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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Chinese medicine up close and personal

Fujian province has many geothermal hot springs and consequently many spas.  Although residents don’t enjoy swimming at the beach, they do enjoy going to the spa for a hot soak, especially in the winter.  Massages are also popular and are considered a good way to maintain a healthy body.  There are commercial spas that offer a wide variety of massage techniques and there are traditional Chinese medicine establishments that offer Chinese massage treatments as one option for medical treatment.

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Our last morning in Xiamen was unscheduled, and Xu, our host, proposed going together for a massage.  There was much discussion about where to go and what kind of massage have but it turned out that the Chinese medical clinic was the most convenient option on a Sunday morning so we agreed to give it a try in the spirit of having a cultural experience.  Angela was delighted, as she goes for a Chinese massage each month in Portland.  Pat was happy to have some kinks worked out of her back after hauling heavy luggage around for several weeks and Lori was willing to give it a go.  We shared a room with 3 massage tables, 3 technicians clad in white nurses uniforms, a cup of tea beforehand, and then the experience of having intense pressure applied from head to toe and occasional moans and groans when one of us reached our pain limit and had to beg for mercy.  Now we know what it feels like when a Chinese doctor works on opening a blocked channel in the body. It hurts! Final verdict on repeating the experience: Angela – yes!  Pat – maybe… Lori – no thanks!

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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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Xiamen Children’s Library

Xiamen Children’s Library is another library under the Culure Dept. rather than the municipal library.  This is not an usual thing and has something to do with an intent on the part of the provincial government to promote cultural knowledge.  The Deputy Director  gave us a tour and then served tea while we sat in their meeting room and talked shop with key members of the staff.  The building is 6 floors tall, with reading rooms and service points on most floors.  It’s open 7 days a week until 6:30 pm. As with every public library we’ve seen, it’s fairly empty during the week and extremely crowded on weekends.  Consequently, it opens at 8:00 am on Saturday and Sunday.  It’s a little eery to visit big buildings full of technology and materials but no patrons, but every library has talked about the huge crowds they get on the weekend.

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Notable facts about the Children’s Library:

– It has a cool rooftop vegetable garden tended by children as a library weekend activity.  Each child plants some seeds in a big pot, tends that plant as it grows and gets to take home the harvest.

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– It also has a couple of craft rooms and a cullture room where cultural programs take place (such as puppet shows, music and classes in the Fujian dialect).

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– There are over 1,000 events each year.

– All the storytime programs are given by volunteer parents (a common theme).

– They have 870,000 ebook titles!  The ones we saw were anime-type animations, some with educational themes.  It sounds like many come in packages from publishers and some may even be provided by companies.  The ebook collection takes 12 terabytes of computer space.  We made him repeat this figure, but apparently it’s true!

– There is a collection of 200,000 books in English purchased with funds received each year from a foundation. We saw many picture books we recognized.

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– The touchscreen ebook stations have a one hour time limit because parents don’t want their kids spending too much time on the computer because it’s not good for their eyes. The computers have filtered Internet access.

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– Library staff give outreach talks at schools once a month to promote the library.  They were very curious about other ways to get kids interested in the  library, especially teens.  But teens are mostly working so hard to prepare for the national exams that they don’t have much time for anything else.

– They love the idea of Read To The Dogs!

That evening, we were treated to a lively banquet with the Xiamen Children’s Library staff, including the Director, who had just returned from the conference in Changting.

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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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