Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Major Major

This is “Major Major.” He is the People's Liberation Army Major assigned to take care of me. I think I drive him nuts. His English name is “Tony” and I, of course, asked him if he had ever heard of Tony Soprano. No.

I am in China for unknown reasons. I presented a paper on the European Coal and Steel Community as an example for scientific cooperation to a PLA university. The only problem is that in the middle of my research, which was pretty shoddy, I found out there was little S&T going on in the ECSC. No problem, I am an American, trust me, I will find a way to make it work.

So somehow I succeeded in suggesting that Jean Monnet and the ECSC has some lessons for Asian regional integration, even though every reputable scholar says no. Maybe not as an institution, but the process of cooperation needed to establish the ECSC is worth studying. The Monnet Method of gradual agreement over small objectives is effective and reflects how scientists work among themselves. Monnet did spend a few years in China. Yep, I was all over the map.

Major Major stayed up most of the night Sunday waiting for me to finish writing my presentation so he could turn it into a PowerPoint. The 14-some hours on the plane was not enough time. So I stayed up all night to get it done. He took my PowerPoint draft and turned it into a better one as I had no idea how. I did warn him it would not be done until 6:30am. My talk was at 8:30am.

It was very sweet of him and I really appreciated his help. But, I constantly pester him. Major Major, I ask: “so if I call the numbers on these cards shoved under my hotel room door will they talk dirty to me in Chinese? Why is the Chinese breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the hotel all the same? What kind of country does not get CNN on TV? Where can I get Lei Fang t-shirts? How about a Chairman Mao lighter? What, no Starbucks?!

The conference is all about national defense and scientific “cooperation.” The PLA apparently has a new policy: be nice to Americans, make one a friend. Thus, a theme is all about “mutual understanding” and “building trust.” I, of course, told them that “mutual understanding” reminds of the Japanese and that Americans will trust them when they stop their cyberattacks and do the right thing in Dafur. Jeeze, what did they expect…the food has been bad.

This was this PLA university’s first international conference. They have a lot to learn, starting with getting better coffee and some souvenir t-shirts. I think the real objective was to expose PLA academics to all sorts of spoken English (American, Canadian, English, New Zealand, Greek) and survive through very boring presentations. I really think 99% of the young PLA university students attending the conference had no idea what was said. Lucky them.

Anyway, I have done my part for "mutual understanding." Major Major now knows how to say: schlep, chutzpah, and putz.

Trust? Well, I'll work on that another day.

[This is not actually a picture of Major Major, but it would look a lot like the one I would take of him if he let me take it. He said it was some sort of violation. Probably just plain silly. Anyway it is probably better.]

PS: Our Man, I am simply stunned that someone actually missed me. I have no capacity to understand this. The usual response is to block, defriend, and cast me off.


  1. I assume that you are back in your regular armchair by now, but I gotta ask:

    "I think the real objective was to expose PLA academics to all sorts of spoken English (American, Canadian, New Zealand, Greek) and survive through very boring presentations."

    So does this mean that in the end you were sorta teaching English?

  2. Yes, especially to our escorts.
    The other was for the PLA university concerned to check the box: meet with Westerners, conducted mutual understanding. They are done for the year.

    PS Took me an extra day to get home as the connecting flight was late making me miss my flight home and thus I stayed a day in Beijing and finally saw Tiananmen Square.

  3. England expects a full de-briefing of your Chinese trinket, er, takeaway, er, box-ticking exercise, er, thing.

  4. That delay in your flight is really good, at least you were able to visit Tiananmen Square! It's a must-see place in Beijing, they say you haven't been there 'til you've seen the Square. :)


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