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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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.

Historic Changting

Changting is designated as a national historic and cultural city. It’s the center of the Hakka ethnic group, was a center of revolutionary activity in the 1930s and the hometown of the Red Army.  Mao Ze Dong spent time in Changting in 1932 along with Soviets assisting in the Revolution.  They occupied buildings that are now museums.

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A local librarian from Changting arranged a walking tour of these sites after the conference.  We visited a former Confucian temple where Mao and colleague Zu De stayed.

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We also saw a missionary hospital in which one of Mao’s daughters was born. The picture in the photo below is of Mao’s wife.

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We also went to a Song Dynasty (960-1279) building that was used as an Imperial Examination site during the Ming and Qing Dynasties.  In 1932, the first congress of delegates of workers, peasants and army men was held in the building and later it became the headquarters of the Soviet government in China.

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Changting is very proud of its role in Chinese history and it was a great treat to see these places for ourselves.  Our tour guide sang 2 beautiful revolutionary songs – beautiful melodies that ended with a unique whistle – used by the comrades as they carried on the struggle.

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Our last stop was Changting’s mother statue, where we also were treated to a beautiful sunset.

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Fujian Society of Library Science conference

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Monday we participated in the annual conference of the Fujian Society of Library Science.  The conference opened at 8:30 with remarks by Fujian Provincial Library Director Zheng followed by a speech by the Deputy Director of the Fujian Culture Dept, Chen Ji.  At the morning break we were invited to meet with Deputy Director Chen for a short meet and greet conversation.  He was very gracious and interested in the state of our libraries in the U.S.

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Several short presentations followed given by library system vendors and then it was time for Lori’s presentation on Academic Library Design.

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Pat’s presentation on Services to Children and Teens at Multnomah County Library was next on the program after a lunch break.

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In contrast to American library conferences, there was one continuous session with many speakers rather than multiple tracks or workshops to select.  The audience took notes or listened, but did not ask questions or engage in discussion.  It had more of the feel of a day-long class than an opportunity for collegial discussion.

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On the way to the library conference

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Sunday morning we left for the Fujian provincial library conference, held this year in Changting.  Changting is located at the far western edge of Fujian province near the border with JiangxI province.  Six of us rode in FPL’s Buick Shanghai GM minivan (not including the Chairman), following Director Zheng’s car in a little motorcade through the lovely Fujian countryside.

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Fujian province is rural and lush with tropical greenery and the occasional farming village.  It’s very hilly.  As we drove west we passed through a mountainous region, driving on a 4-lane toll road with little traffic.  The engineering solution to building the road through the mountains was to tunnel under rather than going over.  The toll road had dozens of long, illuminated tunnels, some of which were longer than one kilometer.  It was an impressive and beautiful drive.

As has been a common theme on this trip, we were treated to a delicious banquet along the way by the FPL staff.

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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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Sanfangqixian

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On Friday afternoon, we were taken to Sanfangqixian (Three Lanes, Seven Alleys), a cultural area in Fuzhou.  We were able to visit the home of Martyr Lin Juemin and local poet, translator, and writer Bin Xin.

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We also saw the traditional home of a government leader during the Qing dynasty, which included beautiful displays of embroidery panels and other handcrafts.  This was one of Lori’s favorite stops, as the detail and artistry of the embroidery and handicrafts was amazing.

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Our final stop was the memorial of Lin Zexu, a Qing official who banned opium trading in Guangzhou in 1840.

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As we travelled between each historical site, we were able to browse at local shops and vendors.

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Our evening was capped with dinner at local restaurant.

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Fujian Children’s Library

FPL Children's Library

We had a delightful time visiting the Fujian Children’s Library which has five floors of library materials, resources, and space for children, teens, and families.  The library was designed to resemble toy blocks and was built in 2011.  Construction cost 14 million RMB.  Library Director Zheng WeiGuang personally designed the interior, using standards and consulting experts in the field.

They have many wonderful features at this library, including a technology area for children, a section for the visually impaired, many different study, reading and play spaces, a computer lab, lecture hall, and multifunction room, just to name a few things.  China Telecomm donated the iPads and other gaming technology.  They use a self-help system for patron registration made by 3M.  One of the multifunction event rooms has a high-tech floor with memory made by a German company.  The entire building is constructed with green technology materials.

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We held a discussion session after the tour during which Director Zheng described his plans for next steps in the library’s development.  Being just 2 years old, the focus so far has been on getting the building open and operating.  The collection is still small and they have not had time yet to develop many library programs.  These are definitely on the agenda, as is beginning a program to support schools in Fujian Province.  Pat described MCL’s School Corps program and other outreach programs, which impressed them and gave them ideas.  They have 8,000 primary schools in the province to serve!

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As part of our tour, we were also able to see the remains of the original Fujian Provincial Library (built 100 years ago during the Qing dynasty) that resides on a corner of the property where the Children’s Library was built.

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Fujian Provincial Library

FPL self checkout

Today we visited the Fujian Provincial Library, where we were warmly and enthusiastically greeted by the library staff.  We were given a tour of the large library and an overview of their latest activities, which includes a national project sponsored by the Department of Culture to preserve cultural documents and artifacts from the Fujian Province and make them freely accessible to patrons.

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Lori and Angela gave their first presentation about Library Promotion through Social Media, which was received with great interest and many questions.  According to the FPL Library Director, this is a “hot topic” for many Fujian libraries.

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Later that evening, we were treated to a delicious banquet with the FPL staff and the External Culture Director from the Fujian Province Department of Culture.  We enjoyed many special dishes that Fujian is known for, including a crab dish, a “chicken” soup made with seafood, and a Chinese olive.

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