Friday, September 26, 2008

Alumni Weekend

This semester has been hectic. My colleague has been reassigned and most of the work we had divided between the two of us has been placed in my lap. It's the end of the 4th week, and I can't wait 'til Christmas. But then, I always say that around the 4th week.

Anyway, this weekend was Alumni Weekend at our school. I started this Friday participating in a workshop on the issues of teaching Chinese characters. It was interesting enough as the faculty members from Chinese, Japanese and Korean all had different approaches and methods of teaching. The basic philosophies are so different. In Chinese, there are a kazillion characters to learn, but they are usually read in one way, whereas in Japanese, each character maintains its original Chinese pronunciation--although it has been altered significantly by the Japanese--as well as a Japanese pronunciation that was applied for semantic meanings. To make matters worse, depending on when the character and concept arrived in Japan, there can be two different Chinese pronunciations, and if there are related semantically there can be two (or more!) different Japanese readings.

女: female. Chinese: nyu. Japanese: (Chin) nyou, jo; (Japn) onna, me.

Anyway, the workshop was nice enough. From 3 PM, I signed up to stay in our department to welcome any alumni who decided to drop by for Alumni Weekend. But as we were setting up our conference room, we noticed a large suitcase tucked under the desk we keep in the hallway. A colleague and I asked the others if they knew anything about it. No one knew. The suitcase was rather dirty, pushed beck beneath the desk in an obvious attempt to conceal it, and had a sticker on its side that read: "Screened: Dubai International Airport." We decided that maybe security should take a look at it.

When the campus police came, they immediately determined that it was suspicious, they blocked access to the area--which actually blocked us into our corner of the building--and contacted their supervisors who then came to confirm the threat. The building was evacuated and we descended down the back emergency stairwell. Soon, the campus police presence was everywhere, sirens whirred as police vehicles cordoned off the streets around the building, and explosive-sniffing German Shepherds went in and out the building.

After two hours it was safe to return. As we waited, my colleagues and I talked with a member of the Homeland Security response team--yes, they took this very seriously--and he said they had identified the owner of the suitcase. I suppose we'll read about who and why soon enough in the school newspaper--I don't expect it to be even a blip on the media radar on a day when the Obama-McCain debate dominated the news cycle.

I was hoping to get some grading done while waiting for any possible alumni to show up, but the events of the afternoon squashed that plan. But ultimately, there was no bomb and everyone was safe. I guess that was as good a way to start the weekend as any.

PostScript: I did get to meet two alumni this weekend--Allison and Clark Munson. They seem to be doing fine, enjoying married life and successful careers.

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