention (“Uh, oh. I climbed too high in this tree. It felt so nice climbing up. But now I can’t get down. Help!” or “Oooh. That bamboo looks wonderful. But on the other side of the river. Hmm. I bet I can walk across . . . oops. Slippery rocks. Oh, no. Here I gooooooo.”).
Zhang Xiang, a two-year-old female, was released into the wild in November after her “rigorous training.” She is being monitored with a GPS collar and so far is doing well. She was released in the same general area as a male, Tao Tao – he went through the same training program and was released a few months previously. Tao Tao and Zhang Xiang will likely meet each other for the first time in a panda serendipity. “We’ve never met before . . . but I feel I must know you. Nice collar.

The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding was one of the best things we have seen in China. The workers, volunteers, and scientists at the base are doing A+ work and the pandas not only seem well-cared for, but happy and surrounded by a lush, diverse environment. And we learned a whole heck of a lot about all things panda. Some panda facts:

-          Pandas have been around, genetically, for 2-3 million years. They are often referred to as “living fossils.”

Doing what Pandas do
-          Pandas are known for eating bamboo and consume about 30 pounds of bamboo every day. Not only that, but they need to have a diverse diet of bamboo. There are lots of different kinds of bamboo and each kind offers different nutritional value to a panda. Because so many types of bamboo are no longer part of the environment (due to human destruction), pandas often have a hard time feeding themselves in the wild.

-          Pandas have a mouth like a carnivore (dog-like shape and teeth), so they can eat meat, but have evolved to choosing meat as the very last choice, preferring vegetation. They will eat a dead animal if they find it and are hungry enough, but rarely kill. Sometimes they can fish and have the claws to be successful at that. Z reported that the only uncomfortable thing about holding the baby panda on his lap was that the back claws kept digging into his crotch.

-          There are only about 100 pandas in zoos around the world. There are 9 pandas in United States zoos. If a panda mom in a zoo anywhere in the world has a baby, at the age of four years, the baby must be returned to the base in Chengdu (property of China).

-          In six months, a panda baby grows from “naked mole rat/hot dog” (7 inches/4 ounces) to “now you actually look like a panda” (50-60 pounds).

-          Baby pandas depend on their mothers for milk and protection for about one year and then they are more independent, but it takes another year before they can survive on their own.

 Before we visited the preserve everyone told us to get there early so we could see the pandas at their most active: in the morning right after their breakfast. Following that advice, we were the first ones through the gate at 8 a.m. on the morning we visited. The preserve sprawls over several acres, so we had a work-out climbing up and down paths and hills, shaded by trees and monster bamboo plants reaching nearly twenty-feet high. But we didn’t see any pandas. We would come upon areas where pandas were supposed to be, but nothing: as deserted and barren as a 7 a.m. college bar.

Close to an hour after we walked through the gates, Z asked for the tenth time, “Where are the pandas?” I was beginning to think we had come all this way simply for a nice hike. Finally we saw one. One. A big hulk of a guy who looked to be nursing a hangover, asleep on his bamboo loft. We were thrilled. I took several photos of him, as if he were the only thing we had come to see. Little did I know that in a matter of minutes, we would be surrounded by pandas.
First Panda Sighting
Come to find out, pandas are lazy risers. The gates opened at 8, but it wasn’t until about 9:30 or so that the pandas began coming out and moving around. Suddenly they were everywhere: pandas hanging in trees, piles of baby pandas wrestling on the ground, pandas meandering through the bamboo. Everywhere we looked there were adorable white faces peering curiously or politely ignoring us.

At one railing we came across a cluster of tourists who were snapping photos and laughing with glee at a lone panda. I took a gander to see what was so interesting. Ah, a panda pooping, shooting out wads of digested bamboo in perfect view of waiting cameras. I resisted that particular Kodak moment, but I am sure it would have made a great “selfie.”

It wasn’t until about 11 a.m. that we came upon the pavilion where we could donate to the cause for a photo op with a baby. The price is steep, so only a few people – all of us foreign tourists – were able/willing to pony up the cash for the chance. The preserve only allows six “donors” a day. There are about 10 panda babies that are rotated through for the “donor photo shoots.” The babies are about 8-10 months old and weigh about 60 pounds; before that age they are too small to be handled by people who don’t know what the heck they are doing; after eight months, they are too heavy and unwieldy for a tourist lap. One panda baby can be sat upon about three laps before he/she is rotated out and then back he/she goes to the outdoor play area.

Two baby pandas shaking their money maker for the preserve every day. Each baby panda sitting on three tourist laps, looking adorable for the camera, being kissed and cuddled because they are really so damned cute. Such a far, far cry from the screaming hot dogs they were only months earlier.

Z got the last slot of the day and he had to suit up in gloves, a surgical gown, and shoe covering to go in for the photo op. The baby pandas rather like the photo sessions because in order to get them to sit still, the handler gives them honey-coated bamboo shoots.  

As with any eight-month old, the pandas would slurp the honey off the bamboo, toss the shoot on the ground and then leeeaaan over, reaching out their paws, to the handler  for a new sweet stick to suck on, absolutely oblivious to the tourist on whose lap they were sitting. The babies would go through about five bamboo shoots in the minute or so photo shoot: lick, slurp, slurp, clatter, lunge; lick, slurp, slurp, clatter, luuunge. After three tourists and about 12-15 honey sticks, they likely needed to go work off that sugar high. Or collapse in a diabetic coma.
Panda Love
I felt more than a little dirty being complacent in this panda exploitation for tourist money. I can’t justify it, so I won’t even try.

As we were waiting around outside for the photos to be developed and presented, a Chinese-American mother asked me, “Was it worth it?” She had two daughters trailing behind her, pleading eyes asking for the chance to hold a baby panda. Crap. I looked at her. What to say? I said, “It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” She rolled her eyes. I said, “I know. Shit. It is a donation. A good cause.” More eye-rolling. Yup. My sentiments exactly. But I did it. I paid the cash. My son got to be the privileged-class white American boy who held a baby panda for three minutes of his life.

HeXing's Nursery Sign

The panda’s name is HeXing. He was born the day after Zephaniah’s birthday last July. He won’t remember Zephaniah, but Zephaniah will remember him.



All Koreans Look Alike

My graduate student class, “Linguistics, Language and Writing”, is comprised of 20 women and one man. Because of the gender dynamics, I am filling my syllabus with readings that pertain to women, the status of women, and gender issues. Last week they read articles on body image, the influence of media on women’s self-esteem, and the rise in plastic surgeries and body modification processes like Botox, teeth-whitening, dieting, liposuction, breast implants, and eye surgeries.
During discussion, someone stated that South Koreans regularly had plastic surgery. Interesting, I said. “Why is that?” I asked.
Sidebar: one frustrating thing about teaching in China is that it is difficult to find accurate information about what the statistics are for Chinese social issues or problems. I can find statistics for neighboring countries, but because of government suppression of information, research in China and publication of statistics is difficult. I looked, but could not find, information on rates of plastic surgery in China. For another lesson, I could not find data on domestic violence rates in China. A student finally located information that said 25% of Chinese women will experience domestic violence, but the researcher cautioned that the statistic was likely low because women fail to report incidences of violence as “family issues are considered a private matter.” I have yet to find a reliable source that will tell me the rate of HIV/AIDS infection in China, the rate of abortion, or statistics on prostitution/child trafficking.
Regarding my inquiry about why South Koreans have lots of plastic surgery, one student offered, “Because all Koreans look alike. They have to get surgery so they look different from one another.” I guffawed.
“Do you know what many Americans say about Chinese people?” I asked. “That they all look alike!”
I looked around the room at my diverse class. Yes, they all generally have the same color of hair, skin, and eyes, but they all are individuals and look quite different. They all, however, now looked startled. “How can we all look alike? That is untrue!” someone said with surprised indignation.
Yes. Exactly. It is stereotype created by people who are not paying attention . . . just like you saying all Koreans look alike.
“No. Really. Koreans do all look alike. But Chinese people all look very different.”
O.K. Fine. Whatever.
At the dinner table, I told this story about my class to Zephaniah. He said, “Are you kidding me? How could they not believe that all Chinese look alike!”
Zephaniah, apparently not one to pay attention to details like facial features, is constantly confusing random people for someone he knows.
Z: “Look! There is Juan!”
Me: “No. That is not Juan. That is a woman with long hair and glasses. About the same age as Juan. But that is not Juan.”
Z: “No. That’s Juan. Hey! Juan!”
Me: “That’s NOT Juan, Zephaniah!”
Z: “Hey! Juan! Hi!”
Miscellaneous Chinese Woman (smiling politely at the American kid greeting her enthusiastically): “!!??”
Me: (Hurrying Z along and ferociously whispering) “That. Is. Not. Juan.”
Z: “Hey? Hey, why didn’t she say hello? Hey! Juan!”
Me: “Oh, my GOD. Will you STOP doing that? That isn’t Juan!”
Z: “Hey! Look! I see Simon . . .”
Me: “That’s NOT . . .” Arrrggggh. “Would you please pay attention? That is not Simon!”
Z: “Mom! That is Simon. Look! Hey! Simon! . . .”