Sunday, June 14, 2015

Putting My Father to Rest in Massachusetts, 14 Months After His Passing

On Saturday morning June 13, at 9 AM, in Fall River, Massachusetts, we buried my father's ashes at the O'Riordan/Johnston cemetery plot.  Some thirty people came, family and old friends, as did the crisp New England morning sunshine.  My Grandmother Anita and my Aunt Karen organized the brief, soulful, and touching ceremony.  Speakers included my Grandmother, Karen, my cousin Kate, and Sister Barbara.  I took a few moments to share the following summary of my father's life, with a focus on why we brought him home to Fall River.

On February 13, 1955 my father was born to Anita Johnston and Eoghan O’Riordan on an English military base in Munster, Germany.  He was an Irishman born to Scottish and Irish parents.  However, more importantly, he was a New Englander.  He emigrated to Boston with his parents a fin 1958, and after working a residency at Boston City Hospital, his father Eoghan signed on as an anesthesiologist at the Fall River Hospital.

My dad’s formative and some of his most cherished years were spent here, in this town, in Fall River.  He lived on Highland Ave with his parents, his four siblings- Stephen, Karen, Brian, and Sean.  His beloved grandfather, Bob Johnston, worked in Boston, but unfailingly Bob drove down to Fall River to spend time with my dad, to cheer at my dad’s baseball games, and to be a part of my dad’s life.  Bob Johnston was a key paternal influence in my dad’s life, and one of his core role models for how a man should care for his children.

During these years, my dad attended the local private Christian school Bishop Connolly, and he roamed Greater New England with his rat pack of Vinny Faye, Kenny Boulanger, Mike Trainor, John Seguin, and others.  He made a lot of friends in his life, but his Fall River friends and their families were among his most cherished.

About every seven years my grandfather Eoghan would change jobs to a new town and a new hospital, and in my father’s late teenage years, Eoghan moved his family to Killington, Vermont.  Though the skiing was spectacular, this move marked an end to the Fall River chapter.  For many in the family, this era in Fall River had been one of the happiest.  The kids were young, the family was growing, Anita and Eoghan were ascendant in America, and the broader Fall River Community had embraced them.  

It is no accident that we are here today, remembering and celebrating the lives of my father Michael and my Uncle Stephen.  If the O’Riordan family has a piece of land in the world that is a home, it is here in Fall River, where Anita, Eoghan, and the five O'Riordan siblings firs established their roots in American soil.

My dad left the East Coast for California in the the mid seventies, and he stayed away for over two decades.  During that time he married my mother Holly, stopped drinking just as his father had done, had two children- me, Andrew, and my sister, Katelyn- and launched a career as an Insurance Agent with Prudential.  He put together his own version of the American Dream, as he worked hard for us, loved us, supported us, sent us to private Catholic schools, coached my baseball and soccer teams, took me to Padres Games, and played hooky from work and school so he and I could go skiing together in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Among my dad’s greatest accomplishments was being a great father.  During my most vital years, , he was present, supportive, positive, engaged, and loving.  With my mother he laid the foundation for a good life for me, giving me every opportunity I needed to make something of myself.  I am forever grateful to you, dad, for providing me with a happy, loving home and for being a good father.
My dad found his way back to New England around the turn of the century.  Before dropping me off at college at Princeton, he and I took a road trip together through Boston, the Cape, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, and of course, Fall River.  He showed me his home, his schools, the park where he played basketball, the field where he played baseball.  He introduced me to his old friends.  He had returned

In the following years, he re-connected with his old buddies, he came back for Red Sox games, and he even purchased a second home in Swansea.  He said he was “coming home,” and he declared that he wanted to name his boat “Full Circle,” to describe his life path that had taken him away from Fall River, but had led him back again.  He always said that the people back here were “Salt of the Earth,” which I think meant that they had a connection with each other, a lack of pretense, and an authenticity he had found lacking in Southern California.

Sadly my father’s  life was cut short too early by Small Cell Cancer.  After some difficult weeks in hospital in San Diego, he died on April 19, 2014 at 59 years old.  A lot of us in the family felt like there was more living to be done, and we grieved the man we lost as much last the time that we felt he lost.

 However, one of my father’s later insights in life was that there are no guarantees.  He couldn’t expect, and really none of us can, to live the full term of his life.  He was lucky in so many ways, to have a mother and father who provided him with love, support, and opportunity; to create a happy, healthy, and cohesive family of his own; and to have people like all of you, “Salt of the Earth” people, in his life.  As I said in my eulogy for his father at a funeral service in San Diego a week after his passing, he had so many reasons to be happy.

Today we bring my father Michael and my Uncle Stephen home.  This is where they belong, in Fall River, Massachusetts, where they have truly come Full Circle, back to the place from where they came.  I know my dad wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

We miss you, dad.  Welcome back home.
After I spoke these words, my Grandmother delivered the following blessing:

An Irish Funeral Prayer

Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Everything remains as it was.
The old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no sorrow in your tone.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without  effort
Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was.
There is unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner.
All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting,  when we meet again.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Return to China: Day 12: Shenzhen + Reflections on an Odyssey

Day 12: Shenzhen
On my final full day in China I travel to the fastest growing city in the fastest growing country in the world: Shenzhen.  This city has sprung up out of nowhere in the last thirty years, buoyed by its midpoint location between Hong Kong and Guangzhou.  It’s a capitalist border region megalopolis, with views across the water to Hong Kong and bullet train rail links to Guangzhou of one hour.  It’s one of the lynchpins of the Pearl River Delta, and a place where people are making new money in manufacturing and trade.

Clyde, Mark, Tomas, Emma, and I board the bullet train and race the eighty minutes down the Pearl River Delta to Shenzhen.  We hardly stop to eat as we scurry through tunnels, streetscapes, and train stations.  In Shenzhen we taxi to a high rise where EIC will be hosting our fair.  This will be another opportunity to meet 30 to 40 students and families.  I see many of the same faces that I saw the day before in Guangzhou- Kiwis, Americans, Europeans, and Chinese, all hawking various schools from around the planet.  This office is a bit disorganized, and when we arrive we don’t have enough chairs or tables for our station.  We end up commandeering a few and setting up our way.

The following four hours of advertising the school are interesting, productive, unproductive, unusual, tedious, and fascinating at turns.  Some of the other school representatives have been traveling for longer than I have, and they are in various states of delirium and discombobulation.  As my table is ignored for much of the fair, I begin to feel discouraged, when suddenly a young boy comes to my table with his parents.  I have no translator, so I use my best Chinese over the next thirty minutes to sell Maui Preparatory Academy.  I am successful enough to exchange contact information and build a relationship with the mother.  Here, on the final stop of my whirlwind tour, I may have at last found a guaranteed student who chooses Maui Prep.  Only time will tell. . .

Our work is done.  I bid adieu to Clyde and Mark, who will fly home to New York this evening.  It has been a wonderful pleasure to meet them both, and I hope to see them again one day, though this China road tour has been its own unique experience.

Tomas, Emma, and I take the train home to Guangzhou.  In the city, I help Tomas move out of his high rise apartment in the new city, and we share a hot pot feast together in the restaurant district.  An evening walk precedes a deep sleep before the morning’s long journey: Guangzhou-Tokyo-Honolulu-Kapalua. . .

Time to go home to  mama and baby. . .

This was my second trip to China.  The first was a weeklong run through Shanghai and surrounds in November.  On this my second trip, I visited seven cities in 14 days, a true whirlwind. Here are my five new insights.

1. China is changing fundamentally, comprehensively, and profoundly at a speed and in a way that virtually nobody comprehends.  I’ve been thinking, reading, and studying this country for a decade, and the scale of societal transformation is almost incomprehensible.  The more you see of China, the more you can’t believe what’s happening.

2. Many people want to leave China.  Adults, students, professionals. Some people want to leave forever, and many others just for awhile. There are rising trends in many different directions. However, as the growing middle class flexes its wallets, China and the world will be impacted. The last 15 years are just the beginning.

3. The U.S. and China have to get along.  We are each too big, too powerful, and too pivotal to not work together.  There needs to be understanding, cooperation, and relationship building at every level.  On a micro-stage, this is the best result of what my recruitment might provide: a chance for American and Chinese students to know each other, like each other, and learn from each other.

4. The potential of the Chinese market is limitless, yet certain realities remain.  Hawaii is not on the radar of many Chinese as a competitive place to study, grow, and prepare for the future.  This holds true for lots of other places in America that aren’t the Northeast or California.  The Chinese market is brand driven, and Hawai’i and Maui Preparatory Academy must build the brand.

5. Chinese want to come to America.  Not New 
Zealand, not England, not Australia, not anymore. This is a bit of an oversimplification, but as America has the most best Universities in the world, the Chinese want to prepare to attend those Universities.  In this regard, Hawai’i is interesting to Chinese because it is in America, and provides a pathway to American higher education.

6. Dr. Samuel Johnson once commented, “When one is tired of London, one is tired of life.” The same holds true of China.  This civilization contains multitudes.  Five thousand years of history, one of the longest continuous forms of writing in existence, 1.4 billion people, the biggest economy in the history of the planet: accolades and superlatives abound.  The whole world wants and needs to China to succeed.  The progress of China in the next fifty years will continue to be the Greatest Story on Earth, and I hope I can be a small part of it.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Return to China: Day 11: Scouring for Students at Trade Fairs

Saturday, March 28

After a week of travel and meetings with agents in three different cities, it’s time to return to directly connecting with students and families again.  Today I will attend a four hour fair in a downtown Guangzhou new city high rise with the EIC group to meet as many families as possible.

Before that, however, the four amigos (Clyde, Mark, Tomas, and I) taxi to the old train station, where black market goods thrive.  We disembark at a train station that I once saw in a documentary about the Chinese New Year migration. Each year at Chinese New Year hundreds of millions of people return to their home towns to eat and celebrate with family in the biggest mass movement of people on Earth.  This train station is ground zero, and in the documentary I saw people trapped for weeks in crowds of tens of thousands as they tried to board trains.  Today it’s merely frenetic, but the whole open plaza is cordoned off by steal bars that control chaotic crowds when needed.  We walk to the shopping districts where hundreds and thousands of street merchants hawk anything you ever or never wanted- watches, bags, wallets, clothes, shoes, glasses, pens, jewelry, et. al.  I spend some hours in utter shock, but come out of it for long enough to purchase a rip-off North Face bag and some “Polaroid” Ray-Ban style sunglasses.  I celebrate my purchases with a cup of fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice.

A few beggars and vagrants with severe conditions fan through this area, which is striking as I’ve seen surprisingly little of this on my trip.

We taxi back the hotel, then onward to the new city, where I devour a Hawaiian hamburger before the fair.  As I’m walking to the restroom in the restaurant, I hear: “Andrew!”  I know exactly one person in this city of some ten million people, and as I turn around, it’s her.  Anna is an agent for USA Boarding Schools, an online student finder that my school uses.  I can’t believe that of all the restaurants in Guangzhou, she had to walk in to mine. . .

Upstairs the fair is a formal affair.  EIC is a major player in exporting Chinese students.  Today some 20 Westerners are hawking literally hundreds of schools, as some people are representing tens or hundreds of schools at once.  People are here from all over - Beijing, New York, California - and many of this crew looks road weary, as some of them are shell-shocked by China, or they’ve been traveling here for weeks seeking to drum up business.

My translator is Vivian, a 24 year old woman who studied international politics in Shanghai but shunned a career in the foreign service because “I think it’s not good for a lady.”  She now works for EIC.  The next four hours are busy.  I present my school to students, parents, and agents.  Usually parents speak little to no English, and students are often nervous, so I speak all the Chinese I can muster to everyone.  The Chinese people are almost invariably impressed by my efforts, but then they start speaking very fast, overestimating my knowledge.  I make just a few contacts, and honestly this fair is a bit of a let down in terms of service, number of students, and punctuality of the affair.  We start late and pack up early, and the four hours my school had paid for ends up looking more like two.  Yet, such is the nature of this slippery student recruitment business.  Try, try, try, put yourself out there, and see what you can make of every situation.

It’s our final evening as a four man crew.  I’ve been traveling with Clyde and Mark for nine days now, and we’ve developed a hilarious, friendly, and even brotherly rapport.  They’ve kept me thinking, laughing, and learning the whole trip.  To celebrate, we enjoy a sunset view at the Westin Club Lounge, where Clyde is a gold member.  Never again will life throw me together with this crew in this way, but it’s been an unforgettable week.  To bed. . .

Monday, May 4, 2015

Return to China, Day 10: Working 9 to 5 in Guangzhou, City of the Future. . .

Making my 10th presentation to ten more agents. . .
Today is a three meeting day!  Today I am set to meet with different agencies who may be able to help me find students.  I put on my coat and tie, pack my rollaway bag with materials, fuel up on a splendiferous international buffet, and walk with my colleagues Clyde, Mark, and Tomas to our first meeting.  The morning city bustles, and I crane my neck straining to take in all the skyscrapers.
Clyde, Mark, and Me

The agent meetings today are of a kind.  We ascend skyscrapers into offices abundant with flags, maps, conference rooms, reception desks, and lists of the bests schools in the world (Princeton is #1!).  Clyde and Mark deliver their 30 min. presentation about the French-American School of New York, and I deliver my 25 min. presentation about Maui Preparatory Academy.  We’re such different schools that we’re not really competitors, which is ideal.  Anywhere between 3 and 10 agents show up for these presentations.  We always exchange cards and pleasantries.  It’s interesting, fun, and potentially useful, and the more I present, the smoother I am.
Golden Highrise

After the first meeting we taxi to an older part of town, but it doesn't look it.  Commerce still explodes from every building.  I purchase some discount Apple chargers and a battery pack at a street stall.  Mark and I stroll through a seven story super mall, absorbing the rampant and fearless commercialism of a rising city racing to feed the demands of tens of millions of nouveaux-riche.  I take a wrong turn and end up on a top story karaoke club with marble walls and sharks swimming in aquariums.  The shark tanks upset me, but the glamour and glitter are undeniable.

We eat a steaming white fish doused in ginger, scallions, garlic, bamboo shoots, watercress, and spices, which we order simply by pointing to another table, as the menu is pure Chinese characters, which I can’t read at all.

We lose our way to the meeting, and then we all struggle in Chinese to figure out that we’re in the wrong part of town.  We remedy that.

We have another meeting, and then another meeting.  I feel like I’m casting bait all over the place, unsure of where I’ll get a bite, or when.  Will it be tomorrow?  In a week? In a month?  In six months?  All are possibilities. . 

5 PM on Friday and we’re fairly drained by the final meeting.  So are the Chinese agents with whom we meet, as they sneak some texts mid-presentation.  It’s a strange business, these Chinese agents in their twenties and thirties selling schools they’ve never seen to unknown teenagers, when in fact many of these agents would like to travel to these places as well.  The rising youth in China have it better than any generation in Chinese history, and I wonder sometimes if there is some envy by agents of these young princelings.

The Friday commute has the city in gridlock, so Mark, Clyde, Tomas and I enjoy an al fresco setting instead of trying to navigate through the city.  After sunset we taxi to a central restaurant street with hundreds of options.  We opt for a Muslim Turkish restaurant, and proceed to feast on lamb, seasoned chicken kebab, tabouli, breads, falafel.  It’s a veritable feast.

Around us hundreds of residents, tourists, and vagrants stroll the streets, eating and enjoying the warm Spring evening.  We take it all in, but eventually sleep beckons. . 
International Financial Center Illuminated.
The most luxe hotel in Asia. . .?
Floors 90-110 beckon you. . .
Pearl River Delta from the Four Seasons Hotel. . .


Thanks for the offer, but  I'm taken. . .

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Return to China: Day 9: Teaching Chinese Students in Dongguan, Workshop of the World

Now which train do I take. . .?
My day begins at 6:45 AM in Guangzhou, the third richest city in China, the anchor city of the Pearl River Delta, and home of the most futuristic, fast-growing, and impressive urban core I’ve ever seen.

Guangzhou out the train window. . .
This morning I’m commuting on a bullet train an hour away to the southeast to Dongguan.  I put on my coat and tie, even though business casual in the South doesn’t require a tie as it does in the North.
Chinese Starbucks precision. . .

Morning basketball tournament .  .
I walk across the bustling, sultry, modern, tropical, Spring streets to the gleaming new train station on top of an underground shopping mall.  This station has nine entry portals and spans multiple city blocks.  Everything is written in Chinese characters or pinyin Romanization.  I randomly choose a line, only to be told by the teller to get in a different line.  I wield my Chinese language skills.  Harried groups of Cantonese workers push forward in the lines, but I procure my ticket successfully.  I pick up a sushi roll at a convenience store, move through the security and ticketing lines, and line up with hundreds of other people in a tight, underground corridor to wait to enter the platform.  On the side, a merry crew of pastry chefs does synchronized dance moves to advertise their breakfast snacks.
Morning exercises: We need this in America!

The gates open, and we pour forth.  With over one hundred million people in Guangdong Province, and Guangzhou being the center city, public transportation here is always intensely crowded.  It is also brand new, hyper-organized, efficient, clean, and safe.  It makes Penn Station look like a relic of the twentieth century.
English Class

I settle into first class, a ticket that costs me just three U.S. dollars extra, and for the next hour I watch China.  I see banana trees, fruit farms, lush hills, enormous factories, hundreds and thousands of concrete block high rise apartments, train stations, power plants, and the Pearl River Delta that links it all together.
Classroom charging stations. . 

I arrive in Dongguan at 9 AM.  This city you’ve never heard of that contains over 6 million people is a center-spoke in Factory China.

I am welcomed by Max- a chipper, clever, bilingual Director of Admissions at a Boarding School- and his driver, a former military officer who now works at Max’s Boarding school.  My eyes greedily take in the thirty minute drive from the train station to the school.  Shopping malls, high rises, mansion developments with golf courses, tropical foliage, neoclassical mega mansions surrounded by moats, five star hotels: the brand new prosperity in Dongguan surpasses my imagination.  We stop at a Starbucks (ubiquitous in China) for a morning jolt; of course it’s new, clean, empty, and the service is exquisite.
Music Class

I had arranged to meet Max for a specific reason.  There is an entrepreneurial company of about ten people called Innovative Academies.  The idea of this company is to offer online courses in Asia run by American high school teachers.  Initially IA had attempted this in Korea, but the lure of the Asian dragon proved irresistible.  Now IA is piloting classes in Taiwan and at this xchool in Dongguan, where some 50 students are currently enrolled in American high school courses.  Maui Preparatory Academy’s online courses haven’t quite taken off yet here, partly because the Chinese market chooses the lowest priced courses, which are offered by other schools.
Lush interior school courtyard
The Dancing Bar're on the Roof

I am here to meet Max, see his school, learn something about Chinese education, and open the pathway for any potential partnerships (student travel exchanges, online courses, online student exchanges).

Max’s school is monstrously big.  Just 22 years old, it now has an enrollment of 3,600 students, and all of them are boarding students!  Students are stacked in dormitories of eight to a room.  As Admissions officer, Max is currently tasked to increase enrollment by some 1,000 students.  

Chinese school teaching Selfie
This public high school is one of the most prestigious in Dongguan.  Some ten international companies, including Lenovo and Cisco, operate out of Dongguan, and students from Hong Kong and Taiwan attend school here as their mothers and fathers work for the companies.  The students are trained and groomed to join these companies, with direct links between curriculum, internships, and employment.
Mas, Students, and Me

As we enter the campus, I know what’s about to happen. I’m about to make a lot of friends.  When I worked in Taiwan in 2003-2004.  I was the only Da Beizi (Big Nose = foreigner) in a school of thousands of students.  I stuck out.  As I exit the van in a campus the size of a University, I’m the different one.  Swarms of students in jumpsuit uniforms are streaming out to the central field for morning exercises,  hundreds and even a thousand students.  I proceed with Max to a gym as big as War Memorial Gym, the biggest gym on Maui, where hundreds of other students are watching a basketball exhibition game between the best middle school team and the fourth best high school team.  The high school team smokes the little guys.
Tomas Simonssen & Guangzhou New City
I walk outside to witness morning exercises.  This happens every single day.  It could never happen in America, as students and families would talk about legal rights to make individual decisions and not be forced to do things, but I would love if this did happen.  It’s activities like this that will make China the most important power of the 21st century.

Dragon Boat Ship Artistry in the Building Lobby
Half of the students, maybe 300-400, line up in perfect lines in the middle of the field, and all of them do synchronized Tai Chi/ Yoga/ Stretching exercises.  The other half of the students, another few hundred, runs laps in small groups anchored by students with flags.  As they run, other students take notes to see who is trying and who is not, and as the students pass by the Vice Principal and the Administration, who stand on a raised platform surveying the crowd, students shout out the slogans of their class groupings.  It’s an incredible sight.  
Three story scintillating chandelier

Max introduces me to the Vice Principal.  “His name is Mr. Lie, but he never lies!” says Max.  I exchange pleasantries with the chipper gentleman, and I tell him in Chinese that Americans are growing too chubby, and that we need to do morning exercises like his students.  He loves the comment so much that he steps to the microphone, introduces me to a thousand students, then repeats my joke, which leads to mass chuckles.  As Max tells me.  “It’s good to tell them.  They need encouragement!”
Futuristic, curvaceous, bulbous skyscraper.

I return to the basketball game inside, where all of a sudden I’m helping deliver awards to the losing team, and taking lots of pictures. I greet a few hundred students in Chinese, and as with so many people here, they smile and they’re grateful that I’ve made an effort to speak their language.
Guangzhou Tower

Next comes the school tour.  I walk with Max and Mr. Lie through four story tall buildings with interior courtyards and endless hallways.  Fifty students per room, with no computers or phones to distract students, but lots of focus and participation.  I witness a music class with a piano playing man, a singing woman, and fifty students singing in unison.  I witness a conversational English class with fifty students looking up words and absorbing new vocabulary.  I teach two guest lessons, one on Hawai’i, the other on studying English.  Students brightly mob me with questions, and many of them join my WeChat (Chinese Facebook) page.
New City Underground Shopping Arcade

In the music room, Mr. Lie and I sing and play “Silent Night” together, he on guitar, me on drums.  I tour some three private, sound proof rooms with pianos.  I tour a ballet class (girls only).  I tour a rooftop, open-air ballet venue.  I drink strong green tea with Mr. Lie in his office, and teach Max and him about Maui Preparatory Academy.  I meet the Head of the English Department, who is Max’s sister.
My colleague Mark from a French American School in NYC.
It is time to depart.  Max gifts me tea and a hardbound school yearbook.  He scurries me back to the train station.  At one stop light men in suits descend on us to sell us mansion apartments with golf courses.  Dongguan is so prosperous that people are hawking luxury properties at streetlights!  Max declines because it’s too far from his school.
Public Library and Guangzhou Tower

I bid zaijien to Max.  I haven’t eaten enough, so I purchase some butter-salt-chocolate cookies; it’s not a good choice.  On the train back to Guangzhou I write and reflect. What a school!  3,600 Boarding Students, and Maui Prep is hoping for just 48!

Back in Guangzhou I stream through tunnels, turnstiles, and crowds to enter a taxi line of over a hundred people.  The taxis pull up thirty at a time, though, so I’m quickly in.  I head to the new city downtown where Clyde, Mark, Tomas, and I have a meeting with ______________ agency.  It’s on the 20th floor of a high security, gorgeous, downtown high rise, with a jade dragon boat in the lobby and a four story chandelier bigger than my living room.  

One of the world's tallest, and growing. . .
This agency is the one that delivered my school’s first two boarding students- Bond and Lewis- a year ago.  Incredibly, there has been so much turnover in this office that no one is aware that this occurred. Increasingly I find this to be the case in the International Education Agency Business in China.  There is massive demand for Chinese to attend high school abroad, especially in America, but there is even greater supply of agencies- big, medium, and small- to broker this export of Chinese students.  The industry is changing as fast as China itself, and maintaining relationships, or guanxi, takes a lot of work when the players constantly change.  
Construction everywhere. . .

I present my twenty minute, 40 slide presentation to ten agents, sharing Maui Prep’s curriculum, athletics, location, physical plant, boarding facility, student culture, college connections, AP program, and more.  Two agents, the ones who lived in Toronto and abroad, are especially engaged.  They sit up front, ask pertinent questions, and focus.

I leave materials, and tour the office.  Incredibly, the second part of the company is an emigration wing, even though it’s called “EK Immigration.” Fifty Chinese people work in tight cubicles in an office to help other Chinese get out of the country.  It’s an incredible operation.  1.4 billion people live in China, and even if a small percentage want to leave, it’s still al lot!
Open Theater for 15,000 on the Pearl River. . 
We descend to the street and stroll through the new city.  Built out in the run up to the Asian Games in 2010, the modernity of Guangzhou is impossible to fathom without visiting.  A stunning, green, pedestrian park runs between skyscraper canyons.  Soothing bamboo flute music floats through the air of the park from hidden speakers in the trees.  A metro system and a mega-mall lie beneath us, but you’d hardly know it.  One of the top ten tallest buildings in the world continues to be built higher, as it towers terrifyingly over the park.  We watch tons of materials being hoisted by cranes some 100 stories tall.  A modern library, a world-class entertainment venue, an outdoor presentation theater with 15,000 seats, the Guangzhou Tower, gardens galore. . . . Guangzhou is a new and rising tribute to Chinese modernity that every American should know about.  China is so much more than America realizes. . . 

Fatigued from the walk through the new city, we split up to reset at the hotel.  In the evening the four of us meet at an al fresco Italian restaurant called Oggi.  Just a few years old, it has franchised into four locations throughout Guangzhou.  Lightning fast growth is the rule.  We dine in a circular courtyard surrounded by gleaming new skyscrapers and centered by fountains and gardens.  Some thirty restaurants ring the perimeter.

Sleep comes easily tonight. . .