Cross-Border Trade

Cross-Border Trade
Originally uploaded by paulbrockmann.

As I mentioned earlier, this is not a formal border crossing; indeed,

on the Chinese side at least I noticed a few soldiers with binoculars,

who I assumed were watching for illegal border-crossing attempts. It

interested me that on the Chinese side, there’s quite a bit of

development: this is clearly a regional draw, with tour groups coming

from Guangzhou, Nanning and elsewhere in the region. There are TONS of

stalls selling useless trinkets, what looks like a rather nice hotel

with views right out over the waterfalls and a decent restaurant, and

so on. Though it wasn’t overrun with tourists the day I was there, it

was certainly a popular attraction.

On the Vietnamese side, there are very few people. In some of the

following shots, you’ll glimpse the small footbridge that allows

people to cross from the mainland over onto the little island in the

middle of the two different sets of cascades — the island is in

Vietnam, and the boats that operate from the Chinese side come right

up to it, but no one is allowed to step out. However, the enterprising

young man here has set up a small operation from which he sells

drinks, cigarettes and various little trinkets to folks on the boats.

I found myself contemplating the meanings of borders and of history a

bit as I wandered the trails around these lovely falls. Any American

of my generation grew up knowing there was this dreadful war with

which so many in my country disagreed — for me and many like-minded

Americans of my generation, Vietnam has been for a long time a symbol

of American foreign policy gone tragically astray. It felt nice,

thirty years after my country stopped trying to defoliate Vietnam and

crush their independence, to give a wee bit back by buying a bottle of

water from this guy. 🙂 And on a broader note, to think about the

fact that thirty years ago, no American would have been welcome

anywhere near this spot — whereas now, I can have nice talks with my

fellow tourists and even a bit of a chat with the young soldier who

encouraged me to take the boat tour…for which I thank him, since it

was indeed interesting.

Paul at the Falls

Paul at the Falls
Originally uploaded by paulbrockmann.

The shot of me with the waterfalls below and farther away was taken by

the friendly young soldier mentioned earlier. (Couldn’t get a picture

of him since it’s not permitted; indeed I hope in mentioning him here

I’m not breaking some rule…) The one with me and two young friends

was suggested by the taller of the two guys, in the blue athletic

gear: he came up with his camera and asked if he could have a picture

with us both, with the Vietnam side in the background. Then his

brother joined in, and I decided to ask his parents to take a shot of

me as well.

This kicked of a bidding war for shots with Paul: this family was part

of a bus tour from Guangzhou, and just about everyone on board lined

up to get a picture with me. In the background is Vietnam. And while

we’re at it, let’s not forget that during the US war against Vietnam,

China worked with the Vietnamese…but within ten years of the end of

our war, China and Vietnam themselves had engaged in some pretty

serious cross-border wars as well. I’m quite happy that these seem to

have calmed down — it’s nice that in at least some parts of the world

things may be getting more stable and peaceful.

After this you’ll see a few shots from on the boat, or close up to the falls.

Nanning Running Tour

(Note from October 2016 – I’m slowly updating all the older blog posts to bring all the photos into one post rather than one by one, as I had to post them when I had to email photos to flickr in order to get them into my old blog…they’re still very low resolution and tiny images, sorry…but at least the posts will be more coherent, and I’m finding some other photos that had gotten lost through the emails or the censors or whatever over the years…)

Since I’ve been showing shots of the more touristy and lovely parts of China — Beijing, Nanhu Park and dowtown skylines in Nanning, and Hong Kong — I wanted to give you all a sense of the contrasts between wealth and poverty, developed and undeveloped, that we see every single day in Nanning. I hope there will be more of these photo tours
later, if you like this — I admit at the outset that I may have gone overboard. But I find these contrasts and views and ways of life absolutely fascinating. Though the blog will show these as posting on
Friday, June 17, here in China it is Saturday morning, June 18. I took my little digicam along for my run on Thursday morning, since my running route presents a good number of contrasts that Americans and other developed-world folks would find interesting I think.

So herewith, Paul’s running tour of the southeastern corner of Nanning. I also note at the outset that I’m trying a new method of posting photos, which may or may not work as I hope. I’m sending batches at one time, with a text block that’s meant to accompany all of a group. If the blog works as I hope, the text will appear only once. I’m afraid, though, that the text may post with each individual photo. If this happens, I apologize and hope you won’t be discouraged from clicking onward to see the rest of the photos. As you know, I have no ability to access my blog itself and thus manage its presentation better, while I’m here in China. When I get to Hong Kong or elsewhere where the restrictions on web content are not applied, I may be able to fix this. 🙂

In any case I hope you enjoy these shots. They include me and my housemates on the steps of our house, and the house next door to ours, which has been under construction for a while. These are pretty glamorous — enough that I’ve been embarrassed to show our house until now, when I could give you some context for it. My housemates are
(left to right), Francoise (doctor at AIDS clinic, French), Laura (nurse at clinic, English), Manuel (country logistician in
coordination, French with Spanish Mom), and me of course. The other shots show the street corner just uphill from my compound, with the start of lovely big Green Mountain Park on one corner, a new complex just going up on another corner (the big pylons you see, and the woman with the wheelbarrow), and two other complexes on the other two corners.

One last note about the construction in our compound. I’ve said before that it ain’t the unionized crews we know in the US…these guys work from 6 or 7 AM until 7 or 8 or later at night. Often when it’s hottest, they do the hottest work until midnight – roofing and tar and stuff. And another interesting factoid: the construction crews live in
the house they are building. There must be running water brought in, since I don’t see them carrying water, but I do see them showering and doing laundry (yeah, they shower in the houses without windows and stuff) and hanging the laundry out to dry…and cooking dinner and watching TV on the mounds of dirt on the ground floor at night. Guess
that means they have electricity already, too, which makes sense since I hear them using buzz saws and stuff a lot, too. Anyway, it’s interesting, though dusty and loud.

The work continues well. We’ve just submitted our second-half budget reestimation (my first big financial job), which included our action plans for both projects and coordination for the balance of the year. I can now say that the coordination team (with me) will move to Beijing in the fall, so the AIDS clinic here in Nanning can grow up a
bit more independently — this is the more typical MSF model around the world. For MSF it’s been a bad couple of weeks: colleagues arrested in Sudan, kidnapped in Democratic Republic of Congo, the anniversary of the murders of colleagues in Afghanistan. We’ve all felt these losses and worries, since many of us know people who work
in these places. But here in China, we’re trying to grow our projects and continue to take care of our clients, and it’s nice we can do this in a climate without serious security concerns. And I continue to be very happy I’ve made this choice, though I do miss my friends and family.

Take care, enjoy the photos, and keep in touch.

Glamor and Mud

(Updated as well, in October 2016, just to get all the photos in one place, and also to combine a lot of smaller posts into one. Sorry that all I’m finding still are very low-res photos. Hope they at least read better now, although in truth at the time part of what I wrote about was the posting process and how frustrating it was from China, and in the early days of blogs with lower bandwidth…)
You may recall the shots of construction and big buildings that I took from Nanhu Park back when you, my  readers, were telling me you wanted PHOTOS of Nanning rather than words. In one of these shots, you see what looks like an abandoned lot with grass and construction stuff strewn around, and in the hazy (after I got home from my run, I heard it was 94% humidity that day) background you can sort of make out some of those buildings. I think that skyline is less than five miles away, though I’ve not measured it.
The other shots include one of my favorite contrast shots – beautiful flowering tree next to lamp-post from streetlight, with shack in background in little hollow among the hills and mud where a family is living and making do somehow. Also in this shot: more views of construction, and a large wooden spool that for some reason is sitting on the sidewalk right next to the entrance to the (very glamorous) complex where my MSF housemates and colleagues and I have been spending many weekend afternoons by the pool, and several weekend evenings playing (finally, yay!) tennis. That’s the yellow building you see in the background, and in some of the previous shots; across the street from the big columns and the woman with the wheelbarrow you just saw. This is literally the end of the line for glamor development, until you get to Riverside Drive, a bit further on.

What I hope is the last shot here shows the glamorous part of what I think of as Riverside Drive (its real name isn’t shown on my map), of which you’ll see a good deal in the next set of photos. I think the relatively manicured and clean beauty of that shot contrasts nicely with the other photos in this set. This street here is maybe 1/2-mile long, and leads down to (or back from) the river and Riverside Drive.

It is lined with the cinder block shacks you see — right now almost all of them are empty. Once more folks move in here — when the development along Riverside Drive is complete, when the road that connects up to downtown is done, when all the many other buildings you’ve been seeing are occupied — no doubt many little shops of the sort that are omnipresent throughout China will go in. But for now, it’s what you see…including the women selling vegetables and meat by the roadside. (Oh, and by the way, since this road deadends in the dirt field with the blue arrow you will see in the next batch, it’s not like there are tons of cars on here, either; I’ve never seen one car yet, I think, but some motorbikes of course.) I think most of these folks live in the green hills and shacks you see in photos later on, many of which are back behind these rows of cinder block squares. Comment from Francoise when I showed her this shot: “what you can’t see in the photo is all the flies buzzing around the meat.” This is when I’m glad I’m only eating the vegetables – which you can’t really see here, but looked gorgeous.

I’ve got a basic circle loop that I run in either direction depending on my mood. Today I ran down this road first, past the building where we go swimming and play tennis, and over the course of maybe a mile I see so much contrast it’s boggling. In these shots you see the beautiful streetlamp designs that light this completely empty road at night, and some of the beautiful flowering trees that have been put in lining the road. You also see, in one shot, one of those same lamp-posts drawing up the margin on the left side of the shot, while we look uphill to another cinder block building where folks are living and carving out an existence somehow.

If you knew this street, and Nanning traffic as I do, you’d laugh at the pedestrian and wheelchair crossing sign. It’s lovely in concept, except for two realities: 1) There are NO CARS on this road — yet. (Don’t worry: they’ll come; as I said, this city is growing very fast.) 2) There exist in all of Nanning no more than 10 drivers that would take any notice whatsoever of those signs or act on them if they did take notice of them. To call Nanning’s roads a chaotic mess of terror is to somewhat understate the case, I think. My two acquaintances who’ve been here longest (English teachers at Guangxi U who’ve been here three years) tell me they think it’s simply that all the roads, and all the cars, are so new to folks that they just don’t know the rules of the road yet — they tell me most of these hard-surfaced roads, and the cars that go on them, have really just come since they’ve been here.I include the street sign of Qingshan Lu and Qingxiu Shan because that’s my street, and Qingxiu Shan is Green Mountain Park – uphill from this sign is the intersection I showed you earlier. I also include it because it, too, is funny to me in such a traffic-free context. But I do admire the advance planning that’s gone into building these roads and infrastructure for the needs that will surely come.

Then there are more contrast shots: the one with all the plastic hanging, and the brick shacks is a place where I think the family is raising fish in fish ponds to sell at the market. Having seen a woman washing her clothes in one of the ponds, though, I’m no longer as sure as I was the first time I saw this. Across the street from these ponds is the graveyard you see. This is interesting because, according to Keith in Hong Kong, graveyards have not been permitted in the PRC: some time after the Communists took power, they made the (to my mind, extremely logical) decision that China could not afford space for all the graveyards its population would need, so they’ve been encouraging (or requiring) cremation. This means graveyards are a very rare sight in my experience of China — except the old tombs around Xian up north, for example. And I assume that, when the development fringe reaches the few hundred yards further to where this graveyard is, this graveyard too will vanish. Perhaps I’m wrong.

A fairly wide and full, muddy river runs through Nanning. Colleagues and friends who’ve worked here a few years tell me that as recently as two years ago almost all of the city was inland and north of the river; I know for a fact that until two years ago there was only one bridge over the river in town (a town that now has two million people, with the airport among other things on the other side of the river from downtown — compare this to Pittsburgh’s 500,000 people and countless bridges!). In any case, the usual route for my morning runs is down by the river; the reasons for this include very little (no) car traffic, and this is the only road I’ve seen in Nanning that is paved with blacktop rather than concrete. My old running buddies from Long Beach Front Runners will know how I feel about running on concrete! 🙂 (It’s many times harder than blacktop, so it kills your joints.) In any case, this batch of shots shows you a bit of the road and its environment. The paved stretch is maybe two miles long. The pictures below include photos of both ends of it: at the southeastern end it peters out into a dirt track (it’s the shot with the flags and ads in Chinese running along both sides of the road) that runs into Green Mountain Park, which occupies the riverbank for a good stretch starting there: you also see a river shot that includes a pagoda that’s in the park, with more of the brick shacks in the foreground.

My China guidebook tells me (in the two paragraphs it devotes to Nanning, capital of Gaungxi — this gives you a sense how appealing Nanning is to the casual tourist industry) this is the tallest pagoda in Guangxi. I often see folks on bikes and mopeds that are loaded down with vegetables and greens coming from that direction: no doubt many things I’ve bought at my (wonderful) local fruit and vegetable (and meat, somewhat but not much more grandiose than the shot you saw earlier…being a vege, I studiously avoid that part of the market; it’s terrifying) are grown on the riverbanks further along, by people living in the kinds of brick and tin shacks you’ve been seeing in these photos.

I’ve also included two shots that show the landscaping along the road: one shows large mansions, with dense and lush plantings in the foreground. These roadside plantings have just gone in since I got here in early April, mostly by groups of women wearing s traw hats who chat away in Guangxinese (which I understand perhaps 5% of). Since it’s gone in, these being the tropics, weeds have sprouted up, and judging by the actions of the two ladies whose photo I took from behind, some of the weeds are edible: they were collecting, at 6:30 in the morning. Actually, the riverbanks on this stretch — including the brick shack you see in the shot with the pagoda, assuming that photo loads right (it’s been having trouble…), include many spots where people grow vegetables to take to market. On this run, I saw a father loading up his son’s bike with some things that look a bit like fern shoots…and yesterday at lunch, Stefano and Katja and I had a dish of those very shoots, stir-fried (OK, not from that kid’s bike, but you get the concept) — they were really yummy!

The other end of the road — running west/north along the river, heading somewhat in the direction of town, though the river winds a LOT — is the big field of dirt you see, with a small blue sign showing a right arrow. I find that right arrow rather funny. Let me just say this is NOT the litigious land of the US here…there are uncovered manholes, uncovered drains on the side of the road, manhole covers that extend a good six inches above the surface of the road, bricks and cinder blocks lying in the middle of the road…and folks just navigate around them. (Including the fifty or more young men I assume were military, who were doing some sort of road race that morning — first other runners I’ve seen in all my runs!) Of course, like I said there’s no traffic here yet, but were this the US it would all have “keep out, construction zone, no trespassing, hardhat zone, enter at your own risk” all over it, and big plastic cones everywhere to warn those would-be trespassers…and if I fell in and broke a leg, I could still sue. Here, I know I’m on my own with my brain and my eyes.

I leave you with a few more shots taken along the road by the river. As you saw in the previous shots, this road has lovely landscaping, is broad and generally well-paved (except the few spots they keep having to re-pave because of subsidence with all the rains, usually around power or water manholes), and already has a decorative railing for what will, presumably, one day be a lovely, planted walk along the river. Right now, though, reality hasn’t caught up with all that yet. In one of these shots, you the really lovely, large and glamorous hilltop mansions with elegant metalwork terraces, while at the bottom of the hill below the road, you see an older brick building in which, yes indeed, folks are living right now. The shot of the river and its banks is taken directly across the street from this one: the cleared space and piles of dirt will one day be the berm and w alkway along the river. I’ve not read the urban plans, so I don’t really know that for sure, but I base it on what I can see, and on the lovely riverside walks and park that already exist in the heart of town: which I’m fairly sure (from what I’ve been told) were themselves only created within the past two years. In the other two shots, you are looking inland a hundred yards or so upstream — closer to downtown and the dirt-and-mud dead-end of the current road — and you see some of the brick and cinder block buildings that characterize the parts of the road that have not yet been fully developed. I assume that just last year or earlier this spring, the road here was all dirt track…and that folks were already living in the lovely mansions in the gated compound on the hill. If these photos have posted as I’d hoped, you’ve got four shots with this caption, and these are the last shots in the current installment.

I hope in the future to show more of downtown and the markets, perhaps. Hope you’re all well, and thanks as always for reading my blog and for your support! 🙂

Paul at His Desk

Paul at His DeskEarlier this week, in an attempt to begin answering the requests for
more photos, I asked one of my colleagues (Manuel, our newly arrived
logistician from Lyon) to take a picture of me at my desk. For those
of you interested, this is where you can picture me going about my
work day when I am in the office. Of course, I travel often either to
the AIDS clinic here in town, or up to Baoji to visit the Street
Children project there…but this is home base now. Ciao!

Nanning Skyline – Count the Scaffolds!

Nanning Skyline - Count the Scaffolds!This picture was taken from the top of the little bridge you can see
in another photo, looking out toward the edge of the city, more in the
direction where my office is (and where I sit as I write this note),
towards an area where the construction of new buildings is nonstop
(And roads, and even bridges — my map of greater Nanning is full of
roads and bridges either “planned” or “under construction.”)

One of my key impressions of China (both when I visited the mainland
during my year in Taiwan in 83-84, and now) is that building is
constant. This country is just constantly expanding its
infrastructure, growing and building. It lends a feeling of excitement
and change to daily life, but of course is also makes more than enough
dust and ambient noise in the air! And don’t be thinking these
builders work any kind of shorter work week — the ones working on the
three houses that surround where I live are at it by 8 every morning
of the week. 🙂

A Walk in the Park

A Walk in the ParkThanks to everyone who has been pushing me to post more photos. Your
nudging got me to recognize that it makes no sense in this tropical,
frankly polluted city to expect a clear and beautiful day with blue
skies to go out and shoot photos! So yesterday I took a stroll at
lunch through a park that is a very short bus ride from the area where
both my office and my home are right now, and I was so glad to
discover this lovely oasis of green and peace and relative quiet in
this dusty and crowded and loud and highly energetic city.

The main feature of this park is a large lake, called Nanhu which
means South Lake, but in English it’s basically Nanhu Lake since how
many English speakers would know that’s redundant? 🙂 Sort of like
the way we Americans order a sandwich with au jus sauce…which is
kinda redundant, too. But I digress. This delightful little bridge
spans the lake, meaning I have now discovered that I can take a short,
cheap bus ride to where my street hits this park, then lie around and
read on the grass or go for a walk if I like.

Moreover, since this park in some ways represents the boundary between
what I would describe as the true urban core of Nanning, on the
northern side, and on the south side the more suburban area where I
live and work now, this means that yesterday I took a long stroll (a
long, sweaty stroll, given the heat and humidity) down one of
Nanning’s main shopping streets. It was good to get out and walk and
get more of a sense of life at street level here — we have been
pretty busy, and as I said in my last post I was also sick and have
not really taken the time to get out and explore much.

I am also glad to know Nanhu Park is free for the public — closer to
me is a park said to be quite pretty, in which for that park I need to
buy a gate ticket first — and having no money, I could not
comply…so I ran down by the river instead. (No, don’t imagine a
lovely riverfront path or anything — it’s reasonably attractive since
it’s not yet very developed there, but the river is full and brown and
sluggish, the road is high up on the bank, and the views are not much
to write home about. But it’s a river, and comparatively quiet.)

Ah well. If these photos appear in the order I hope (always an unknown
when I post photos, especially now that I can’t access the site itself
and see how things look once I send them off…), this is the second
one you are seeing in the new batch, and there will be several more
after. Hope you enjoy and thanks for your support!

School Group at the Monument

School Group at the Monument

My stroll through Nanhu Park yesterday took me past a monument or
memorial that looks like it is a memorial to the soldiers of one or
more of China’s wars (though I admit I did not take the time to try to
really read it all or understand it, but I do know it has to do with
love of the country). The fun part was seeing the kids in this school
group striking poses and imitating the postures of the statue, as
their teachers tried to get them organized for a group photo.

It’s quite a lovely monument in quite a lovely park. And the good news
is it’s very close to me, and I understand that on the weekends they
either 1) show movies on a screen by the fountain in the park, 2) Do a
light show at or on the fountain in the park, or 3) Both of the above.
I hope to find out next weekend, and maybe I can get some pictures for
you to see!

Nanning Skyline – Again

Nanning Skyline - Again

This shows a cluster of rather attractive tall office and residential
buildings that are on one edge of the downtown area, fairly close to
the CDC (which, yes, does mean Center for Disease Control so far as I
can tell) in which MSF has our AIDS clinic here in Nanning. The
project operates in close cooperation with the Guangxi CDC, and is on
the grounds of their main complex here in town, in a very lively and
busy section of town with lots of shops, restaurants, cafes and

Self Portait With Lake

Self Portait With Lake

This one, I know, is a little bit lame, but I was trying to make sure
you knew I was really there taking these photos — if there had been
someone else there to take the picture for me, it would have had the
buildings in the background more clearly, with less of me in the
photo. Anyway, you are seeing in the background a bit of Nanhu Lake,
with one cluster of new highrises in the background, the same cluster
you can see in another photo that I hope is showing up before this

Paul and Marta

Paul and Marta

Everyone is asking for photos, and I’m really sorry I haven’t had a
chance to take many yet or to download the few I have onto my computer
(remember, we are an international humanitarian organization, so our
money goes to project costs, not the country admin’s computer…I’ll
let you draw your own conclusions 🙂 ). But here’s a picture of
Marta, the WONDERFUL seven-month old daughter of Stefano, field
coordinator for the AIDS project, and Katja, his partner. They took
this photo when we were at a rest stop on the trip back from Yangshuo
my second weekend here…for those of the Yale group who may remember
the drive back from someone’s wedding somewhere some time, the drive
with Stefano, Katja, Laura (nurse in the AIDS project) and Selina
(country medical coordinator) included by far the longest and most
enjoyable round of Boticelli since at least that drive, if not ever in
my life. (Judi, if you are reading this, it made me think of you.) We
played the real rules, and trying to guess who folks were thinking of
when they asked their questions was even more fun than trying to guess
the person we were trying to figure out. What a blast!

Two Busy Weeks in China

For those of you without the time to read all of what may indeed be a pretty long entry, the bottom line is I’ve been in Nanning for two weeks now, have been quite busy with work, have overall been feeling great about everything, and am very grateful that this weekend I finally don’t have to work, since I’ve also been suffering from my first head cold in quite a while, for the past three or four days. No worries, just the usual congestion, runny nose and sore throat crap…but annoying just as things were getting into a good groove.

Also, a note about the posts here on my blog : if you are seeing this, it means I am able to post to my site. But I am not currently able to access my site, and believe I will not be able to access it from China. I still love the idea of folks posting comments to the blog, as a method of building community…but be aware I will only rarely be able to read the comments. So if you need to really reach me, feel free to write an e-mail : now that I am settled, I’d really love to hear from you !

The detailed report…from the top. My passport landed back in Paris around noon on Thursday the 31st of March, and though the departure desk initially thought it made more sense for me to fly out either Friday or Saturday, I made myself a bit annoying and ended up on an 11 :45PM flight that night. Paris to Hong Kong is a 12 hour flight with (during daylight savings time) only a six-hour time difference, which tells you something about the north-south distance. The five hours I had to spend in the late afternoon and evening at Hong Kong airport were a welcome chance to adjust a bit to being ‘back’ in Asia, if I can call it that after 21 years. The (to me still new, though it’s been open nearly two decades I think) Hong Kong airport ROCKS : it is without doubt my new favorite airport in the world. It feels space age, to me. Try it some time – you’ll like it !

The delightful thing about landing in Nanning is that four people were there to meet me – the administrator into whose role I have stepped, a British nurse from our Nanning HIV project, our assistant country administrator with whom I work very closely, and a driver. Yes, in China (at least this part of it) having a driver or two is a very nice things since the roads are terrifying chaotic. Naturally, having landed at midnight in a new city where I’d never been and finding myself suddenly in a car with all sorts of new colleagues I’d never met before was both wonderfully and a bit contextually challenging, but it was really a wonderful start.

Then began two weeks of more or less straight-through work. Since Beatrice, my predecessor, had existing plans to leave Sunday evening, I spent the weekend working with her to get a sense of which way was up and which down here in the office. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I got right into the swing of work in the office, trying hard to remember names of my new colleagues and to file them in my head with the right faces. The timing of my arrival, aside from being serendipitous in that it gave me some overlap with my predecessor, was also interesting in that MSF China held our mini-AG (mini general assembly) my first weekend here…and MSF France hosted this year. Which means that, on Thursday, I hopped in cars with many or most of my colleagues here in Nanning (from both the coordination office and the HIV project office) and drove up to Yangshuo, near Guilin, for the meetings which started with a dinner Thursday evening and ended Sunday morning.

This was mostly wonderful, in that after less than a week here I had the chance both to see one of China’s most famed beauty spots (think of the scroll paintings you may have seen of unusually steep mountains rising out of nothing – that’s Guilin and Yangshuo, both about five or six hours from where I now live), and to meet a good number of the MSF colleagues, from MSF France’s Baoji project (for which I also provide support) as well as from MSF Belgium (which also has an HIV project here in China) and MSF Hong Kong. It was also, I must admit, rather tiring in that it was my second weekend of working in a row, including trying to keep straight the names and rolls of a large number of colleagues, and to keep track of the interesting and challenging discussions (in both Chinese and English) about topics relating to MSF and our work here in China. The idea of the mini AG’s (which are held in many regions leading up the general AG each year) is to provide suggestions and ideas to the general governing structure of MSF from the actual field projects where the work is happening. It’s a wonderfully democratic and collaborative concept, but you can understand that it can all wear a boy down on his fifth through eighth day in a new job in a new field in a new country !

This last week started off great – Monday and Tuesday my energy was high, I was enjoying hosting and learning from a colleague from our Baoji project (children in difficult circumstances, mostly street children). Then Wednesday the head cold kicked in, and it was all I could do to stay energetic enough to complete the March financial close – hopefully in somewhat decent shape – Friday afternoon, before heading home to curl up with a good book (am now borrowing Harry Potter in French, though I also bought it in Chinese…the going is just too slow and hard in Chinese to make it enjoyable ‘I’m sick in bed with a cup of hot tea’ reading) and hope my first weekend without work here in China will help me kick this annoyance and get back to work fully energized on Monday.

I’d have to say I’m happy and excited about the year ahead. On the work front, I feel quite comfortable from an experience or technical standpoint that the job will benefit from my prior experiences. I believe the challenge will lie, for me, in learning and becoming conversant with MSF culture and expectations, with Chinese culture and expectations, and finding that best way to help them both merge in the project in a productive and meaningful way. This is a learning curve I am eager to work through, and I feel my colleagues (both national and international) are a great team to work with in doing so. I have already had the chance to spend two days in our HIV clinic here in town, and can only say I am proud of the work we are doing there, and I am excited to find ways I can support the clinic with my experience and work. I will visit Baoji the week of April 25, and am excited to see again the colleagues I met in Yangshuo, along with the rest of the team so they can show me hands-on all the great work they are doing.

On a personal level, the cold has me down right now, but overall I am also quite excited. Indeed, Nanning is much as I remembered China and Taiwan being 20+ years ago : loud, crowded, confusing, full of energy, constantly building, fascinatingly mixed between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ (donkeycarts sharing the road with Mercedes and diesel buses and trucks and bikes and mopeds and all other vehicles known to humans since the invention of the wheel, or so it often seems to me), and really an endlessly unfolding world that I am trying to decipher as I go. It’s not really a pretty city, but what I have seen of Guangxi province tells me there is a great deal of beauty all around me (mountains, lakes, rivers), and I look forward to exploring bus routes and other methods of getting into whatever ‘countryside’ I can find in this populous region to see if there a few mountains I can climb for a better view.

My life here will be, frankly, rather mundane : I have a day job that looks like it’ll keep me pretty busy ; part of the job will involve trips roughly every month up to Baoji, which is pretty much a full day’s travel ; part of it will also involve regular days spent at the HIV clinic here in town, which is about a ten minute bus ride away. The rest of the time I expect to do my job, try to learn how to do it better, try to improve my Chinese while maintaining my French (many of my colleagues are French, including my two housemates, so it’s a good chance to keep French going as well), and plan the occasional weekend escape to the countryside or further afield. When these happen, you can count on reports and pictures. Sorry I have no pictures to display yet – may camera didn’t make the trip to Yangshuo, or I’d have a few for you. Colleagues took one or two of me up there, and if I get my hands on them, I shall post them.

Hope this finds you well and sorry it’s so long. Take care —