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Nanjing Tools: Books, Kindles, Cell Phones, Internet

February 19, 2012

Administration Building, Nanjing Normal University (original campus).

Just a few days ago, we safely arrived in our plain but roomy Nanjing apartment, located conveniently right across from the old campus of Nanjing Normal University.  Our new student and faculty friends at NNU have been most accommodating, and they had us out for a sumptuous dinner within hours of our arrival.  We’re looking forward to developing strong relationships with our hosts in the weeks and months ahead.

On a more mundane note, we’ve begun to get unpacked and started the process of making Nanjing our home for the next semester.  We needed more than a few household items to equip the apartment, and so on impulse we took a 30 minute taxi ride out to the IKEA store that we’d seen on the ride in from the Nanjing airport.  More on this incredible adventure, including some IKEA store photos, in a subsequent post.  Suffice to say that IKEA has discovered its ideal market in the absolutely stupendous new suburbia of Eastern China.  IKEA on an ordinary February weekend was many orders of magnitude busier than an American Walmart on the Saturday before Christmas.

How does a suitcase manage to weigh more than 50 pounds?  Surely not by packing a surfeit of underwear or t-shirts, for neither of these items is abundantly supplied in my small China wardrobe.  Instead, one incurs the pricey overweight baggage fees by packing too many books and papers and computers and portable hard-drives and chargers and iPhones and Kindles.  Clothing, it seems, is optional or at least a trivial concern.  But going book-less or computer-less would be unthinkable.  For those keeping score, I arrived in China with only about a dozen hard-copy books — including the essential copies of the Norton Anth0logies of Poetry and the Norton Anthology of American Literature —along with growing library of books for the Kindle Fire.  I confess to feeling a bit unsettled without the comforts of my familiar personal and university libraries.

Within a year or so, I imagine most students — especially Chinese students who seem do all of their reading on their omnipresent laptops and cellphones — will do the largest part of their reading on tablet computers like the Kindle Fire, rather than paper books.  By the way, an interesting footnote to the book situation in China came up the other day during our orientation in Xiamen City.  One of my Fulbright colleagues, a distinguished American law professor, arrived on her China campus recently all set to teach in her specialty: copyright law.  But when she met her class, it turned out that the textbook she had required for the copyright law class had already appeared in the college bookstore on her Chinese campus — but in a cheap pirated edition selling for a fraction of the official price.  As many of us agreed, this amounted to something of rude affront, given the subject of the course, but also a tremendously “teachable moment.”  It only remains to be seen who will be doing the teaching . . .

Speaking of technological determinism, we’ve had a few issues of our own.  Now, going computer-less would be impossible for any kind of graduate student the world around: almost as unthinkable as going without a (“smart”) cell phone for a day or so.  But that’s exactly what we did for the first few days here in Nanjing, as we worked with our incredibly helpful Nanjing Normal University graduate assistant to get on-line with our computers.  Only this afternoon, after two days of tinkering and a visit from one of China Telecom’s best technicians, a replaced Ethernet cable, and a few work-arounds with the new wireless router, did we get everything sorted out more or less completely.  Still no China cell phones, but we’re optimistic that we’ll be back in telephone communication within a few days.

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