Note: I wanted to include pictures in this post, but connecting over the UF VPN from China in order to use WordPress is too slow at the moment to upload photos. Maybe at a later date I’ll be able to upload a picture post.
Yesterday we learned about the modern practice of law in China with a visit to the Jun He Law Offices, took a trip to the seat of power in ancient China with a visit to the Forbidden City, and ended the day by getting together with a group of Renmin University law students to discuss some of the differences between American and Chinese law and culture. To say that it was a long day would be an understatement, but it was a long and interesting day.
The day started with a subway ride across half of Beijing to get to the head office of Jun He, where our professor had arranged a question and answer session, a tour of the offices and lunch with several of the partners. One of the partners, Mr. Liu Ge, is a 1986 UF Law alumnus and one of the first wave of Chinese students to study law in America. He walked into the conference room, casually dressed in loose traditional-style slacks and shirt with a cigar in one hand and greeted us with, “Hi, Gators!” (Dress standards at Chinese firms are apparently a lot more relaxed than in the US—one of the other partners we met with was wearing an impeccably tailored suit, another khaki slacks and a polo shirt) The partners who met with us told us about some of the cases they’ve handled—one major IPO they worked on produced 14 tons of documents. They’re currently representing Michael Jordan in a trademark infringement case against a Chinese company that is using the Mandarin version of his name as their company name, presumably to boost their own brand by using his name and reputation.
After answering our questions and telling us about the firm, we got a tour of the Jun He offices. They occupy several floors of a tall building in the business district and have an amazing view of the Beijing skyline including the iconic CCTV building and, since it was a clear day, of the mountains outside of the city. Our tour concluded with lunch in the extremely posh American Club on the top floor of their building, where we had more opportunities to talk with the partners and ask questions. We had several different sandwich choices for lunch and I had what was probably the best hamburger that I’ve ever eaten—this isn’t just by, “I’ve been eating Chinese food for 3 weeks so any western food tastes good,” standards, it was just really ridiculously good imported Australian beef cooked perfectly. Funny how sometimes you end up halfway around the world eating a better version of your own country’s cuisine.
After we left the law offices, we hopped on the subway again to head over to the Forbidden City. I love visiting places that are as old as the Forbidden City is because there is just so much history that has happened within its walls over the centuries. I suspect though, that the emperors would be rolling over in their graves if they knew that the center of imperial power, a place where the very forbidden nature emphasized the power they wielded over their people, is now being overrun by millions of camera-wielding tourists every year.
After we left the Forbidden City, we had to hop on to the subway again, which by this point was packed with everyone returning home from work. By the time we made it back to the school, we had only a few minutes to change and get ready before a planned get together with some of the Renmin University law students. The get together was arranged by Danny (that’s the English name she goes by–it’s similar to her Chinese name), a Renmin student who’s taking our Contracts class with us. She’s been incredibly helpful in so many ways since we’ve been here—she definitely got more than she bargained for when she decided to register for the class. Anyway, our get together with some of the Renmin students was an opportunity for us to ask each other questions about the legal systems in our respective countries as well and to get to know each other. We talked about topics such as separation of powers, how the American system of an independent judiciary avoids corruption, how the judiciary functions in China, the way trials function in our respective countries, and other topics that we were curious about. Thanks to the wonders of Google, one of the Renmin students had already researched UF and learned about our basketball success—since basketball is huge in China having a good basketball team is worth noting. A good time seemed to be had by all.
After classes end here, some of us will be going to Xi’an, the ancient capital of China. That’s probably best known in the US for the terracotta warriors, though apparently there are also a lot of other really cool ancient things to see. Everyone else will head back to Beijing after Xi’an, I’ll be getting on a plane to fly from Xi’an to Nanning and then to hop a train from Nanning south to Hanoi, Vietnam. The plane ticket was yet another way that Danny has been a huge help—I couldn’t book the ticket through the domestic site at domestic prices with a foreign card, so, after using Google Translate to reserve the ticket online, I was able to give her cash to put on her card and then she finished the transaction for me. I’m heading to Hanoi because I used to teach at the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam and I figured if I’m on this side of the planet it would be a shame if I didn’t take the opportunity to pay a visit to my old students and to my former colleagues at DAV. After a few weeks there, I’ll fly south to Ho Chi Minh City and then get a bus to go over land to Phnom Penh, Cambodia to meet up with a friend who I just discovered is going to be there at the same time I’m in the general area. One of the things I love about travel is the ability to decide on a whim to mix things up—I wasn’t sure how I was going to get back to Beijing for my flight back to the US, so why not Cambodia on the way? This is already far too long so maybe my thoughts on travel should be another post.