To Chongqing, with love

May 26th, 2016

In my final hours here in Chongqing, I want to post my closing set of images from this fine old city, where Ernest Hemingway once visited, where the WWII capital of Chungking was located so as to be far from the reach of the Japanese. A city most Americans have never heard of, yet with the population of New York City. And like every great city, it has distinct neighborhoods. Here in Huixing, 20 km north of city center, I find life visually rich, and my daily photo-hikes a feast for the eyes.

On a rainy night in old Chongqing, townspeople cross color-splashed square.

On a rainy night in old Chongqing, townspeople cross the color-splashed square.

Dawn calls her 5-month-old "Orange Moon" her little "angel baby" because she never cries. (Jock Lauterer photos)

Dawn calls her 5-month-old daughter,  “Orange Moon,” her little “angel baby” because she seldom cries. (Jock Lauterer photos)

 

A worker on the campus catches 40 winks.

A worker on the campus catches 40 winks.

Editor Li of Foshan makes coffee for me — and tea for himself.

Editor Li of Foshan makes coffee for me — and tea for himself.

A family from the countryside awaits their orders at a Chongqing noodle stand.

A family from the countryside awaits their orders at a Chongqing noodle cafe.

A winning intramural goalie at SWUPL accepts the adulation of her team after stopping what would have been the opposition's go-ahead goal.

A winning intramural goalie at SWUPL accepts the adulation of her team after stopping what would have been the opposition’s go-ahead goal.

Skirting a vegetable cart, two boys look both ways before dashing across the alley.

Skirting a vegetable cart, two boys watch for traffic before dashing across the alley.

 

A surfing restaurant customer bares his sole. (Jock Lauterer photos)

A surfing restaurant customer bares his sole. (Jock Lauterer photos)

 

A brief encounter with a barista named Lunch

May 25th, 2016

The further adventures of Jock Lauterer, aka “Mr. Joke,” who is teaching in China this summer. The curious variation of “Jock” is due to the fact that my name is very difficult to pronounce for the Chinese, so I am invariably introduced as the closest thing they can get to Jock…so “Mr. Joke” it is.

 

In China one learns to take comfort in small things.

On a backstreet, far off Huixing’s main “college avenue” drag, I stumble across an actual coffee bar with WIFI and an English-speaking barista, who tells me her name is “Lunch.”

She is "Lunch" and I am "the Joke." (Jock Lauterer photo)

She is “Lunch” and I am “the Joke.” (Jock Lauterer photo)

So I am sitting here with an unexpected cappuccino, experiencing a lovely moment of private bliss, and caffeine.

When I go to pay for my coffee, I inquire politely of the barista’s background, and Lunch tells me she is a student at the university — and that her major is “news.”

Then suddenly her eyes fly open with recognition, and she cries out with excitement, “Oh! YOU are the Joke!”

“Yes,” I had to admit, “I AM the Joke.”

Clearly, my reputation had preceded me.

Public life in old Chongqing: better than TV

May 25th, 2016
Chongqing comes to life at night — and it's better entertainment than TV. (Jock Lauterer photos)

Chongqing comes to life at night — and it’s better entertainment than TV. (Jock Lauterer photos)

After the sweltering Chongqing sun goes town, my neighborhood of Huixing comes to life, with the streets filled with vendors, hawkers, dancers, loud speakers blaring recorded sales pitches, grandparents with babies, sidewalk cafes, couples strolling arm in arm — a very public after-dinner promenade that reminds one of Italy — but on steroids.

It’s better than TV.

An shopper makes her purchase from a local farmer as Huixing nightlife flows past on the busy sidewalks.

A shopper makes her purchase from a local farmer as Huixing nightlife flows past on the busy sidewalks.

In fact, now that I think about it, there is very little TV to be seen here, from my casual observation. The big deal is cards and mah-jong, and one can see intense very competitive matches going on all over town, under trees, on park benches, even on ping-pong tables! These people are serious gamers.

But to the night and the organic outpouring of public life — I’ve never seen the likes of it in the U.S. The sidewalk sales, the back-alley chefs, the dancing grannies — none of it seems organized or coordinated over overseen — this outpouring of humanity of all ages and all classes, from well-dressed men to drop-dead gorgeous girls in flowing silks, to college hipsters to sun-darkened and shabbily dressed migrants from the rural villages and poor countryside.

All together here at night, enjoying the cool, the sensory blitz and the free show that is Chinese public nightlife.

So-called "Damcing Grannies" materialize on summer nights in public squares, moving to a throbbing mix of Chinese pop music.

So-called “Dancing Grannies” materialize on summer nights in public squares, moving to a throbbing mix of Chinese pop music.

New Chinese community newspaper association proposed

May 23rd, 2016
Attendees of the May 21 seminar on community journalsim gather for a group portrait on the campus of Southwest University of Political Science and Law in Chongqing. (courtesy of SWUPL)

Attendees of the May 21 seminar on community journalsim gather for a group portrait on the campus of Southwest University of Political Science and Law in Chongqing. (courtesy of SWUPL)

Senior Lecturer Jock Lauterer of UNC-CH is teaching Community Journalism in China this May. His report from a groundbreaking seminar held in Chongqing on Saturday, May 21, follows. This is his fifth teaching/research trip to China.

 

Chinese media leaders took a historic first step Saturday with the formation of a new national association to support the growth and development of community journalism here, pending university approval.

Meeting in Chongqing, newspaper representatives from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu launched the Society for Chinese
Community Media, which will be headquartered at Southwest University of Political Science and Law, (SWUPL)  and headed by Professor Li Ren, the assistant dean at the School of Global Journalism and Communication. Final university approval is expected.

“Since community journalism is new to everyone here, we need to build a team,” Prof. Li explained. And Li also noted the importance of community newspapers as the post-graduate training ground for future journalists on the national scene — a role he compared to that of “teaching hospitals,” where young interning doctors and nurses get experiential, real-life-and-death training.

Yang Chi Yuan editor of Media magazine of Beijing, urges seminar attendees to form a national community journalism research center for China. (Jock Lauterer photo)

Yang Chi Yuan, editor of Media magazine of Beijing, urges seminar attendees to form a national community journalism research center for China. (Jock Lauterer photo)

The launch of the society was the highlight of the one-day seminar at SWUPL, titled, “Learning from the Important Thoughts of Xi Jinping on News and Public Opinion to Promote the Community Newspaper Industry.”

The lead-off speaker, Yang Chi Yuan, influential editor of Media magazine of Beijing, spoke forcefully and convincingly about the need for, and the importance of community journalism — and especially community newspapers — in China.

“Community media has a bright future in China, and should be the leader for change,” he told the gathering, which also included about 30 journalism students from the university. “We need to combine new media with the old, as we step into a new age of community journalism, which is part of the reform of the mass media.”

Addressing the issue of government’s relationship to the media, Yang urged local governmental leaders to embrace the new media form as constructive. “We need community journalism to bring about the harmonious community, as a bridge between the community and the (government) leaders,” he insisted.

Speaking to new media age, Yang observed, “The Chinese media are talking about transformation, and a lot of people think the future is all digital and online only, but I think you should go down into the community first, and get rooted in the community.” And he noted that newspapers that had failed did so because “they were not rooted in the community.”

Yang, who has read extensively on the subject of community journalism and traveled all over China studying community newspapers, told the gathering that community newspapers are “practical and profitable – and absolutely it’s print!”

In addition to the emphasis on print, the new association will also focus on conducting research into the thorny issue of how to monetize digital – and especially mobile — where everyone seemed to agree the future of media is heading.

Innovation and diversification are key to survival, insisted Associate Professor Chen Kai of Beijing’s Communication University of China, (CUC) and author of the groundbreaking book, “Introduction to Community Newspapers in the U.S.”

She highlighted the work of the 28 new Beijing Youth Daily community newspapers which have successfully piloted a multi-pronged business plan that includes a package of print, digital, special events and the establishment of 112 multi-functional community centers, called “stations,” which serve as mini-news and service bureaus all over the city.

Following the seminar, visiting speaker Li Guo Chen, publisher of 10 community newspapers in the Foshan-Guangzhou area, said he thought the creation of the new community media center was “a good thing, because there are a lot of questions about communities in China – and it will take passion and courage to ask the tough questions and to seek the long-range answers.”

Editor Li, whose new book, “How We Publish a Community Newspaper in Foshan,” is slated for release later this summer, also noted that Chinese publishers “need to take the long view” and not expect to make big money right away. “We should concentrate instead on how to put out good community newspapers, and how to develop long-term positive relationships with readers.”

“Maybe I like the Warren Buffett notion of long-term investment and not seeking to make a fast buck,” he concluded.

The new community media association is the outgrowth of a five-year international collaboration between Professor Li  Ren of SWUPL, Professor Chen Kai, of CUC, and Senior Lecturer Jock Lauterer of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — the latter of whom also addressed the seminar.

This map in the lobby of the J-school at SWUPL emphasizes the collaboration between our three universities. (Jock Lauterer photo)

This map in the lobby of the J-school at SWUPL emphasizes the collaboration between our three universities. (Jock Lauterer photo)

 

A China portfolio

May 21st, 2016
Following the successful conclusion of the seminar on community journalism, attendees at a local hotpot restaurant toast conference organizer Prof. Li Ren, center. (Jock Lauterer photo)

Following the successful conclusion of the seminar on community journalism, attendees at a local hotpot restaurant toast conference organizer Prof. Li Ren, center. (Jock Lauterer photo)

With their burgeoning city of 7 million rising in the background, three friends pose before their June graduation from Southwest University of Political Science and Law in Chongqing. (Jock Lauterer photos)

With their burgeoning city of 7 million rising in the background, three friends pose before their June graduation from Southwest University of Political Science and Law in Chongqing. (Jock Lauterer photos)

That's Why I Love Freedom. (Jock Lauterer photos)

That’s Why I Love Freedom. (Jock Lauterer photos)

Drummers.CQ

A senior citizens drum corps entertains at the square outside my hotel.

Already digital natives.

Already digital natives.

Pre-school childcare in China: the grandparents' duty.

Pre-school childcare in China: the grandparents’ duty.

Ducks in the farmers' market on their last day.

Ducks in the farmers’ market on their last day.

Mr. Joke and "Alice," my host's 7-year-old daughter, signal the end of another successful meal. (Ren Li photo)

Mr. Joke and “Alice,” my host’s 7-year-old daughter, signal the end of another successful meal. (Li Ren photo)

How a Tar Heel fixes a broken commode seat in China.

How a Tar Heel fixes a broken commode seat in China.

Teaching the next generation of Chinese journalists

May 19th, 2016
Aha! But they come alive for a class photo! (Li Ren photo)

Aha! But they come alive for a class photo! (Li Ren photo)

 

 

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”

  • Mark Twain

It is hot. It is humid. The windows are open. There are no screens. The air does not move. An upright room air conditioner sits mute in the corner. I am sweating profusely.

The seats, three abreast, are bolted to the floor. Students file in silently, sit mostly in the back, drop their heads to their cell phones.

The teacher, positioned on a raised marble platform, stares down at his groundlings. The sage on the stage. I feel like I’m teaching in a high school.

The American teaching in China cannot help but remark on the differences in our educational systems, techniques and outcomes.

Chinese students, once asked to put away their cell phones, are attentive but passive, stoic, unexpressive and definitely not bold enough to be vocally curious.

A question-and-answer session is likely to be met by stubborn silence. My Chinese professor/colleague has to plead with his students to ask questions. And these are journalism students!

Ah, but then I am reminded: this is a cultural difference, embodied in the old Chinese saying, “The first bird to fly, is the first one shot.”

So, while teaching in China can be challenging (do you use your translator or not? When do you know the students are understanding you? Is your translator quoting you faithfully? Etc.) it is well worth the sweat equity­­.

I’ve learned that Chinese students who appear unmoved and bored – may actually be paying close attention and occasionally may even be inspired.

Following one of my lectures I received this e-mail today.

 

Mr. Jock:

Hi! I am very happy to meet you at the lecture. Thanks for your exciting shares with us. I hope I can learn more news knowledge from you. I really admire your experience! Hope you can share more knowledge and experience to me. Thank you very much! Best regards. Lucy

 

My great lifelong friend and professional colleague, Professor Steven Knowlton of Dublin City University, was once asked: “How do you do good journalism in a country without a free press?”

To which he answered, “The answer, I think, is community journalism.”

Taking that a step further: How do you teach journalism in a country without a free press?

From 9,000 miles away, I can hear Prof. Knowlton giving the same answer.

Long live community journalism.

Out of the classroom, “Mr Joke” gets to meet the student journalists from the Huixing Journal in Chongqing — an experiential learning project similar to the Durham VOICE and Carrboro Commons at UNC-CH.

Return to The Don’t Worry Be Happy Hotel

May 18th, 2016

I love this place.

How could you not love a place called “The Don’t Worry Be Happy Hotel”?

Upon returning yesterday, my third time since my first visit to Chongqing four years ago, I am greeted as returning royalty.

“Aloooooh!” cries the irrepressible hotel manager, Mrs. Qin, as I take up residence in her modest but homey guest house. They have even given me back the same dear room with the big window-wall overlooking the quiet garden I so treasure.

I am back in good old Chongqing, a city I favor over the officious Beijing or the trendy Shanghai or even the glitzy Hong Kong. This gritty Yangtze River town has the zeitgeist of Pittsburgh, and I like it for its authenticity and can-do spirit.

Chongqing is definitely not a tourist destination. However, for an American in search of “real China,” it is a very cool place to be.

In this college-town neighborhood of Huixing where I am teaching at the local university, I will be the only Westerner I will see for two weeks.

So I get stared at a lot. And that’s OK. I’m a photographer; so I stare right back.  And I make pictures. That is my joy, how I experience life – and especially travel. To head out the door with a camera over my shoulder and two unfettered hours at my disposal — well, it doesn’t get much better than that.

I am not worried.

And I am happy.

As I return from my photo hike, Ms. Qin spies me from her perch at the front desk, waving her arms over her head and crying out fortissimo, “Happy! Happy!”

I love this place.

China is a visual feast

May 18th, 2016
At a flea market in Beijing, old China and new China collide.

At a flea market in Beijing, old China and new China collide. (Photos by Jock Lauterer)

Like a scene from an old China porcelain plate, trees and strolling residents are framed against a Beijing park lake. (Jock Lauterer photos)

Like a scene from an old China porcelain plate, trees and strolling residents are framed against a Beijing park lake. (Jock Lauterer photos)

He is a "netizen," this young man of Southwest University of Political Science and Law, with his stride firmly in the digital future.

He is a “netizen,” this young man of Southwest University of Political Science and Law, with his stride firmly in the digital future.

Clad head to foot in white, Beijing prep cooks and dumpling cooks make dumplings.

Clad head to foot in white, prep cooks and chefs make dumplings in Beijing.

College kids, the hope of new China, stream by the sidewalk on the main drag across from campus in Chongqing as the local junkman hauls his immense load up the hill.

College kids, the hope of new China, stream by the sidewalk on the main drag across from campus in Chongqing as the local junkman hauls his immense load up the hill. (Jock Lauterer photos)

Feeling right at home in old Beijing

May 17th, 2016

 

Eight thousand miles from the Old North State, and I am made to feel at home as Frank wears a UNC T-shirt at our hutong feast in old Beijing, hosted by the chef Zhao and Xiao Xiao, back left, at the behest of Mr. Liu and Prof. Chen Kai, right. (Jock Lauterer photo)

 

Beneath the spreading leaves of a bent old walnut tree nestles the modest, single-story “hutong” courtyard home of master chef Zhao Jin, 33; his jolly wife, Xiao Xiao; and their roly-poly golden retriever, Zai Zai.

Mr. Liu and Xiao Xiao admire the overarching walnut trees outside the Zhao hutong compound. (Jock Lauterer photo)

Mr. Liu and Xiao Xiao admire the overarching walnut trees outside the Zhao hutong compound. (Jock Lauterer photo)

In a tiny but delightful courtyard I was served a sumptuous four-course feast, as we sat beneath the tree’s cooling branches, remarking on the splendid weather and sharing a memorable repast of eggplant, fried rice, Chinese vegetables, and indescribable meat dishes of fish, pork and chicken.

Our dinner group consisted of Professor Chen Kai, her husband, Mr. Liu, a Beijing TV censor; and their broad-shouldered 17-year-old son, Coco (Frank), who, later this summer, will be attending the UNC J-School’s high school sports journalism camp.

Frank, a huge Tar Heel fan, makes me feel welcome by wearing a UNC T-shirt.

Meeting us out of the bustling street, Xiao Xiao had led us through a gate that entered into another world – a maze of quiet, shady, narrow, twisting alleyways no wider than two people passing shoulder to shoulder. The place felt medieval, ancient and thoroughly untouched by the glitz and hustle of “New China.”

A marked contrast to the car-centric Beijing, the hutongs are walkable, personal and humane — built on what sociologists call “the human scale.” When you are there, you feel as if people still matter.

In the little cooking house, Chef Zhao whips up a batch of fried rice. (Jock Lauterer photo)

In the little cooking house, Chef Zhao whips up a batch of fried rice. (Jock Lauterer photo)

It’s a scene and experience I bet few tourists get to have: an intimate view into authentic old Beijing — where the government is determined to bulldoze the the ancient neighborhoods in the view that they are too shabby.

But chef Zhao and wife Xiao Xiao insist they have no desire to be moved to some shiny new apartment tower.

“This structure is better than the high rise,” Xiao Xiao tells us. “It’s cool in the summer and warm in the winter.”

Indeed, this hutong home has been in the Zhao family for three generations. And like many older homes, the architectural style has “grown like Topsy,” — a bathroom house on the left side of the courtyard, the kitchen house on the other side, and facing the entrance alley under the big walnut is the main quarters: a tiny living room flanked by two small bedrooms, one for the Zhaos and one for the parents, as is the custom here.

How old are the parents? I ask.

“Fifty six” I am told.

Good grief, thinks the 70-year-old visitor.

Xiao Ziao gets a "high five" from the family dog, Zai Zai. (Jock Lauterer photo)

Xiao Ziao gets a “high five” from the family dog, Zai Zai. (Jock Lauterer photo)

After a long and languorous meal, during which time I had to try and explain the “Trump effect” (the Chinese think he’s a loose cannon too), we said farewell and strolled through the tree-lined lanes, watching through open doors leading to other small courtyards as neighbors spoke to each other softly.

And it then dawned on me that I had at last found that elusive sense of “community” I’ve sought for so long in China. They have a term for it: “defang gan.” A sense of place.

As we left, the chef’s wife asked me, “How do you like it?”

I replied truthfully, “I could live here.”

A new day at Glory City Station

May 14th, 2016
At the Glory City Station in Beijing, China, Station Director Zhao Na encourages young boys with their artwork. (Jock Lauterer photo)

At the Glory City Station in Beijing, China, Station Director Zhao Na encourages young boys with their artwork. (Jock Lauterer photo)

In which UNC-CH Senior Lecturer Jock Lauterer returns to China for the fifth year to teach Community Journalism in the hopes that positive social change, community building and civic engagement might be affected by the growth of “relentlessly local” news outlets. It’s a long shot, but the ol’ perfesser (who the Chinese call “Mr. Joke”) has no illusions about how long it might take for his “seeds” to sprout — or what they will look like!  In this newest installment, yr fthfl svt becomes the student.

 

 

Three little boys rush in out of the rain, plop down at child-sized seats at a low table, grab colored pencils and throw themselves into their artwork.

“There, that’s good! A pretty flower!” says Zhao Na, a matronly 36-year-old, bending over the boys with all the encouragement of a summer camp counselor.

Is this journalism?

It is, in Beijing, China.

 

The face of community journalism — a relatively new phenomenon in the old Middle Kingdom — is rapidly changing as traditional advertising here, as in the US, is shrinking. New sources of revenue and new roles for the media are being explored, none more exciting to my way of thinking than the creation of community “stations,” pioneered by the Beijing Youth Daily with plenty of big money behind the initiative

Station Director Zhao says apartment dwellers appreciate the one-stop shopping that the station provides. (Jock Lauterer photo)

Station Director Zhao says apartment dwellers appreciate the one-stop shopping that the station provides. (Jock Lauterer photo)

In the last two years, Beijing Youth Daily has opened 110 neighborhood multi-purpose stations that provide middle-class apartment dwellers with hard-to-find services like after-school care, computer services, online shopping and secure package delivery.

On this drizzly Beijing morning, the open-door station at Glory City apartment complex has the comfy feel of an old American general store, but with all the technical glitz of an Amazon prime with a human face.

“It makes this a better place to live,” says Station Director Zhao, who has worked here since the Glory Road station opened two years ago. “It helps people deal with things.” And, she adds, “I enjoy it. It’s good to be with the residents too.”

Backed by a 40 million yuan investment by visionary Jack Ma of Alibaba, the BYD station creators realized that these neighborhood nodal points could meet a real need, providing a central “pick-up-and-drop-off” spot for the burgeoning industry of online shopping.

This is especially true, my host, Prof. Chen Kai of the Communication University of China, tells me, in the densely populated vertical urban apartment tower environment typical to most Chinese cities.

“The Beijing Youth Daily has been very selective about where top set up these stations,” she says. “They need to be where there is a densely populated complex that is gated and has a property manager, and where the people are not too rich but not too poor. If they are too rich, they don’t need the services – if they are too poor, they can’t afford them.”

With the explosive growth of the Chinese middle class, maybe Alibaba and the Beijing Youth Daily have found the sweet spot.

 

For middle class Beijing apartment dwellers, the stations provides a central distribution point -- as well as serving as a community center. (Jock Lauterer photo)

For middle class Beijing apartment dwellers, the stations provides a central distribution point — as well as serving as a community center. (Jock Lauterer photo)

THE NEW BUSINESS MODEL

 

It will surprise no one who has studied the economics of the newspaper industry that print is not going away anytime soon. Bottom line: it’s where the money is.

So, in addition to the stations, the forward thinking Chinese newspaper companies are banking on a three-pronged business model that embraces online digital hyper-local reporting coupled with special events (such as product showcasing, workshops and seminars) and maintaining a robust print product.

Professor Chen explains, “What the Beijing Youth Daily can teach us is that there is still value in the print newspaper. While they want to transition to online only, they realize the necessity of keeping a print presence for credibility. Because anyone can have an online site. With the Beijing Youth Daily, the print news is their edge.”

And significantly, she adds, “The Beijing Youth Daily tried to make it in some neighborhoods with digital only community news websites, but they didn’t work,” citing one case where the publisher told her emphatically, “’Even if I print only 10 papers, I still have to have a print newspaper to distinguish me from the others!’”

This brings up an important point. Chen tells me that this phenomenon allows Chinese publishers to cut back on their press run, thus saving money on ink, paper, production and delivery.

“Print,” she tells me, “is part of the mix now. A very important part of the mix.”

 

BACK AT GLORY CITY

 

The stations simplify newspaper delivery too, giving the paper a central distribution point and eliminating the necessity of “home delivery” which, in multiple 32-story towers, can be daunting.

When the weekly edition of the Chong Wen Men Community News arrives at Glory City Station on Thursday morning the 150 copies are quickly snapped up. All gone by Friday evening, station director Zhao says.

Finally, there’s the aspect of branding. The stations not only make money, they also endear the media outlet to the neighborhood by providing multiple services heretofore unavailable.

“Is this a community-building project?” I ask Zhao.

Her eyes light up as she replies emphatically, “Yes!”

UNC J-schoolers, led by Prof. Adam Saffer and Associate Dean Louise Spieler, visited another Beijing Youth Daily station earlier this week during their Maymester tour of China. (Photo courtesy of Adam Saffer)

UNC J-schoolers, led by Prof. Adam Saffer and Associate Dean Louise Spieler, visited another Beijing Youth Daily station earlier this week during their Maymester tour of China. (Photo courtesy of Adam Saffer)