Wednesday, June 22, 2011
After more than 14 hours in the air and another 6 hours in airports, I’m back from a trip to China. The picture above was taken in front of the Marble Boat at the Summer Palace in Beijing. I am in the College of Arts and Sciences t-shirt. On my left is Yangbo Ye from the University of Iowa and on my right is Freydoon Shahidi from Purdue University.
I went to deliver a series of lectures at a summer workshop for young faculty, post docs and graduate students. All of the attendees were from China, but many of them were studying in the United States and Europe. These were very, very smart mathematicians. The quality of the questions they posed kept me on my toes. I also had the opportunity to hear some of my workshop colleagues’ lectures and to learn a thing or two.
While in Beijing, I spent most of my time on mathematics and being an emissary for UNL, but did get to do a little sightseeing. It seems Beijing is totally different each time I visit. The last time I was there was in 2008 — once before the Olympics and once after. I went twice that year.
There’s still a lot of building going on, but not as much as back then. Traffic is just as bad as ever.
The one thing I really noticed this time is the burgeoning middle class. The cars are bigger and more luxurious. It’s much harder to get a taxicab now because more people have the money to take one. You see more expensive restaurants, more advertisements for travel, and more Western influences like the Nike and Adidas stores in the shopping malls. Yet they don’t have Twitter. It is blocked, along with Facebook and many other social media sites.
China is an interesting country. It has wealth, yet the water from the tap is undrinkable and there is substantial poverty. It has a very highly functioning society, yet is very far from a democracy.
My experience reminds me that I want to get as many of our students to China and get as many Chinese students to our campus as possible. China is now the second largest economy in the world and is the largest country in the world in terms of people. It’s very clear that China is becoming a larger player on the international scene. We owe it to our students to prepare them as best we can to work with this global power and to understand the issues its people face and the opportunities they present.
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