A Fond Farewell

Our time in Fujian has come to a close, and while we are looking forward to going home and reuniting with family and friends in Portland, we’ll miss our newly-made friends in Fujian.

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We’ve had a remarkable time with our Fujian colleagues and we look forward to sharing what we’ve learned from them with Oregon libraries. This trip will be a lifelong memory for each of us.  Goodbye, Fujian – we hope to see you again!

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Wuyishan

The second World Heritage site visited was Wuyishan, or Wuyi Mountain.  We took a long train ride to get there from Fuzhou (about six hours), but it was well worth the trip!

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Wuyishan is known as a resort area and we could definitely see a difference in the care that they’ve taken to make this area tourist friendly.  Lots of shuttle buses are available to take you to a variety of local cultural sites, a walkable “downtown” with lots of shops, restaurants, and hotels, and even a light and music show at a local amphitheater.

In the morning, we took a bamboo raft ride down the Jiuquxi river.  Definitely a highlight of the trip – beautiful scenery and great experience.

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We also got to see a part of the mountain called “Thread in the Sky” where you can walk between two massive rocks and see a small slit toward the sky – not exactly a trip for the claustophobic, but an interesting phenomenon to see.

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In the afternoon, we hiked up Heavenly Peak so that we could look down to the tea canyons below (and the river we floated on earlier that morning).  It was quite the hike up and we were feeling victorious to have made it to the top (there’s a half-way point where you can turn around – but you know that’s not the librarian way).

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Finally, that evening, we watched an outdoor theater production called Da Hing Pao, a wonderful show about “cha” (tea).   The 1800-seat theater sat on a 360-degree rotating platform, so during the show, the audience was turned “en masse” to different portions of the stage, including a tea plantation, tea house, the river, and more!  The show used over 100 performers and was a spectacular light and music display.  We weren’t allowed to take pictures during the show – so we can’t share the event with you visually, but it will stay in our memories for a long time!

On Sunday, we visited Wuyi College and Lori presented on Academic Library Design to a sizable group of students and staff (or at least we thought it was sizable for a Sunday morning @ 9:00!)  There was great interest in our presentation, as the library is currently renovating some of its areas and we had some great questions and discussion about making the academic library a comfortable learning space.

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Then, we were back on the train and headed back for Fuzhou…

Fuzhou’s University Town

An area of Fuzhou has a high concentration of universities all within a few miles of each other, hence the nickname the locals have given the area: “University Town”.

We visited five of the universities and their libraries: Fuzhou University, Fujian Agriculture & Forestry University, Fujian Medical University, Fujian University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Fujian Normal University.   Each university campus was impressive in its size (especially their large libraries!), but as we visited all of these places in the space of two days, it was a bit of a whirlwind tour.  Most of the libraries are either quite new or are being renovated.  Almost all have a large, professional-level auditorium/theater for lectures and staff development forums.  They tend to have grand lobbies, lots of glass, a large HD multimedia video display screen showing events or other messages and windows or doors that open wide to the air.  Here are individual the highlights:

Fuzhou University: Established in 1958, “Fu Da” has risen to the level of a highly ranked school and a member of the national 211 Program for higher education.  The library is beautiful and state of the art.  After Lori’s presentation on getting feedback from patrons, we took special note of a panel display outside the entrance promotlng the Library that was covered with handwritten post-it notes.  They told us it was library promotion month and the post-its were comments from students about the library service.

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Fujian Agriculture & Forestry University: This was an older building of very institutional style.  In China that means cold floors and white walls, little decoration and large functional rooms.  The Director said that they were in the middle of a project to “improve the environment”, which he said means making it more cultural and pleasing.  He mentioned hanging pictures on the wall and painting as part of the project.  Pat gave her presentation on Managing Digital Libraries to the library department heads and it was followed by a discussion in which they said they get most of their digital library materials from vendors.  We think they meant databases rather than books but sometimes we just weren’t sure!

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Fujian Medical University:  This was a newer building, built in 2011.  One of the common features of most of the academic libraries that we’ve seen is the number of print items they have – this is due to their accreditation process which requires that they have a certain number of volumes within the library.  At the medical library, this posed a unique issue, as they needed to keep their older print items for volume count, even though they have found that not many of their users use things that are older than 15 years.  They also had an interesting Museum of Life collection (no photos allowed) that let students and scholars study “real” human body parts and physical abnormalities in formaldehyde.

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Fujian University of Traditional Chinese Medicine: This university served about 10,000 students.  They also offer some of their classes in English and you don’t have to be a full-time student to take their classes – so we briefly considered enrolling in a class.  🙂  What was most impressive about this campus was their wonderful herb garden.

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Fujian Normal University: This is a large university that has a broad scope and a big student body.  The Director wanted to show us two things: a glitzy touchscreen exhibit in the lobby of a book he published on the history of the school and the important rare Qing Dynasty books in the Special Collection Department.   Lori gave her presentation on Library Promotion through Social Media and got many questions on how their library could use similar social media tools available in China to market their library services.

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Rock Star Status (aka Chinese Hospitality)

As we approach the end of our time in China, we’ve been reflecting on the fact that when we return home, it may take some adjustment back to our “normal” lives – not for the reasons you may think – but because the Chinese hospitality is amazing and makes us feel like Rock Stars!

Typically, when we arrive at a library, there’s a group of people to meet us, such as the Library Director, staff members, and always a photographer who documents each moment of our visit.   Thus, getting out of the car, we are “bombarded” with camera flashes as people greet us.  This must be what Madonna feels like when she gets out of a car.

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Speaking of transportation, we have the great benefit of having a driver take us to various locations (which is probably for the best, as we wouldn’t want to attempt to drive here where lanes are merely a suggestion and turning into  oncoming traffic is a frequent and common occurrence).   The best part is, when it’s time to leave a place, our car and driver magically appear, ready to help us with any bags or luggage and whisk us away to our next scheduled stop.

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Typically, during a library tour, we have an entourage of library staff that follow us and offer to hold any bags we may have and they’ve even offered to take pictures for us with our cameras, so we don’t have to do it ourselves!

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We just can’t say enough about our appreciation for our wonderful hosts – they are incredibly gracious and attentive and have made our stay unforgettable.  Sigh…it’s going to be tough going back to regular citizen status.  🙂

Nanjing Earthen Houses

We’ve had the fortune of visiting two World Heritage sites this trip – our first one was the Nanjing Earthen Houses – an amazing site to see, especially since it provided a different perspective on the modern day China than we have seen so far.

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The Nanjing site is famous for the unique round multi-story structures that were built by the Hakka people over 100 years ago for defensive purposes.  About 10 remain today surrounded by village clusters where clan descendents still live.  The oldest one we saw was built in 1380!  We drove about two hours from Xiamen up into the hills to get to these structures and in that time we went from modern day China back to an older, simpler life.  We stopped in a small village and had a “country” lunch, then passed several banana, tea, and palmelo farms before reaching these early homes.

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All of the structures are either square or round/oval shaped with a outer cement-like layers and wood on the inside.   Each contained an open-centered roof and a well within the structure.

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Today, very few of the original families that lived in these homes still live there, but a few still do!   Now, most of the people there are vendors who rent space to sell  tourist souvenirs, but you can still get a good idea of how people once lived, as they still have active gardens, chickens, and grains that they harvest outside the home.

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Xiamen Muncipal Library

We visited the Xiamen Municipal Library, which can truly claim to be the “center” of its community, as it is located near a shopping mall with nearby restaurants, hotels, a sports complex, and other community buildings. The library is a former warehouse facility that has been renovated to fit a library and includes an open-air garden in the middle of the library.  There’s also a museum within the library.

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The library makes extensive use of RFID for self-check circulation and automated materials handling.  This technology makes it possible to operate the extensive renovated building with minimal staff.  This was a common situation in many of the newer public libraries. One brand new neighborhood branch in the Xiamen sysfem has only 2 staff persons total who spend their time helping patrons in other ways.  Most libraries we visited either were already depending heavily on RFID or were making plans to do so.  The self-check machines were nearly always the first thing the libraries wanted to show us. Interestingly, this was not the case at the universities and even the glitzy new  Tan Kah Kee campus library at Xiamen University was not using RFID.

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We also liked the use of the big screen readers that patrons can use to read the daily newspaper – several are available in the lobby, which is open past library hours.

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Another very impressive service at Xiamen Municipal Lilbrary is a self-service 24 hour collection in the lobby which can be accessed using the natIonal ID card.  There are approximately 20,000 books in the small glassed-in room, as well as a few nice work tables and chairs.  The collection is both fiction and nonfiction.  Patrons can come around the clock to take what they want and check it out on the self-check machines.  The shelves have removable spacers which can sense misfiled books and can be used to produce a shelf report later during inventory.

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Pat and Lori both gave presentations to the XML staff on Friday afternoon, when the library closes its doors for weekly staff development time.  We’ve noticed this is a common practice among libraries in the Fujian province – one afternoon each week the library is closed for staff development and it’s also a time for weekly maintenance of the facilities.

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After our presentations, we were escorted to the music library room.  Silly us, we assumed this was the room where they kept their collection of music CDs/DVDs and music-related materials.  Quite a surprise awaited us!  We walked into a room with comfortable couches and a small TV, this was the karaoke room!  It was also the place that musicians can reserve to practice their performances.

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Then we were led past a sound room into a larger room with 15 leather recliner chairs that faced a wall-sized projection screen.  The room cost $5 million RMB to build and was the idea of the local government leader, who wanted a place for people to enjoy music.  Patrons can reserve this room to listen to music and watch videos of musical productions and concerts.  We were treated to a video performance of Song Yuling singing Chinese folk music to a crowded Carnegie Hall.  What a great way to relax after giving a presentation – comfy, plush chairs that allowed us to put our feet up while enjoying a cup of Fujian tea and beautiful singing!

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Xiamen University

On Thursday, we visited the main Xiamen University library and the Tan Kah Kee library (a branch campus of Xiamen University).  Deputy Director Wang Mingli was our very gracious host.  As we mentioned in a previous post, the heart of Xiamen city is on an island, but the city limits of Xiamen extends to the mainland.    The main campus of Xiamen University is on the island and one of the branch campuses that we visited (Tan Kah Kee) is located on the mainland. Since our hotel is located on the island, we took a ferry to the mainland to visit Tan Kah Kee, as it’s faster than driving.

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Wang met us on the island side ferry terminal and explained that many of our fellow ferry commuters were Tan Kah Kee teachers who take the ferry to the mainland everyday to the college.  Once we got off the ferry on the mainland side, a campus bus drove us to the campus.  The campus is quite large and includes a golf course, amphitheater, several large buildings, and supports 15,000 students.

The library is a marvel – five floors of marble and glass. They have compact shelving on the first floor for less-used items and on floors 2 – 4 study spaces and open shelves with printed materials.

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Wang helped to build the library and as its director, spends three days a week managing it and two days a week on the Xiamen University campus attending to his duties as a deputy director there.

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The fifth floor has tables that seniors can reserve to use for the term, meaning they are allowed to leave study materials at their table in the library for their studies.  They must check in with their library card every time they come to the library to use their reserved spot and if a student isn’t using their reserved spot regularly, they lose it.

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After our tour of the library, we had lunch in the faculty cafeteria.  The faculty cafeteria is on the first floor of a building that provides temporary housing (like a hotel room) for faculty who do not live in faculty housing on campus (i.e. those who live on the “island” vs. the “mainland”, should they need a rest during the day between classes or if their schedule requires them to stay on campus for an extended period.

Then, it was back on the bus and ferry to head back to the island to visit the main Xiamen University library.  Again, it was a large space with many different departments and staff.  One of themes we’ve noticed here is that libraries rarely say “no” to donations from people or organizations that offer them.  Thus, many of the cataloging departments are swamped with work.  At Xiamen University, they had stacks and stacks of boxes of donated books to be cataloged.  We asked how they prioritize and Wang said the university librarian, librarians, and sometimes faculty or scholars within a field/discipline will help determine what should be kept by the library and added to the library’s collection.  Those books that aren’t kept are sent to other libraries.

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An interesting project that XU is working on is digitizing pre-1949 newspapers.  They have two document cameras made by a company called TIZ that allow them to take pictures of them.

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We then met the Xiamen University Librarian, Dehong Xiao, who has visited Oregon.  He’s also the director of XU’s technology department, so he has a lot of duties on campus.

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We ended the day with a meal at a restaurant owned and managed by a Buddhist Temple, so it was entirely vegetarian and one of the most delicious meals we’ve had during the trip.

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Traveling to Xiamen

Pat had noticed that a group of Changting locals were practicing Tai Chi in the park across the street from our hotel.  So, on Tuesday morning, Pat and Lori joined them.  No doubt, it was quite humorous for those bystanders observing us as we tried to keep up.  Yet, the group was very gracious in allowing us to join them and they were delighted to take a picture with us – even giving us props (a fan and sword) to pose with, along with instructions on how to hold them.   We had great fun and hope we get another opportunity to try Tai Chi again during the trip.

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Later that day, we were on the road to Xiamen, which was about a three-hour drive through the mountains (and more tunnels) before we reached the beautiful island of Xiamen, on the southeast coast of China.  Along the way, Lori was able to snap a photo of traveling pigs – not something you see everyday in Portland!

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Upon our arrival in Xiamen, we were treated to a banquet lunch with the Xiamen Public Library director Lin Li Ping and other XPL staff, including Xue Henchiu , one of the Horner Exchange librarians from 2013 and Chen Feng, a Horner Exchange librarian from 2005.

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The Chinese Banquet – Lessons in Food & Culture

Upon our return from the walking tour of Changting, we were escorted to the conference evening banquet.  Being the out of town honored guests, we were seated at the ‘head’ banquet table with the FPL director and deputy director, as well as the local Changting library director and other Changting library staff.

A quick note on Chinese banquets.  Tables are always round and seat 8-10 people.  A large lazy susan is in the middle of the table and restaurant staff bring family-size plates and bowls of food out one-by-one and each person takes their own portion (with chopsticks or a ladle for soups).  Banquets usually consists of 15-20 dishes and the last dish always seems to be watermelon.  Generally, the guests of honor are given the first opportunity to take from a new dish that has been brought to the table and for specialty dishes (or those of local note), honored guests will be served a portion by the host, as a show of respect.  Each place setting consists of a small plate, a bowl (sometimes two), chopsticks and a spoon.   We’re not quite sure the proper etiquette of whether you’re supposed to put food on the plate or bowls (we’ve seen it done both ways), but the small plate is a place to put your discarded food (e.g. bones, shell casings from seafood, etc.)

As with our library conferences, the banquet dinner was the big evening event for the conference and the catering/restaurant staff at the hotel really went out of their way to provide many specialty dishes for conference attendees, including a snake and egg soup, a dish of snails, and what we think was the liver of perhaps a pig?  This was definitely the most exotic choice of entries that we have faced so far in our eating adventures and there was some nervousness when these particular dishes were brought out, as we were concerned that we might be served some of these specialty dishes by our hosts, which generally means you have to eat it, or at least attempt to eat it.

However, we learned early on in our banquet dining that sometimes, if you make yourself look busy with the food on your plate (i.e. trying to pick it up with your chopstick), when such a food is first brought to the table, they’ll allow a dish to pass you by without serving you or expecting you to take a serving before others at the table do.   This strategy appeared to be useful on this particular banquet evening, and a good reason to always leave a little bit of food on your plate (and not too get to adept at using chopsticks)!  The other strategy we’ve discovered, is to take a small amount, put it on your place and then surreptitiously hide the item under your discards when attention in diverted.  

Pat and Angela gamely tried the snails, but Lori took a pass, based on Pat’s comment that the French way of cooking snails with tons of butter and garlic make them little more palatable than the Chinese way of simply steaming them.

Another tradition of Chinese banquet dinners is the “toasting”.  This typically begins when the head person at the table stands up and goes over to another person at the table and toasts him or her.  The person being toasted is expected to stand up to receive the toast and both individuals drink from their wine glass.   Once the toasting begins, there can be a lot of standing up and down at the table.  And if the person toasting you says “Ganbei”, then it’s bottoms up!  As you might imagine, this can quickly get out of hand, especially when you have several people at a table coming up to toast you (as a guest of honor).

Again, as with our library conferences, this dinner was a chance for the attendees to cut loose and have some fun (as you know only librarians can), so the toasting and the “Ganbei’s” were flying a little more frequently than other previous banquets we’ve attended.   On this particular night they were serving us rice wine, instead of grape wine, and it was freely flowing among the attendees.  Luckily Angela taught us two words, which helped to mitigate the constant “Ganbei’s” we were hearing: yi ban (half) and dian dian (little bit).  Another lesson in the importance of taking the time to learn a dian dian of the local language.

Saturday siteseeing in Fuzhou

On Saturday, we got to enjoy several local cultural sites in Fuzhou. First, we went to Yongquan Buddhist temple located high above Fuzhou on Gu Shan Mountain.  The temple is known as the cradle of Taiwan Buddhist monasteries snd was built in the 17th century.  There are beautiful stone carvings on rock walls above a dry creek and a library containing more than 20,000 books from the Ming and Qing dynasties.  657 of the books are written in blood to underscore the message!  Pictures inside the library are forbidden but we got to greet the monk/librarian and pose for pictures with him.  The library also contains a shrine with relics (teeth) of Sakyamuni.  Miss Yang, one of our hosts and a Horner Exchange librarian who visited us this past April, shared with us organic peanuts in the shell from her friend’s farm while we toured the temple.

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Next, we had dumplings for lunch.  The restaurant was located  in a local department store with a food court in the basement.  It was very popular – the line was out the door – probably because the food was delicious!

Later in the day we visited Zheng Hai Lou, a protective structure that shields Fuzhou from storms based on Feng Shui principles.  It is a beautiful traditional building located on a hill in town that has a fantastic view of the city.  The building is still used by the municipal government for ceremonial events.  It has large red lanterns hanging on the outside that are lit up at night and can be seen around the city.

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