Hello from Finnie

Hello and a most sincere welcome to my blog!  My name is Finnie (that’s right – Finnie — and not short for anything) Murray. My career has been entirely in the academic world. My undergraduate degree in Zoology and Animal Science is from North Carolina State University – as is my M.S. degree in animal science.  My Ph.D. was earned at the University of Florida in Reproductive Physiology, and I had postdoctoral training at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Tennessee. During my working career, I was a professor at the University of Tennessee, The Ohio State University, Ohio University, Henderson State University, Texas A&M University – Commerce, and the University of Nebraska at Kearney over a span of 38 years. I also served as Director of the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in Molecular and Cellular Biology and Chair of the Department of Zoological and Biomedical Sciences (renamed Department of Biological Sciences during my tenure) at Ohio University; Dean of the Matt Locke Ellis College of Arts and Sciences at Henderson State University; Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Texas A&M University – Commerce; and Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Student Life at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Now I am retired, and my wife, Deborah, and I live here in Weihai, China, throughout most of the year.
I was attending the UNK retirement recognition.                           My wife Deborah and me
During the last decade of my career, I was fortunate enough to have been able to form deep and strong bonds of friendship and trust with faculty members and staff members of several universities in China and several other countries around the world.  As these friendships developed, so did my interest in and knowledge of China. It was abundantly clear to me that China is on a developmental path that will make it one of the most important contributors to the future of the world. Hence, it seems evident that it is of paramount importance for people in the Western World to learn as much as possible about China – just as the people of China are learning as much as they can about the Western World. Personally, I have become ever more impressed with the gracious nature, enormous energy and drive, and optimism of the Chinese people. So as I approached retirement, it was a great honor and pleasure for me to be offered the opportunity to serve as senior consultant for American Programs at Shandong University at Weihai. In this position, I consult with the dean and staff of International Education regarding American Programs, I consult with Shandong University students who seek advice in applying for undergraduate and graduate programs in America, and I am looking forward to serving as a friend and advisor to English-speaking students who wish to study here.  I am also learning more about China and its culture and language!
Hotpot clipped
Hot Pot dinner with our friends in Weihai.
The purpose of this blog is three fold. I hope to 1) to share with you the experiences Deb and I have as we live immersed in this community, 2) to inform you about activities here at Shandong University at Weihai, and 3) to answer your questions to the extent of my ability about the first two objectives. I look forward to hearing from you!

4 Responses to About

  1. Achim Lohse says:

    I’ve been in Weihai for about three weeks now, and I’m afraid my experiences have been rather disappointing. I had hoped to enroll in a short term course in Chinese, to refresh my limited knowledge from three years of university courses 30 years ago, and thirty years of struggling on my own. However, when I contacted the relevant office, I was told there was no short term program (although the website describes one), and I was too late (by a couple of weeks) to enroll for the current semester.

    I then tried e-mailing the address given online, but that remains unanswered. Subsequently, I had a similar experience with the Xinjiang Agricultural University Chinese Program, which also advertises short term Chinese learning programs that seemed to fit my timetable. However, two of the three e-mail addresses provided bounced my messages back “no such user”, while the third turned out to be the same as that given for the Shandong University program – admission@126.com. And it provided no response either.

    Several attempts to reach the elusive Urumqi school via two published FAX numbers failed also, one number getting trashed in voicemail, while the other rang without picking up

    My experience with various hotels and other lodging establishments has been the same – what is listed online is completely unreliable – e-mails don’t work, prices and facilities are not as described. I guess the lesson from all this is that it’s rash to generalize about a place from a single experience. But I would guess that my experience is more representative of the reality the average undistinguished foreign visitor, with no or only a rudimentary knowledge of Chinese, should expect.

    I found taxi drivers in both Beijing and Weihai to be rather predatory. The former refusing to tell me how to catch the bus to the airport, or that I could take the subway from a stop just across the street. The latter wanting almost twice as much money for the drive from Weihai to Wendeng as is commonly charged going the other way.

    City bus drivers cannot be trusted either. Two turned me away when I asked whether their bus went to my intended destination, which was, in fact, on their route. Even some pharmacists can’t resist the temptation to fleece a foreigner, asking three times the normal price for a humble bottle of vitamin C.

    But here is a little fact, that might interest you particulary as a biologist. I have looked at several brands of melatonin in a number of different stores and pharmacies. All of them came in only a single formulation – pills listed on the label as containing 500mg (!!) of melatonin per pill.

    I’ve talked to a couple of sales clerks about this, including one in a pharmacy who seemed brighter than average, and was assured that this is the only size available. On the labels the Chinese designation is 500 hao ke, the SI designation 0.5g. or 500mg.

    I can’t think of anything offhand that has lowered my estimation of Chinese education and meticulousness more precipitously than this experience. And it certainly makes me leery of having to rely on Chinese pharmacists for life-saving medicines.

    I assume the pills are really 5mg each, and “merely” mislabeled by a factor of 100. But the thought that not one, but several, such products could survive indefinitely on the shelves of a major city patronized by the wealthy, and presumably somewhat educated, vacationers of Beijing (and who else would buy this melatonin?) without coming to the attention of any regulators, leads to unpleasant speculation as to the quality of supervision one can expect at nuclear power reactors, one of which is being planned for nearby Rongcheng.

    There is one technique in which mainland Chinese society is apparently highly skilled however – cutting the phone line when certain proscribed words are pronounced. This has happened to me twice now while discussing the world news on the phone to my wife in Canada. It’s an eerie thought that everything you say on the phone, and probably everything you write in e-mails, blogs, in your letters, etc. is being recorded and instantly scanned for propriety by some computer program authorized to cut your communication link instantly

    Ah well, as the French say, “a chaqu’un son gout”.

    • Achim,

      I am sorry to learn of your troubles. Regarding studying Chinese, may I suggest that you consider hiring a postgraduate student in translation and Intrepretation to coach you? Deb and I have been using that method — in our case to get individual instruction that we are seeking and also because at our age learning a language, especially Chinese, is a challenge.

  2. Achim Lohse says:

    Hi Finnie,

    Sorry I haven’t responded to your comment until now. I went back a day or two later, couldn’t find my posting or your response, rashly assumed the blog was dormant (as the only previous post was some months old), and only today learned from my wife in Canada that you had replied.

    As it happens, I’m returning to Weihai from Wendeng tomorrow, the 21st. to take up residence for the next two and a half weeks in the Sophia Hotel downtown (not my first choice, but the most promising compromise between cost and location I could find – assuming they have a quiet room without bedbugs).

    I haven’t perused the latest postings on the blog, but my wife tells me you’ve just bought a bicycle, which is what I am hoping to do, since my experience with taxis has been so disagreeable that I’m going to try to get to Weihai with all my three pieces of luggage on the bus.

    The difference, of course, is that I am buying a bike that I expect to have the use of for as little as two and a half weeks, and at most, seven and a half (one week of which would be in Wendeng, if I can transport the bicycle there on the bus. Do happen to know if this is technically and officially feasible?

    In my short bud largely sad experience here, information received from locals can be extremely misleading. For example, at the Nishi Haitai Hotel in Wendeng, where I’m presently lodged (out of desperation, as the lodgings I had been promised were reserved for me at the International Beach area were given away with one day’s warning), an English speaking hostess had told me that a one way trip to Weihai costs 10 Yuan. And hour later she phone my room in great consternation to correct herself, and told me that no, it costs 100 Yuan for the bus trip. I went the same day to he bus station, which is a mere 500 yards away, and informed myself there (and later confirmed at the Weihai Bus Depot) that the cost is actually 9 Yuan. When I chided her about this later, she merely looked sheepish. And I am certain that she had no malicious motives. She must have been ordered to mislead me.

    Near the International Beach area, I’ve seen a streetside vendor selling a new regular bicyle for as little as $30, and a folding one for about $40. I imagine, considering the state of commerce here, that it would be less work and for more convenient for all concerned if I were to buy such a bicycle and then sell it back when through with it, rather than try to rent one. But, of course, that hinges on dealing with an honest vendor who will not take advantage of the situation when it comes to buying the bike back.

    If you have any suggestions to offer in this respect, I would welcome them.

    Your suggestion about finding a tutor sounds great. But how would I find a suitable one, and would should I expect to pay? In fact, one of my more modest secondary goals (or so I thought) on this trip was to find a newer, smaller, better electronic translating dictionary to replace the ancient (20 years old at least) Besta CD-68. The sad reality is that I’ve only found one that’s even remotely as good, a Besta E-900, that was promptly sold before I had a chance to check it out. The few others I’ve managed to come across are fatally flawed by the lack of any English documentation, many don’t even have the option to set English menus. Either of these shortcomings would make the device largely useless for me.

    I didn’t rush to buy the E-900 either, although it got some good reviews in the US (where it’s apparently no longer available), because I could find no reference to it on theBesta website, much less the English user manual I hoped to find there. I know it has some English documentation, having skimmed through the print manual at the vendor’s counter. However, the print was typically tiny and indistinct (perhaps deliberately, to make OCRing impossible?) and the circumstances were not conducive to a thorough examination, as the counter was at the main entrance thoroughfare of a major department store.

    I do know from the manual of my own old Besta, which is blessed with a larger manual and much better print, that only a fraction of the Chinese material is actually rendered in English, and the same is true for the menus.

    The new Besta looked attractive, with lighter weight and a much brighter screen, and access to a number of other European languages (sadly, but predictably, only to and from Chinese). But without even the barest specs as to number of English words/Chinese characters, expressions, etc., it’s really impossible to gauge its quality. And arcane functions such as the ability to add words or expressions to the existing glossaries, are probably beyond my ability to communicate to the salesperson, let alone discover from a Chinese document.

    Presumably a graduate student of English (not a graduate who majored in English, I’ve already tested those waters) would be able to guide me on this quest, assuming, of course, that what I’m looking for is even available in Weihai. It’s starting to look as though the only places I can hope to find some of the high tech devices I’m interested in (USB 3.0 flash card readers, for instance) are Taipei, Beijing, and possibly Shanghai. I’ve already tried Toronto and Vancouver on my brief trips there, and had no luck.

    I had also hoped to be able to contact some Chinese publishers of comic books about using Comics (or better, animated computer versions of them) as a language learning tools. I’m thinking specifically of adapting world famous (and thus already translated) comic series such as Tintin (DingDing) and Asterix in a bi-lingual mode, where the reader can at the stroke of key switch from the original to the translation, by word, by phrase, or by sentence and/or have the original or translation pronounced in the same manner, and choose to mimic the pronunciation or draw the character with the program monitoring the accuracy of the rendition and/or the stroke order. But I have no clue as to how to make such contacts here (or in Beijing, for that matter).

    Feel free to drop me a line here or at my gmail address. I’m counting on at least having an Internet connection at the Sophia.

    • Hi Achim,

      If I can offer specific advice on your questions, I will do so in an email. However, regarding your more general concerns and issues, I must say that Deb and I simply have not had anything like the issues or concerns you have. We have found people in all aspects of life here in China to be very helpful to, and concerned about, us. We have had assistance freely offered and, generally, refusal to accept any pay for such a service.

      One of our first experiences here in Weihai was at one of the restaurants we often mention. We decided that even though tipping is not the accepted pattern, especially in a small city like Weihai, we wanted to leave a small tip for the waitress who had served us so pleasantly and well. We left the little tip, anad left the restaurant and walked out to our bikes. As we were unlocking, the waitress came running out frantic to give us the money we, she assumed, had carelessly left on the table. We tried to convince her with hand motions that we wanted her to keep the money, but she refused and we finally had to take the money back. Similarly, my previous bike, last year, developed a small leak in one of the tires. So, I stopped by a bike shop near the university east gate and asked — again with hand motions and the few words of Chinese we knew — if the shop owner could refill my tire. Naturally, I expected to pay for the service. This was not the shop at which I had purchased the bike, but simply one nearer to where we live. The man walked away (and I really didn’t know at the time if he was just walking away or what), but he went back into his store, and in a few minutes came out with a bike hand pump. He reinflated my tire, and he absolutely would accept no pay or tip. I then asked him if he could sell me a pump like the one he used, and he evemtually realized what I was asking and indicated that he could. I asked the price. He said 20 (yuan). I indicated that I wanted to buy the pump. Again he was gone a few minutes and returned with a pump. He was beaming because he had found one that he could sell me for 10 yuan, and that was all he would take.

      I have many such stories that I could tell, but the point I simply want to make is that throughout our visits within China we have experienced extraordinary courtesy, kindness, and good manners. Deb and I continue to be amazed at how nicely we are treated. Nevertheless, I would be dishonest if I did not also say that occassionally we have interacted with a salesperson or driver who was having a bad day, and was not helpful to us — not too much different than some experiences we have had in the United States. But that has been a very small fraction of the encounters we have had with professional people, sales people, taxi drivers, and people on the street who have been very helpful and kind to us. I regret that your experiences have not been as positive.

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