We were out the door around 8:30 a.m. for our meetings with Siyuan officials, but not even 10 seconds into our ride, we heard loud popping noises on the street and then a car entered the hotel driveway adorned in ribbons and flowers—a Chinese wedding, complete with firecrackers. Why so early? The Lu’s explained that the first time you are married in China, you get married in the morning. If there is a second marriage, it would take place in the afternoon. What if you got married a third time? Well, laughed Dr. Lu, then probably you would get married late at night.
Our ride to Siyuan University took us through the bustling city streets of Xi’an—shopping, noodle stands, and plenty of pedestrians. Even though there was less traffic in general than what we experienced in Beijing, there was more honking. Our route changed to highway and then to more rural roadways. As we’d seen in just about every place we visited, there was major building and construction underway, both in the city and in the less populated areas.
Once on the Siyuan campus, we were brought on a short tour of a faculty development lab and later, in the university’s library, we took in a 3-D scale model of the campus and a room that showcased the university’s 16-year history, including the torch that Chairman Zhou Yanbo was chosen to carry in 2008 as part of the Beijing Olympics.
Asked to sign a large red guest book, President Schott offered both her signature and her wish for the fruitful collaboration between our universities. We enjoyed a short break, including our introduction to Chairman Yanbo and their Provost and a chance to chat and enjoy jasmine tea, before heading into a well-appointed conference room for our discussion on academic programs and partnerships.
The main point of order? To expand our partnership with Siyuan, which has been in place for six years, to include the creation of majors delivered jointly through UMPI and Siyuan. Through such an agreement, students would be able to complete some courses on site in China and have the option to travel to Presque Isle for their last year or two. Excitingly, our UMPI students would have the same opportunity to complete their coursework at Siyuan University in Xi’an, China. Discussions about how to make this work for both campuses took the entire morning and only broke off as we needed to eat.
Following a quick, working lunch (which still featured the traditional round Chinese table and about 20 different dishes), we moved to the university’s administration building to continue discussions with Chairman Yanbo and his staff. More detailed discussions will need to take place in the future, but at the end of our talks, to symbolize our collaboration and good will, we exchanged gifts from our respective campuses.
Later in the afternoon, we had the opportunity to visit a historical site, the Tomb of Emperor Jingdi (also known as Hanyangling), which featured some of the ancient terra cotta warriors that had been unearthed. The museum was underground and before we were allowed to enter, we were asked to enclose our feet in little blue baggies elasticized at the ankle. Tres chic!
The terra cotta warriors themselves were probably about 2-3 feet tall and the site showed the excavations encased in glass. In fact, at some points along the way, we had the opportunity to traverse glass-paned walkways and look beneath our feet to view some of the excavations. The site featured many half-sized warriors, chariots, horses, pots and other items that it was thought the emperor would need in his afterlife. Before we left the museum, we had a chance to watch a 3-D holographic “movie” about the Han Dynasty and the politics, family history and court intrigue that happened centuries ago.
Our Siyuan hosts honored us with a very special dinner featuring a traditional specialty—a whole roasted lamb. The meal started in a reception area with modern Chinese furniture done in a traditional style and bowls of several snacks (pumpkin seeds, cherry tomatoes, pistachios, etc.). For atmosphere, a TV at one end of the room was turned on to national sports news. 😉 Next, we were served an extravagant-looking tea we’d never had before. It was presented in glasses that looked more like beer mugs and had nuts, dates, huge sugar crystals, and flower buds floating in it. Not only was it delicious, our hosts explained, it was a natural fat reducer.
Especially helpful, considering the meal we were about to eat. In the next room over, a special table had been set with a whole roasted lamb on a rack placed in the middle. At each of our place settings, there was a clear plastic glove along with our plate and silverware and we were instructed to put the glove on and use our hands to pull meat from the rack. Scraps and used gloves were to be discarded into a well underneath the “rack of lamb.” It was a lot more intimate contact than we were used to having with roast lamb, but it was decadently spiced and absolutely delicious.
The lamb was served with several smaller dishes, including raw cloves of garlic, broccoli, prepared cabbage, and a special type of flat bread. It was a little difficult negotiating the plastic glove and the lamb and then the chopsticks and the rest of the food, but we managed. When we got to a certain point in the meal, the server took apart what was left of the lamb which led to the utterance of several sentences that we probably wouldn’t use anywhere else ever. For example: “Should I pass the legs?” And, when the President got hit in the face with a piece of lamb as it was being taken apart: “I just got lambed!” Or Tom’s improvement upon it: “I just got lamb-inated!”
We had just about gan bei’d and gorged ourselves completely when one of our hosts, Tommy, said it was time for the second course. SECOND course? Well, it was a chance to experience a traditional Chinese hot pot, so how could we say no? We moved over to the next table with a large pot of steaming broth in the middle and bowls filled with vegetables, noodles and meat encircling it. Using our chopsticks, we dipped mushrooms, cabbage, bok choy, chicken liver and ramen into the broth, cooked it to our preference and then ate it in small bowls of the broth mixed with sesame paste and coriander. The only disappointing thing was that we were too full to enjoy very much of it.
We thanked our hosts for yet another amazing meal and then headed back to our hotel for as much sleep (and in some cases pepto bismol) as we could get.