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Lazy Panda: Lessons in Cultural Localization

Around March 21st I ventured out of the house to a popular Muslim eatery not far from me and only a minute’s walk from the Yellow River. This particular noodle restaurant has an impressive view of one of the prettier Mosques in Lanzhou. Despite my unease in crowded areas and the fact that virtually everyone pauses to look at me or listen to the words spoken by this “foreign ghost” I am relatively comfortable along the Silk Road. The people here are well grounded, happy and generously patient with me–I am one of the few white faces that they see venture into the back alleys of their wholly ethnic neighborhoods. I usually find laughter, song, and endless questions. But, this night seemed different.

The looks from Uyghers and Hans alike were disquieting: Either I was struck suddenly paranoid, unknowingly wearing some tribal gang tattoo or people had taken a sudden dislike to my ethnicity. On the short elevator ride to the reception area I was roughly bumped by two large and unapologetic men. As I have spent the last five years in Guangzhou, where etiquette means you don’t stare at the victim if a truck runs over your competition for a cab, I was only slightly ruffled until one of them asked, without looking at me and in terse local dialect if I understood Chinese. I answered in the affirmative and they pushed ahead heads down and mutering in discontented low tones about someone or something they did not like.

And I was still wonderfully ignorant and emotionally fine as I flagged down a taxi. But, once my cabbie looked in the rear view mirror he began sternly advising me against scuffing his seats, not once, but three times on my way home. I am not sure how I could have damaged them any more than they already were: I was guessing he had the transport contract for the local vet who did the lion’s share of cat declawing.

I am not sure I have ever been happier to arrive home and turn on the news. Surely even CCTV would tell me that the Japanese earthquake had spun the world off its axis and people were more disoriented than usual.

In fact, the Libyan assault had started that day. The French had swung first, but the Americans were clearly to blame on social networks. Uygher separatists were using the event to rally for dissent and revolution and CCTV, despite minimizing U.S. involvement in the conflict, was having little impact on the volume of less than rosy twittered epithets being propagated online. I had an Alexander Wallace-like epiphany: “Start telling people you’re Canadian, aye.”

Yesterday, with some trepidation, I returned to the restaurant. I was greeted like a prodigal son and ushered to a comfortable table where several waiters and waitresses dropped by to practice their English. And I wasn’t body checked into the elevator’s walls on my way out where I quickly was able to catch a ride with an ebullient Chinese Gabby Hayes.

The only negative event of the evening came when a young woman disturbed my deeply reverent communion with a bowl of white river lilies in peach sauce. She was hitting her husband with surprising force and making him literally and figuratively lose patriarchal face among the 60-70 patrons aggressively watching the altercation. Between swings she would stop briefly to vilify him and explain to the restaurant that he had left his newborn son unattended for more than an hour in favor of Five Treasures Tea with friends. And she called him a “lazy panda.”

I caught on that “lazy panda” was not a term of endearment after our tea fancier was frog-marched out of the restaurant and sent back to his enclosure somewhere in Lanzhou. His friends began to joke about the nickname he had earned earned since the birth of his child. It seems he is a lot like the furry masked creatures at Chengdu who don’t show much interest in propagation. It was then I guessed his wife to be a pretty creative zoologist when not involved in a live capture exercise or a domestic violence assault.

The political and cultural weather is better now. It’s quit snowing and people are glad to be out even among the strangers in their communities. And I learned a great deal during this last storm:

Behavioral contagion in the form of anger or violence is color or religiously sensitive, and does not remember names or faces from friendlier times.
No man should aspire to be cuddly like a panda.
I am a guest here and always will be. And it behooves me to watch for signs of inclement days ahead. Cabbies and waiters are emotional meterologists and can gauge the pressures that associated with the best and worst of everything moving in and out of town.

Asian Women,Beijing Olympics,China Editorials,China Expat,China Expats,China Humor,china internet,Chinese Food,Chinese Internet,Chinese Media,Expats,Humor,In the news,Intercultural Issues,Muslim Food,Personal Notes,Silk Road,中国

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Chinese Herbal Remedy for Shortness Discovered….

Cure for shortness

Air China flights from Tokyo to cities near the birthplace of the world’s tallest man Bao Xishun, also known as Xi Shun or “The Mast” (Simplified: 鲍喜顺; Traditional: 鮑喜順) born in 1951, are booked for the next three months in light of a recent discovery by barfoot doctors in the area.

Comissioned by the Chinese Olympic Committee to find undetectable growth substances to give to baketball and high-jump athletes they instead found a blocking agent for the genes known to breed shortness.

Several years too late for me–I stand at 170 cm–the substance causing the stir, Obecalp-A, is made from distilled Miongolian sheep bile. It is expected to recieve governmental approval in Japan even faster than did Tamilflu or Viagra.

Shortly, after Mongolian herdsman Xi Shun made news, the hunt was on for the reason he grew so tall. Bao Xishun claims to have been of normal height until he was 16 when he experienced a growth spurt that resulted in his present height seven years later. “Who would have thought it was the sheep?” said Xi Shun’s new wife. She hopes to pass six feet next year by taking the supplement.

There is already a huge underground market for the extract which is being called “Woolhite” in back alley pharmaceutical shops. Hong Kong authorities have already seized 330 million HK Dollars worth of the drug headed overseas and warn that side effects of poor production can include aimless wandering, sleep disorders, and uncontrolled bleating.

 

(Thanks for allowing a repeat post…)

april fools joke,Asia,Asian Humor,China Olympics,China Photos,China Sports,Chinese Medicine,Humor,In the news,Japan,Just Plain Strange,Personal Notes,Photos,Weird China,中国

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Spread Hope

Reuters Photo

Reuters

There is an old religious joke that talks about St. Peter leading a group of hard-shell Baptists on a tour of heaven. The whole time they were getting a sanctified tour they could not help but notice a high wall blocking any view to the right of the procession. Finally, one of the followers deigned to ask about what was on the far side of the obstruction. St. Peter answered by putting a forefinger to his lips and  whispering, “Shhh. It’s the Catholics. We allow them to to think  they’re alone.”

It’s been quite a week: wars, unprecedented elections, genocide aided by international good intentions not backed by action, uprisings, volcanoes, the earthquakes that bred the tsunami that continues to effect nuclear and economic meltdowns.  And in the tamer, less catastrophic weeks that led up to the horrors in Libya, Bahrain, Sendai, and Fukushima there was the Jasmine Devolution and Groupon’s troubles baiting the China hook on their first Middle Kingdom fishing expedition.

Not unlike the Beijing Olympics ( how is that for a metaphorical jump?), the intense media coverage and social media soapbox attention given to global disasters brought out a raft of what Ted Turner (surely headed toward the console to start playing Nearer My God to Thee) would have deemed kooks or bozos. Everyone with an agenda or a buck to make on adversity had something to say: and most of it was reprehensible. They tried to outwardly extend the boundaries of their political and ideological heavens (or hells) devoid of humanitarian consideration for the suffering at hand.

Let’s look back to Groupon for a paragraph or two: The madmen who contrived the Superbowl ads probably spent  more time discussing the thread counts on their suits than the cultural impact of their decision to air a commercial that a junior high school student in mainland China could have advised them was going to fly them through a shit storm for which a flak jacket and goggles would be mandatory. Groupon’s supporters cried “foul” and pointed to the fact that despite the vagueness of the ad ( Angry Birds should have given away a secret decoder link) they did indeed give money to imperiled Tibetans. It’s just that the Tibetans they support live in India in exile and are viewed by 1.2 million well instructed Chinese as separatists and a threat national stability. Add to it that for religious reasons most Tibetan Buddhists in exile, Tibet, greater China don’t eat fish because they are used to consume corpses in water burial rituals and you had acts perceived as cultural aggression in both sides of the political and geographical border. Offers of money don’t easily buy you out of those kind of fixes.

Pundits piled on that one and Old China Hands talked about the perils of Internet business in China and took odds that Groupon will fare worse here than my beloved Cubs might have of making the MLB playoffs. The jocular usual media suspects and good old boys, journalists and ex-journalists who interview, blog and record each other’s comments over drinks in Beijing, heckled Groupon nearly as much as they normally do anyone not afforded the sign or grip of their secret society. But, I digress…

Then soon after the Jasmine Devolution attracted more media than strolling activists (they’d been locked up or invited to tea (detained) in advance of their morning walks) for breakfast at KFC and McDonalds. Stephen Engle of Bloomberg was beaten, detained for hours and forced to file a police report while in dire need of medical care. It’s hard to imagine not one of the hundreds of cops and soldiers nearby was able to stop a broomstick battering of a journalist by a group of men wearing tactical communication type wireless ear pieces.

Social media fingers began pointing at the photographers themselves, there to do their jobs, as the cause of the ruckus and Engle was quickly crucified in absentia for crimes of omission and submission by reporters from time immaomoraiam. And if something had happened and they would have stayed in the comfort of home away from home someone would have been nailed for that one too.

My truck with the reporting of any of this, aside from the hate mongers who all seem to have heavenly authority to speak ex-cathedra on matters of morality, is the lack of attention to the human response cost in each of these tragedies.

A journalist running a running a stringer’s boiler room inn Shanghai once told me that I would never get published if I insisted on writing human interest stories with a positive slant. perhaps she was right. These last few weeks I have carefully watched  reactions to my updates on Twitter and Facebook and tagged my Twitter upates and my pictures on Twitpic. Those pictures or posts containing disaster or devastation seach terms were rebroadcast/viewed, on a average, 40X more often than those with heroic or human interest markers.

Bing took update hits over a Twitter campaign encouraged by Brian Seachrest (American Idol) that asked people to retweet their commitment to pay the Red Cross a dollar for each tweet up to a maximum of $100,000. It was seen as a commercial ploy while Lady Gaga was lauded for for donating proceeds for a grisly bracelet she designed when the link for the bracelet took you to Gaga’s ad forested online  store. As an aside: Though I don’t use Bing, I am now a fan because of the way they handled the crisis: They donated the $100,000 within minutes of criticism and apologized for what was obviously a poorly thought out and hastily run campaign.

To date I have seen no stories on the impact of Grooupon’s faux pax on Tibetans living inside or outside the borders of greater China. And I have not seen a story about any of the hundreds of workers, who signed on with Gaopeng in hopes of tenured employment with an up and coming new venture, and how this has affected their lives.

I have not read about Stephen Engle’s  recovery, the outcome of Embassy calls for justice in his attack nor the impact on him, and other journalists, of the aggression and subsequent indifference to suffering he endured in Beijing.

I translated and re-broadcast (retweeted) several Japanese updates this week.   One man, trapped under his house in northeast Japan put his address in a tweet. Another man talked about the charity and collective strength he felt after seeing several random acts of kindness. In one of his updates he asked people to “spread hope.” Others have called for a pre-morbid  celebration and recognition of Fukushima’s 180 ( #Fukushima140)heroic workers who have surely sacrificed their lives in service to others. They are already enshrined in many hearts as are the ancient 47 leaderless samurai who embody, arguably, a kind of selfless courage and spirit known in Japan as Bushido. There is no argument about these men and others who have and will surely suffer for their kindness.

One beautiful and moving article this week that touched on the difficulties faced by the nearly 500,000 people searching for news of missing or displaced relatives.  The piece was written by an LA Times reporter “on the ground” in Sendai. I felt it baited readers with a headline that made it sound like chaos had begun to reign in one most honor bound places on earth. In fact the Japanese have made themselves exemplars of dignity with their unselfishness and commitment to the common good. maybe the reporter or her editor felt and important story wouldn’t be read without first appealing to the apocalyptic side of us first. (It was better than the horsemen Beck and Limbaugh who ask you to follow them into foul and foreboding places stripped of any humanity where bright students like Alexander Watson get lost.

Many of the messages I read moved me to tears, many have inspired me, and others made me examine my place in the social web and where I want to be as a writer, friend, social median, volunteer and, more importantly, where I hope to be one day as a more self-actualized person who isn’t afraid he will write a story, or run a venture, only a few will come to know or appreciate.

Best of all: I have adopted a new #hashtag I will use without regard for its popularity: #SpreadHope…

 

American Professor in China,Censorship,China Editorials,China Expat,China Law,Chinese Education,Heartsongs,Human Rights China,In the news,Intercultural Issues,IWOM,Tibet,中国

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海归,海带,海鸥 Part I

China’s narrow definition of educational success abroad

Academic and aristocratic people live in such an uncommon atmosphere that common sense can rarely reach them.
Samuel Butler

“To get into [ China’s #1 University] Tsinghua as an undergraduate, you have to score extremely well on a nationwide test,” Seth Roberts, a U.C. Berkeley professor emeritus of psychology.  That is an understatement. A good score on the gaokao is the dream of nearly every college eligible student in China or rather it is the dream of every eligible Chinese student’s family. And subsequent sheepskins from brand name schools in China or abroad are what separate the social wheat from the chaff.

Roberts is part of a team to teach advanced psychology and happiness (somehow sad we have to study it to achieve it now)  at Tsinghua University. It was formed this spring after knife attacks in kindergartens left 15 young children dead and turned the spotlight on mental health in China. Just walk through any major pedestrian area and, like the US, you’ll quickly spot many in need of help. Shenzhen, the industrial pride of south China has the highest rate of mental illness in China and the least number of rehabilitation beds per capita. All the assailants in the kindergarten attacks were alleged to suffer from psychological problems or grudges related to workplace or relationship problems. And following the “posioned Apple” problems at Foxconn, a computer and iPhone component manufacturing plant in southern China, where several workers committed suicide, the gap between China’s rich and poor, educated and better educated began to look harder to span.

One obstacle to happiness in China, Peng said, is the intense culture of competition: “When you have that many people all fighting to achieve the same narrowly defined goals, it becomes a zero-sum game,” he said. “That’s why we need to change the paradigm of what success means and come together for the greater good of Chinese society,” Peng added. “That’s why we need to talk about the science of happiness.”

Happiness is not a factor when Chinese parents think about the stiff competition facing their children. I had dinner with a magazine editor recently who filled his son’s days and nights with paid tutors in everything from Saxaphone to language test prep’ schools. His son plans to major in engineering though he told me once, with his head in his hands, that he really wanted to be an artist. The son showed me the sketch book that he has secreted away from his family for years. Despite being (not surprisingly) a bit dark, the sketches were extraordinary. He is one of dozens of students through the years that has opted to repay his parent’s financial assistance by fulfilling their dreams of being proud owners of an Ivy League graduate with a job at a well known company.

The last three years, at no charge, I have assisted 20 students in their quest to attend schools in America and Hong Kong. 100% of the students are enrolled in “top 30″ schools. “Top” is defined by parents as a recognizable name or a U.S. News and World Report ranked program. I have helped place students, with differing levels of aid, at Columbia, Carnegie, Colorado College, Penn State, Nebraska, Berkeley, Yale, and others. Many of them came to me as English majors looking to move into business or finance. Some of them had already employed the services of cram schools that extort up to $9,000 USD for recommendations (fake), Personal Statements and Resumes (also fake), and assistance in choosing a “Top 50″ school.

One student came to me bearing a random list of colleges, some excellent schools and some dubious at best, saying she had been told to choose up to eight specially and individually chosen colleges and universities for which the service would then prepare admissions documents needed for matriculation. I designed a test for these lists as it was clear that there was no real rhyme or reason to them. I asked the students to select only the top tier schools listed and return them to the service.

The intern/assistant at the college guidance center was making 1,500 RMB a month preparing fake documents and teaching ways to scam various admissions tests. She was only a college junior herself and when presented with the list of top schools by my student she paled and said, “You need to pick some easier schools. These may be too good for you.” I wondered why they would recommend those schools if the candidates were not qualified for them in the first place. No mention was ever made of the reasons for their decisons and the intern did not even know when queried what programs of study were available at the schools listed. Note: They only get their full fees if the student is admitted to a school. To ensure their financial futures they throw in “ringers” of two types:

1. Schools they know will admit anyone who can pay full tuition.

2. Schoos that pay the service referral fees of up to 20% of each year’s tuition.

The intern finally capitulated and then handed my charge her doctored personal statement and letters of recommendation. They were loaded with errors: Chinglish spelling and grammar mistakes. One of the letters was purportedly written by a famous Chinese native English Professor (who likely gets a fee for each letter bearing his name) who could not possibly have penned such drivel.

I corrected the personal statement (PS) and the letters and sent my student back to the intern with the new versions. I had also removed the glaring buzzwords like “self motivated”, “creative”, “democratic leader”  that appeared with an annoying frequency throughout the documents they said were created using a secret formula. Kentucky Fried Admissions. The intern consulted with her boss, who had been told that an American Porfessor had edited their work. She chastised the student and vilified my efforts: “He has turned a rich cup of tea into a glass of water!” She also was verbally chastened for having a foreigner involved: “The American cannot possibly understand the Chinese mindset and will fail in getting you admitted.”

Near the same time I was  amending the documents I also called admissions directors at the best schools on the list. We found later that the service had not prepared additional documents and essay questions needed to assure entrance into these more elite schools. The student, guided by me, submitted them on her own and said nothing to the sevice. And we added one more top school not on the service’s list and applied without telling them.

The student was admitted to every school to which I assisted in preparing materials. The service claimed responsibility for the success and is now sporting news of her admissions in a forged testimonial on their website. Of the dozens of students who successfully were placed by the service my student was the only one admitted to a U.S. News ranked college.

This is not a story about my acumen as an adviser, but a cautionary tale for Chinese parents desperate to advance their student’s careers. These cram scools and services only exist to make money, not to serve the real needs of the student. One such service, NASDAQ listed, is building nearly 100 new centers to fleece well-to-do parents out of their hard earned Yuan. Their happiness lies in a good quarterly report and a high placement rate regardless of the school’s real impact on the student’s well being or future quality of life.

Sea turtles (Those who return and contribute to China with their newfound skills) will be a catalyst for creativity,” predicts Henry Wang Huiyao of the Western Returned Scholars Association. Sea Weed drifts without purpose and has little to offer. Too many schools, now that education has industrialized, care little for the endowments success will bring and do not mind returning students home that they may never see again. Haio is a seagull and implies that one is free to come and go and represents students who have successfully integrated eastern and western thought so well that they can travel freely to and from a foreign country.

There are some good centers, good eastern-looking western institutions as well as some competent prep schools out there. They are few and far between.

In coming posts I will also examine the explosion of 2+2 and 1+3 degree mills that now prey on wealthy students who under-perform on Chinese entrance exams. They give a year’s worth of expensive preparation in cooperation with schools in the UK and US who have lowered their standards in an effort to raise their bottom lines along with false hopes for the wealthy parents who finance their operations.

 

American Professor in China,China Editorials,Chinese Education,Cross Cultural Training,Education in China,Intercultural Issues,Macau University of Science and Technology,Macau University of Science and Technology,New Oriental,中国

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Turning Hashtags into Plowshares

 

There were “Nine Black Categories” during the Cultural Revolution: Landlords, rich farmers, anti-revolutionaries, bad influences (the catch-all available in any culture), right-wingers, traitors, spies, capitalist roaders and lastly, intellectuals—scholars have been last, or next to last in Chinese caste hierarchies since the Yuan dynasty where they were only slightly better regarded: They were ninth in the caste order and beggars ranked tenth. But, I digress…

Chinese revolutionaries might have hated Twitter and other social media even more than the PRC central government does now because in the often quoted words of W.B.Yeats: “The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

A card game, called Beat the Landlord, game grew out of this cultural conflict: Dou Di Zhu– (literally fight the landlord) and continues to be wildly popular on the Internet here with millions of players. The game allows two “bandits” to gang up on one “landlord” in an attempt to allow his partner player to divest himself cards and win. The landlord does not often fare well. I have grown weary of a few Internet landlords and short of beating on them I have just opted to delete them from view.

Social Media has been a digital gift from the heavens for me. I have been active on the web in one form or another since 1978. Social Media as I knew it then worked well because the conference moderators insisted we divest ourselves of titles and station and work on tasks that benefited the community as a whole.

I was playing Scrabble online with a social media “influencer” a year or so ago and we were both updating our experience as we battled. Suddenly he told me that he had to stop clogging his tweet stream with game details as he had lost followers during our contest. His reason for being on networks was clearly different than mine. I have used blogs and networks for years as a way to make and maintain friends. And as a result I have met In Real Life (IRL) dozens of people that were first introduced to me only as avatars, long lines of updates, shared pictures, music selections, videos or blog posts. It has been magical. And on my recent trip back to the States I revisited “old” Internet friends (some I had known for 7-10 years without ever meeting in the flesh) and I sought many I had not met, but for whom I had developed a special affinity. I found them to be even more gracious, kind and fun than their 140 character at a time persona allowed for online.

I use Twitter and Facebook in place of an RSS feed now and revel in new information about cultures, conflicts, charities and ways to improve my quality of life and that of others. I am pro revolution and pro profit as long as there is truth in the advertising…

But, of late I have noticed a disturbing trend. Sites like Quora, and Twitter have given credence to digital landlords, anti-revolutionary government and corporate eavesdroppers, rich corporations looking to speak to trends as opposed to consumers, link baiting spam laden roaders and those that inherited social wealth by association or early adoption who now look to dictate the set, setting and content of our conversations and want to make more money telling me how I can do it too. They act as landlords and exclude or attempt to evict those with differing views or too little to offer them as they extend their tweetreach or make their personal brands more recognizable.  And many of them display far from exemplary conduct as they write the leases that we aspiring digerati will tacitly sign in order to get along with them hoping to be included or for fear of being vilified, or worse, cast into the darkness of less social cyberspace.

I once asked the author of several books and hundreds of articles to “retweet” (broadcast again) a status update of mine wherein I listed the URL  of a U.S. sanctioned charity helping flood victims in China. I was told in seconds that under no circumstances would he jeopardize his social capital by assisting an unpopular cause. People were not happy with China. Lions 2, Chinese 0. “The best lack all conviction…”

Two gurus in Hong Kong refuse to add their name to any charitable cause not self organized because of its possible negative impact on their branding.  One of them actually refuses to pay admission to Internet supported charity affairs because his presence alone has value. His has a lot of social capital, earned by gossiping about others and devaluating their currency, though I wonder how many friends he’d have if he socially sobered up and put principles before his own personality.

Another Internet luminary recently assaulted a well-followed China Twitter user and lambasted him, among many things, for using a pseudonym and for not being in what the communication constable construed to be viable social media circles and for artificially growing his Twitter following. What he did not know is: the monicker is his court appointed name and the man he citizen arrested (with not a little police brutality and great fanfare involved), or rather the criminal in question, has secretly helped fund out of his own pocket important TEDx and intercultural social events that would otherwise not have happened.  I neither know, nor care, how he amassed a huge audience. Ironically, the cybercop in this episode of Social Media’s Most Wanted was concomitantly announcing to the world via his updates how proud he was that answers he offered on Quora were being voted to the top of listings. Now there is a real resume builder. This is the same man who incidentally told me, a former EOD trained Ordnance Officer in the Army, that I was wrong about what weapons were in use during my time in service when the closest he has ever come to the military is a Tom Clancy novel. This is a man who tirelessly works online to build his personal brand as an intellectual and contrary to most things. “…while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

And last, but not least in my not nearly exhaustive (maybe exhausting) rant is the visit by two writers for a brand name commercial financial rag. Their boss called with a day’s notice and asked if I would host them on their first trip into South China. I have done this for many journalists and business people. The heavy lifting is usually done by bright and self effacing volunteers from the local community who translate and accompany them to parts of Guangzhou, as a favor, that newcomers might never otherwise see. “In your life, you meet people. Some you never think about again. Some, you wonder what happened to them. There are some that you wonder if they ever think about you. And then there are some you wish you never had to think about again. But you do.” These two were hosted for meals in a restaurant that stayed open just to be kind to them,  given true visiting royalty status and then left only to write a blog post later that never mentioned the volunteers or kindness showed them, but instead only remarking about how filthy the air was in our city.The two poison ivy league graduates from well heeled families left several young students in Guangzhou wondering if our privileged company knew the difference between engagement and entitlement.

It is about conversation, not adulation. It is about earning relationships, not winning or displaying stinking badges. It is about dissolving boundaries, not drawing yourself into some inner circle. It is about traveling the hills and valleys of the bell curve, not cowering in the far end with only folks with similar statistics in some strange social equation. It is , for me, about trying (and sometimes succeeding in spite of myself) to do something good even if I have to panhandle…

There are no “Seven Keys to Internet Success.” There is one:

Be authentic

And while you are being authentic, if you can find the time to do a #randomactofkindness just do it.  Turn a couple of #hashtags into ploughshares.

And I try to remember that there is usually are real people and dear friends at the other end of my updates. And I believe that if had to belong to one of social media’s black categories I’d likely shoot for scholarship or refine being a beggar…

 

“God, grant me the Senility to forget the people I never liked anyway, the good fortune to run into the ones I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference”

 

 

Charity in China,China Business,China Business Consultant,China Editorials,China Expat,Cross Cultural Training,Human Rights,Intercultural Issues,Personal Notes,social media,The Internet,中国

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I See You

Our common lexicon is often changed by movies, televison shows, advertising, and oral transmission in person or over digital, analog or snail mail networks. “Unfriend” was Oxford’s word of the year for 2009 as it had, despite its psycholinguistic negativity, “lex-appeal” been passed on by social medians around the world. “Believe it or Not,” “Come on Down,” “Help I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up,” “Where’s the Beef?,””Impossible is Nothing,” and dozens of terms have planted themselves firmly in the center of conversation in scores of cultures world-wide even when users are barely able to remember origins.

Avatar has been panned by some critics as nothing more than a film with bright graphics illuminating predictable story lanes. And I have read blog posts asserting that all of its content will fade from our collective consciouness faster than it grossed its record breaking billion dollars in box office revenue. I am not so sure.

The curmudgeonly two-percenters among us, those dizzying intellectuals who can construct an intricate and convincing argument for just about anything negative, are often strangers to the ravishingly simple beauty of an oft told love story. Sure, the fates of Tristan and Isolde, Romeo and Juliette, Cyrano and Roxane and Abélard and Heloise will long be retold as adapted by lesser princes of literature and music, but Bob Dylan once said that all the songs have been sung and all stories already written. However, to put them into a contemporary idiom that speaks to modern hearts (in varied cultures) is worthy of praise, not derision.  Confucius said of these critics: “Men in old times studied to improve themselves; men study today to impress others.” Hopefully we’ll emotionally wake to the fact that an Avatar line like “I see you”–meaning I sense, feel and completely connect with you– can appeal to the marvelously ordinary in everyday people and  may well wind itself into more than one exchange of affection. But, I digress….

There may be other reasons for thwarting the success of Avatar in China.

I saw Avatar last week in a packed Hong Kong theater, tickets to which were were as scarce as a tamed Lenopteryx. Mainland China authorities stalled its release beyond an already delayed debut. Subsequently, I heard rumors that the Radio and Television Ministry (SARFT) had deployed a strategy similar to one used during the National Day holiday to boost domestic ticket sales for the currently running Bodyguards and Assasains, a home-grown feature flick. At that time, foreign films were nowhere to be found during the The Founding of a Republic, initially a box-office weakling, that went on to capture patriotic hearts, minds and a handsome gross. Avatar was reviewed ahead of its opening on the mainland by respected Chinese sites and generally given a bad grade by reviewers during the enforced break.

I am no conspiracy theorist – I look bad in aluminum hats – but, I cannot help but see, even in potentially false rumors regarding Avatar, evidence of a greater problem in China. During the last year China slowly and systematically re-lowered the Bamboo Curtain and took a look backward for guidance about its collective future. From karaoke bars to social networks the ability to electronically connect and “see” beyond China’s borders has been progressively restricted and interactions shunted toward scrutiny. With bit torrent sites ceremoniously closed to posture for the WTO and antedeluvian western IP criticisms gave dubious credence to China’s need to create more Internet restrictions to grow what Evgeny Morozov in The National calls cultural scarcity.

Morozov says, “For every Chinese blogger that the techno-utopians expect to fight their government via Twitter, there are a hundred others who feel content with the status quo.” I don’t agree. Facebook usage fell from 1 million users to 14,000 after it was blocked following the Uruqimi riots, but it wasn’t ennui that caused it, rather China’s Internet landlords upped the rent and effective proxy clients are not in the average netizen’s budget. A huge number of people are mad as hell, but will have to wait a little longer to not take it anymore. They “see” the forces at work…. The culturally hungry find new ways around the existing virtual blockades and the ongoing freedom fail.

A spot-on request by the WTO is that China allow more western entertainment into the country. But, they need to embrace a better model for distribution like Creative Commons along with reasonably affordable properties from which lawyer run entertainment companies expect to profit: DVDs sans extras, China specific releases, and more ad supported online availability would be a good start…..

Morozov is wrong when he asserts that “Citizens of modern authoritarian states face a choice between hedonism with stable prosperity (their status quo) and hedonism with unstable prosperity – the hedonism that may follow a tumultuous transition to democracy.” People cannot object with voices without being taught a vocabulary with which they can dissent. Moreover, it is naive to think that they will defend what  they have never been allowed to see….

 

American Professor in China,Animation,China films,china internet,Intercultural Issues,中国

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New Beginnings

A confession has to be part of your new life

Ludwig Wittgenstein

I am a believer in synchronicity. I am convinced that external events happen in concert with internal “business” that begs attention. And, I believe, that these seemingly random, unplanned instructional happenings occur with an intuitive precision that defies the laws of chance.

I struggled with the writing of the first edition of this post in 2009; then after watching Elizabeth Edwards (RIP) on 60 Minutes talk about terminal illness I knew it was time, ready or not, to type a sort of confession. First, I will digress a bit (imagine that) and I will bring this tale full circle into 2011.

In high school I remember reading Carlos Castenada’s tales of enlightenment via teachings imparted by a Mexican Socerer named Don Juan. Castenda learned from his teacher, among other things, to live with death over his left shoulder and then passed on the message to us to “live life to its fullest” from one moment to the next. This thinking has helped drive me through enchanted landscapes on an amazing dialectical journey.

Anais Nin said, “People living deeply have no fear of death.” and Issac Asimov made it delightfully simple with: “If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster.”  The choice is simple: celebrate life or accede to dying. I am becoming equipped to cast a cold eye on death.

I recently watched  The King’s Speech and left the theater with two thoughts: “Colin Firth is a lock for a Golden Globe” and “What an inspirational film for those of us who battle maladies foisted on us by our minds or bodies.”

I have PTSD. It manifests itself in a public social shyness and awkwardness that most of you would not believe if you have only followed my online presence. I assure you that the latter is far more representative of my inner landscape than the former. Those of you who have traveled with me know that the outside seat in a cab or theater comforts me and that noise and crowds do distract, disturb, and disorient me–when I am not battling complete panic. It is an emotional stutter and my successes in the classroom, on the stage and in public lectures are always interrupted at some point by my trauma induced stammer. I admit to the same feelings of hopelessness, anger (often misdirected) and despair that plagued King George VI albeit, thankfully, the consequences of the symptoms of my malady have personal, not international ramifications.

it is hard for people to grasp or believe the magnitude of hard to see struggles. The VA has long denied my claims for service related treatment because I have intermittently been in positions of authority and difficult and demanding jobs. I think King George would have laughed at the notion that one’s station, or perception of one’s station, had anything to do with the magnitude or difficulty of an illness and its debilitating effects. If it were up to the VA I would have me completely surrender, opt for a lobotomy, eliminate any motivation or attempt to get better and reduce my IQ in order to prove my worthiness for disability related treatment. And I would have to be damned grateful for being rendered intellectually and vocationally impotent.

Too, my body’s immune system is too vigilant. My natural defenses have enlisted in a war against healthy tissue and I am an unwitting host of the conflict. Treatments to date have not been effective and it is likely that I will die, and much sooner than I had hoped, from some nameless autoimmune disease. It has already claimed a gall bladder, nearly killing me in the process, and is now in the late phases of damage to my liver. Tests this week show that my body continues its violent quarrels with itself after nearly four decades and shows signs of worsening. These last three years, fraught with rumor, deception, outright theft and relocations have done little to dissuade my immune system that its host is not a pathogen. Aches, pains, fatigue, irritability, loss of pigment (I am not moon-tanned, nor a Brit from an overcast village: I have vitiligo), and ennui dominate. And any effort by me to mediate these symptoms while in “normal” company is exhausting at best. Those of you who knew me as a professional athlete, army officer, outdoorsman, martial artist or animated professor may well not recognize me these days in person. The physical changes alone make isolation an attractive choice

Know this: I write this only to inform. I desire neither sympathy nor plaudits. It is just life and I will do the best I can with what I have been given. I am less than pleased most days with my performance, but I chalk that up to an artistic temperament rather than routine despair.

Some of you who know me well are aware that I taught Mind-Body Medicine long before it was fashionable. So, yes, I have been doing those things I should be doing to bring back health and homeostasis. But, sometimes a vessel is just flawed. Jim Fixx a celebrated runner/author died in mid-life of a heart attack owing to his genetic make-up. Many people wrongly viewed his passing as a case against the benefits of jogging. The opposite was true. And I am sure that, like his, my life has, and will be, prolonged by exercise, prayer, meditation and other interventions. But, the inevitable it is just that….

Not long before his death John Steinbeck drove his camper, Rocinante (named for Don Quixote’s horse), across America with his poodle Charley as his companion he penned a wonderful journal during the trip: Travels With Charlie. I have longed to for such a land voyage ever since…

So, rather than lament my fate I decided, while writing the first version of this story, to take on a new project: to travel to all 22 provinces in mainland China. I did pretty well and chronicled some of the stories on Facebook, Twitter and Asian Correspondent. I also tried to do as much social good as my mind and body would allow along the way. This last year I have been, save a required journey to the US to placate the VA yet again, I remained in relative seclusion with intermittent outings for pizza, a couple of TEDx events and dinner and conversation with friends and loved ones.

Andrew Young said, “It’s a blessing to die for a cause, because you can so easily die for nothing.” And while I am not so grandiose that I think I am creating a noble exit for myself, I do want this time to count for something more than a grand tour of the Middle Kingdom. Like Elizabeth Edwards I hope to be of service in the process of fulfilling a few dreams.

The new plans are these: Continue to develop two phone applications I have outlined over the last two years: one that will be of medical service to expats and another that will aid micro-entrepreneurs in economically disadvantaged areas. I intend to get in some semblance of shape again and also hope to gain a little color in my face (I am allowed a delusion or two)…  I want to continue my travels and build cultural bridges–as health and comfort allow and I will chronicle my trials, travels and triumphs here. I also have two manuscripts longing for publication and I want to pursue independent, but directed studies in Tibetan and Mongolian culture (more on that later)….

And lastly I want to be a good friend to those I have come to love and admire and to to whom I owe great debts and eternal thanks: Roland Catellier, K, the Lason family, Xiaoli, Phoenix, Mengyuan, Qiwen, Hui Qing, Jianmei, Diane, David Feng, Rob, Richard, Pamala, Rick, Gypsydust, Duncan, Danny, Betsy, Michael, Peter, Matt, Gino, Cyrilla, Sandy, Jiaolei, JJ Ma, Paul, Janet, Cheryl, Tom S, and the many others who have been unconditionally caring, and patient…

I’ll leave for now, still reminded of Somerset Maugham who thought death to be a dull and dreary affair, advising you to have little to do with resignation. I will continue to blog about China, education, poetry, life on life’s terms and about those who have chosen to live it well.

And, when I am not stuttering, I promise to be typing as fast as I can…

American Professor in China,autoimmune disease,Expat Services China,Expats,Movies,n Globes,PTSD,VA,Veterans adminstration,中国

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Stone Pillow: New and Collected Poems: “Apertures”

I was just looking at Flickr photos that I snapped during a trip to Lanzhou in Gansu Province, China. It has been a couple of years since I took what was a life changing journey over the Yellow River and along the Silk Road. Gansu is the China I most love–sorry Guangzhou–with its dozens of ethnic groups. Despite its terrific poverty it is with rife with Confucian, Taoist and rich Buddhist temple bells and beautiful, delicate relics from Qing, Ming and Sui dynasties; and many of them can be found only a few meters from each other. And then there are the dozens of poems cradled in the giant Buddha’s arms and a countryside recites them in a different voice every spectacular season.

The pictures called to mind a poem I wrote a few years ago about how love for a person or place remains perfect, and  young even as we move through our inescapable developmental phases.

Apertures

I was just looking

through a photo album

one of those musty, three-tiered

prison blocks full of parents

slowly leaning away from each other

and children running at a standstill:

escaping more perfunctory poses.

There is one of you

just after I read you that poem

by another writer

about a woman

with your votive smile, inner nakedness

and a mid-afternoon firestorm in her hair

that he wished he had touched.

He told me once, his faced engraved

with regret, that he visits her often now,

though he didn’t attend the funeral.

When we first met

I heard

still hear your body

moving under your clothes:

the long felt silence of a temple bell.

Behind you, curtains were whispering

like nylons.

Why is it

that we capture ourselves

sometimes forever

in a flat semblance of the truth?

It is why

in pictures of me I am alone

standing outside my heart

with nothing for me to compare

until the day I’m holding you,

in a portrait with more

than a passion of intention,

and with a look as serious as a kiss.

American Professor in China,China Expat,Chinese Monks,Confucius Slept Here,Gansu,Heartsongs,Lanzhou,love,Personal Notes,Photos,Poetry,Stone Pillow,Travel in China,中国

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The Rape of the Nanjing Memorial

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“The ancient commission of the writer has not changed. He is charged with exposing our many grievous faults and failures, with dredging up to the light our dark and dangerous dreams for the purpose of improvement.”

John Steinbeck

Rape, torture, and war crimes are the twisted common tongue spoken by those falsely entrusted with humanely executing and conjugating wars humanely–if such a a mournful ideal is even possible.

I spent a week up north recently, most of the time in bed ragged from battling a relentless fever, and would have recovered sooner if not for my long climbs out of exhaustion to explore China’s City of Ghosts, Nanjing. I had studied diligently for decades the massacre branded incident by revisionist Japanese historians. I had to see the unresolved grief of a nation now shaped into a memorial and on display so the world will not forget the Asian holocaust and the 20,000,000 lives surrendered in Korea,  Burma, Taiwan, The Philippines, Thailand and the whole of the Pacific Rim enslaved by Japanese, greed, lust and an imperial megalomania.

The memorial hall, a coffin-like structure near the burial site of murdered Chinese (“Wan Ren Keng” or Pit of Ten Thousand Corpses) was built ostensibly to honor the memory the 20,000 women raped and some 300,000 citizens slaughtered in fewer than eight weeks of Japanese occupation. Some Japanese “negationists” dispute the number and others even label the talk of massacre a mere act of Chinese propaganda.

What is known, from diaries and collected records from such groups as the Red Swastika and ten other international aid groups, documented the burial of more than 150,000 remains in Nanjing. And I had expected the memorial to make heard the collective wail of a lost souls and a people humiliated beyond the darkest, most appalling horrors your imagination can conjure.

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I braced myself going in for a repeat of the suffocating, intense pain I felt when visiting the concentration camp at Dachau, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC or the Vietnam Memorial at Angel Fire New Mexico. These feelings never came. Maybe it was because I was unable to separate myself for any reflection from the constant ring of cellphones, or the it could have been the relentless manifestations of the number “300,000” that seemed there more as a rebuke than a eulogy, or perhaps it was the theme park feel of the exhibits, the horrific English translations at each station. Too, I nearly drowned in rhetoric about the glorious defeat and surrender of the Japanese to the Chinese forces. The sprinkling of mentions of the Allied sacrifices in support of China were disappointing and infuriating. There was a single picture and only a brief mention of  fearless men, like Doolittle’s Raiders or the Flying Tigers, who were pivotal in Japan’s defeat. If China hopes to extract honesty and contrition out of Japan and an amendment of inaccurate history books it should clean the window displays at the memorial and allow a bit more transparency…

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I was stuck by the tributes to some of the heroes who created a diplomatic safe zone that fended off the Japanese and saved some 200,000 lives at risk of their own:

When the Japanese invaded China in 1937 the world chose not to respond to reports of atrocities that were themselves biblical in magnitude. In one of the most perfect examples of repeated cosmic irony, John Rabe, a member of Germany’s Nazi party became the “Angel” or “Living Buddha of Nanjing” alongside its “goddess” an American Christian missionary by the name of Minnie Vautrin. After being rebuffed by their respective diplomatic liaisons they established the “safe zone” that saved people from being tortured, burned alive, buried alive, decapitated, bayoneted raped or shot for sport. They acted for God, or in God’s stead, as the behavioral contagion of evil spread throughout the occupying Japanese Army.  Further sad irony is the later suicide of Vautrin, attributed to Post Traumatic Stress, and the death of an impoverished and sick Rabe.  Rabe was arrested by his own party for his involvement in Nanjing, and then tried after the war for his earlier Nazi affiliation depleting his resources, devastating his health and forcing him to live in poverty.

Too, there was a small tribute to Iris Chang the author of the book The Rape of Nanking. She, to paraphrase Steinbeck, dredged into the light the horrors of Nanjing so thoroughly and unashamedly that the Japanese banned her book citing minor factual discrepancies with their own records. Chang’s death by suicide in 2004 is a lightning rod for controversy: despite psychological treatment for depression and three separate suicide notes, it was thought by many conspiracy theorists that Chang was murdered for endlessly embarrassing the Japanese such as she did by advocating congressional demands for Japanese apologies and confrontations on national TV with the Japanese ambassador. The documentary based on her book and released in 2007 was dedicated to Chang and can be viewed at the memorial.

From an earlier treatise on Nanjing:

Several years ago Rabbi Harold Kushner made popular a treatise on the Old Testament Book of Job. When Good Things Happen to Bad People took on the daunting task of explaining why God, in the allegorical text, might have subjected his dutiful servant Job to all manner of physical and emotional trauma while expecting him to be obedient and adoring. The book purportedly meant to give us comfort by explaining what laymen already had resigned themselves to knowing about Job: adversity just happens and we need to content ourselves with the knowledge that God has a greater plan to which we are not yet privy.

I never accepted Kushner’s easy out; so when tasked with teaching the Bible as Literature to Chinese students this year, I studied Job knowing the first question my young scholars would ask was identical to my own: why would man’s creator willingly torture a loving being, cast in his own image, for the sake of a cosmic bet with the devil? I found the answer in the actions of Job’s friends, not those of God as he was portrayed by the allegory’s author: Job’s friends willingly abandoned him. It was with that realization that Job became, for me, less of a lesson about obedience and worship and clearly a moral guide to my responsibilities to my fellow man.

Rape of Nanjing

If it is the duty of the artist to expose the truth to the light, it is the job of the historian to frame and disseminate the events that can re-shape our souls whether we think them to be temporal or divine.

Rabe and Vautrin did not leave the Jobs of Nanjing to suffer the mysteries of fate: They were courageous against uncertainty, raised rational voices amidst the absurdity of war, and thankfully were more committed than the closest of personal friends during a time of horror and anguish.

I read last year where 46% of people answering a poll on the social networking site Facebook said they had no desire to see the  documentary Nanking. It is likely the emotional cost, not the price of a ticket keeping them away from the film. Some, like Job’s fair weather friends, do not feel the need for humanitarian counsel. It seems some things are slow to change, but that should not stop anyone, artist advocate or historian, from authenticating the past by giving voice to those are not heard even in the terrible silence of indifference. Carolyn Forche, in her award winning book, The Country Between Us writes: “There is nothing one man will not do to another.” Steinbeck was right: we have usurped the authority and have supposed ourselves to carry the omniscience once ascribed to God.

While I agree with Steinbeck, Kushner and I diverge: I don’t think God, in any any of the earthly renditions we have supposed for his form or character, plays cosmic dice at our expense. And while I know first-hand the pain man is capable of inflicting, I choose to include charity among the many intentional acts that we might choose to commit.

The memorial, in all of its 300,000 (300,000) square feet of glorious anguish is overdone, smacks of a governmental, not humanitarian, agenda. I say, go see it, but view it as much as a metaphor for China’s lingering national insecurities and continued shame over its inability to end the Japanese occupation alone.

May the digital temple bell that rings every ten seconds carry some semblance of the truth of man’s inhumanity to man beyond the boundaries of any heartless ideologies.

P.S.  Special Thanks to my open minded, well informed and linguistically gifted guide and interpreter for the week Chen Chan and his teacher Betsy

Asia,China Editorials,Chinese Education,Human Rights,Human Rights China,Intercultural Issues,Japan,Uncategorized,中国

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Candy’s List

I was reminded of this post by a “tweet” on gratitude from one of my favorite people @Chinkerfly and then I managed to recover this from Blogger News archive. It is one of my favorite posts:

Blessings in China

Some foreigners are astonished at, and puzzled by, the myriad things that some Chinese, especially older ones, have never experienced. I am in awe of the Chinese who brave new experiences and immerse themselves in change with child-like abandon. My P.A. Jia Li is such a person and so is Ms Yue who recently rode on an airplane for only the second time in her life and kept her nose pressed to the window the entire time…

I remember going with her and another teacher three years ago to see King Kong in a big screen movie house. I learned later that it was her first time, at age 45, to see a film indoors. In her neighborhood, and many still, the whole community brings out chairs and a van plays the flicks against a canvas hung between poles or or on an apartment wall. She was mesmerized and would not take her eyes off the screen even to ask her most pressing question: “Is this real?”

Then there is Candy, a native Macanese working at the Venetian, who went on vacation to Canada and America for the first time. She was 24 Years old and had lived most of her life in Macau. I had wrongly assumed her to be more “westernized” and hence, was entranced by the diary she kept of first-time activities, foods and the places that particularly thrilled her on her journey.

Years ago there was a book entitled The One Minute Meditator” that gave you hints on how to celebrate and relax into events that we have become deadened to in our daily privileged routines. I have a renewed sense of life and good fortune courtesy of Jia Li, the fearless Ms Yue and Xiao Candy. Here are excerpts of “firsts” from her travel diary:

Foods:

Maple Syrup
Casserole
Root Beer
S’mores
Subway Sandwiches
Tap Water
Bratwurst

Things and Places:

An American Wedding
Sledding
A Snowball Fight
A Road Trip
Walking on a Frozen Lake
Taking a Sauna in a House
A Gas Station
Crazy Cars
Big Dogs
A Country Cabin
A Glow in the Dark Frisbee
A Big Sky
Ice Hockey
Carrying Wood for a Fireplace
Playing Old Maid
Seeing an Owl

Life is good, isn’t it?

Asia,Asian Humor,China Business,Intercultural Issues,Macau,Personal Notes,中国

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AN AMERICAN POET IN CHINA

My first mentor during my MFA training in poetry Mark Doty had won coveted several awards before I met him and he went on to claim every major award, save the Pulitzer, in and out of the U.S.: The National Poetry Series, Britain’s T.S. Elliot Prize (the only American to ever win and he is nominated again this year), The L.A. Book Critics Circle, National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, A Guggenheim Fellowship and now the National Book award. He is America’s best Lyric Poet.

I started going through work, finished and unfinished, after learning of his selection for the National Book Award. His award awakened in me my deep respect and admiration for all he taught me and has prompted me to invite my fickle muse to visit with hopes she’ll have me back. It was during my search that I discovered this post…

Here it is  recovered again from the past with a still unfinished poem added at the bottom….It is far from complete, but you’ll understand why after reading it…

AN AMERICAN POET IN CHINA

I was blog-roll diving last year over at China Rises and saw a listing for An American Poet in China. Now that peaked my interest! I opened the site in another tab, and then another and once more just to be sure: I was looking at my own site.

I am not sure what prompted Tim to label the link as such, but I am grateful. Of all the salutations or titles that I have proudly worn, or have had foisted on me, poet and teacher are the two I most cherish.

Google did not fail me as I went on a hunt for an American Poet in China: I found Tony Barnstone, once an English teacher in China and now Professor of English at Whittier College (Nixon’s Alma Mater) His books include Sad Jazz: Sonnets; Impure: Poems by Tony Barnstone; The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry; Out of the Howling Storm: The New Chinese Poetry; Laughing Lost in the Mountains: Poems of Wang Wei; The Art of Writing: Teachings of the Chinese Masters; and the textbooks Literatures of Asia, Africa and Latin America, Literatures of Asia, and Literatures of the Middle East. Born in Middletown, Connecticut, and raised in Bloomington, Indiana, Barnstone lived for years in Greece, Spain, Kenya and China before taking his Masters in English and Creative Writing and Ph.D. in English Literature at U.C. Berkeley. You can find his work here: Barnstone

You see? There is life after ESL teaching.

And I came across an old acquaintance Li-Young Lee: He was born in 1957 in Jakarta, Indonesia, of Chinese parents. His father, who was a personal physician to Mao Zedong (His book, banned in China, is The Private Life of Mao Zedong) while in China, after being released from imprisonment in a leper colony following Mao’s death he relocated his family to Indonesia, where he helped found Gamaliel University. In 1959 the Lee family fled the country to escape anti-Chinese sentiment and after a five-year trek through Hong Kong, Macau, and Japan, they settled in the United States in 1964.

Li is the author of Book of My Nights (BOA Editions, 2001); The City in Which I Love You (1991), which was the 1990 Lamont Poetry Selection; and Rose (1986), which won the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Poetry Award; as well as a memoir entitled The Winged Seed: A Remembrance (Simon and Schuster, 1995), which received an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. His other honors include a Lannan Literary Award, a Whiting Writer’s Award, grants from the Illinois Arts Council, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts, and a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship. He lives in Chicago, Illinois, with his wife, Donna, and their two sons.

He is one of the most passionate writers in America. Many of my phone calls and visits with Li-Young Lee left me believing that I was indeed talking to someone who was hard-wired to an enviable spiritual reality that he successfully struggled to make sense of in his work. I once asked fellow poets at Vermont College to describe him and every single poet, man or woman, called him “beautiful”. A few of his poems are here: LEE

And to my great surprise I found my name. In March of last year the National Endowment for the Arts in America published a retrospective of their last forty years of support and development of Literature in America here. My name was there along with Alice Walker, Issac Bashevis Singer, Eudora Welty, Mark Doty and Li-Young Lee. All of us, and hundreds more in the last 40 years, were once (in some cases twice) given $20,000 fellowships to support our work. I remember it as the most humbling and affirming moment of my life.

The NEA was embroiled in controversy the year I won my fellowship. Attacks by Senator Jesse Helms and many others, following the famed “Piss Christ” piece, ended many NEA programs.Helms and I exchanged many letters on the subject and would themselves make for a special post. The literature program survived its critics because it employed a blind selection process: Only 2% of applicant writers that year, individuals who had already published a required minimum of 20 poems in 5 national magazines or journals, were further encouraged to create work with the help of the awards decided by a distinguished panel of American editors and writers. Most of us are now academics and a few of the thirty chosen that year have gone on to great celebrity.

I have a new book finished, but I am not sure it is ready yet (For a poet, it never really is ready) and I will get to it soon enough because I know were I to have listened to that inner voice of doubt every time it sounded off I would never have published anything. I will let you know when I am OK with its imperfections. Poetry is for me like prayer was for C.S. Lewis: He did not believe that his petitions changed God just as I am doubtful my poetry changes those who read it…But, Lewis knew his supplications changed him as my work changes me…

Here is a FREE anthology by past and present grant winners that the NEA put out as a 40th year gift. I missed inclusion as they new only that I was in China, but had no address for me. I know you will enjoy it. And here is a link to a brilliant writer/translator of Chinese literature (and past NEA Fellow) David Hinton. Enjoy!

And finally my last work–still in progress:

AFTER BEING ASKED TO CUT HER HAIR

—for Ms Yue

When she called, yesterday evening

or the night before, I had to walk

into the thick heat of Southern China

toward our prostitute of a River–beautiful

after dark and flattered by artificial light.

I found it especially hard to breathe

because she reeks of smoke and poverty.

During the day, the sky, a gray cataract,

will ignore the whore whose name

no one speaks with longing in their voice

The water was unlined:

a corpse without worry as I prepared

a place in my memory

for what I would destroy perhaps forever:

The hair, the forty-five years

of silk still glistening with the kisses

of an adoring mother and vigilant father

She asked to me conceal the evidence

of the waning of the infinite. I was told to cut

and shave the perfect blackness, the magnificent

mystery of the history of moonlight, fires,

and the wind that has run fingers

through the remembered and the forgotten.

“Love is so short, forgetting so long”

when it is a name like hers that you clutch

deep in your throat. As strong as she

will be, and as proudly high as she has always

held her head, the quarrel with her body

will not always look this well.

I addressed sorrow in suffocated sobs

and the still water confirmed my questions with silence

Cartoon, copyright Cagle.com

American Poet in China,Asia,China Cartoons,Chinese Poetry,Personal Notes,Poetry,中国

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China’s Children of Glass

A friend from Shanghai just returned from Yangshuo one of the most enchanted areas on the planet. He told me he had met Chun Li on New Years Eve and while impressed with her as a powerful, positive person he did not know her history until I sent him this link from months ago…..Time to re-post it then, I think:

Then I first heard of Zhao Chun Li, I didn’t know what the fuss was all about. I had been told that she had brittle bone disease (OI) and was working at the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat as the Front Desk Supervisor. I thought to myself, Yes, this is a great story about overcoming adversity. And spectacular that she’s capable of working in a business setting. But, I cynically considered optioning the story and selling it to Hallmark.

But as I learned more about this woman, born on Christmas Day, I soberly realized just how startlingly powerful her story really was.

Chun Li

Chun Li’s message lies in the details. That Chun Li (Spring Beauty in Chinese) knows how to speak and write in perfect Mandarin is was somewhat interesting. That she was not able to walk to school because of fragile, easily broken bones and later taught herself to read and write Chinese sparked interest. And that years later, having never left her small fishing village in Guanxi, China, she would teach herself English with a little help from Chris Barclay (the man who founded ALTEC and The China-U.S. Medical Foundation) starts to spin a gripping tale of courage.

China can be an unfriendly place for people with hadicaps: they often are not allowed to attend school and are often left out of the mainstream of society. Because of cultural differences, Barclay did met Chun Li while acting as an interpreter for President Clinton’s visit to her home town a few years back. Chun Li had been ordered to stay shut in so Clinton would get a idyllic picture of life in rural China: a vision free of medically challenged villagers. Clinton later learned of Chun Li’s confinement and sent her a letter and autographed picture which she proudly displays at the retreat.

Chun Li’s first journey outside her village was to Los Angeles: When Chun needed medical evaluation and surgery—the kind of evaluation that a Western hospital could provide—Chris Barclay stepped in and raised the funds to allow Chun Li to travel to Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. Chun Li, braved the transcontinental journey, underwent surgery for a painful cataract, and returned to China. She is virtually self-sufficient: though she requires her mother’s help on a daily basis for some simple tasks, she supports herself with her income from working at the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat. She was the inspiration for the building of the retreat and a personal transformation by Barclay that he is chronicling in an upcoming book about Chun Li called Frog in the Well: The Tao of Possibility.

Yangshuo Mountain Retreat

The Mountain Retreat at Yangshuo

mountain-retreat-front-door.jpg

With the spirit of Chun Li’s optimism and strength guiding him, Chris Barclay had a new vision—he knew he could help needy children, young men and women get treatment for their condition by setting up a charity to help collect and organize financial and educational support. In 2002, he created the China-US Medical Foundation, and to this date, the charity has helped dozens of children of glass get the medicine, medical diagnosis, and surgery they were denied at the time in China. None of this would be possible without the dedication of Barclay and the vigor of Chun Li.

In the end, I’ve realized Chun Li’s story isn’t meant to be a tearjerker. It’s a courage-jerker—drawing on the best in her and calling out strength in the people around her, summoning reserves that make a world a better place. Instead of walking away from Chun Li’s story with a feel-good, TV moment, I walked away with a story about how the power of optimism, as exemplified by our Spring Beauty, and the Tao of possibility that can forever change people’s lives.

Chun Li

Chun Li at the Mountain Retreat where visitors from around the world have come to love and admire her, not for her conquest of OI, but for her extraordinary wisdom and positive nature.

By David DeGeest with Lonnie Hodge

Asia,China Editorials,China Photos,China-US Medical Foundation,Confucius Slept Here,Intercultural Issues,The League of Extraordinary Chinese Women,Yangshuo China,中国

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Social Media Leadership: It profits a man nothing….

They opened a pawnshop near my apartment building this week. I had an immediate visceral reaction to the sign that gives them what I think to be only the illusion of mercantile legitimacy. I have always found them to be sad repositories, museums of familial totems earned, won, or created by previous owners and then sacrificed. In this weakening world economy pawnshops are themselves heraldic emblems of societal failure and loss.

Having come from a poor military family (many of us lived far below the poverty line in the 60’s and 70’s) I know well what it is to watch your father sell a year’s worth of $25 dollar savings bonds, for pennies on the dollar, to pay off a gambling debt so there would be food to eat. I can still feel the anguish my mother’s face refused to show when we had to hawk what few heirlooms we had left—the few that survived an earlier tidal wave in Hawaii—to a cagey German national who had set up shop near our housing complex in Frankfurt to prey on enlisted men and their families. I witnessed many of my friends surrender personal property and pride for all manner of reasons.

Yesterday, on the micro-blogging site Twitter, Jeremiah Owyang wrote something to the effect that those who need to tout their importance on the Internet may not be nearly as powerful as they purport to be…. Now that there are new online measurement tools that can allegedly rank an individual’s influence within a particular social network and give credence to new status many proudly advertise their standing, The developers use varied formulas, but all give a great deal of weight to the number of followers a person has and how much “reach” their down-line possesses; hence, many members of communities spent countless hours collecting new ‘friends”, employing automated recruitment software, and verbally cuddling, poking, hugging or prodding others to include them in perceived circles of influence. Users pawn their time and, in some cases, their true persona, in an attempt to gain some measure of virtual worth in the form of a numerical representation or a percentile ranking. I am competitive and love nothing more than a good fight and, better yet, a win. But, I don’t consider social networks a sport. They are weapons of mass construction (sorry) in the hands of capable leaders and pawn shops for one’s humility and integrity in the worst of cases.

In the military, where I spent eight years of my early adulthood, we often said: Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way! Seth Godin in his well-written new book Tribes more politely calls on those in conversational communities to lead their followers toward their passion for connection, education, causes, business, politics, social good and other common interests. He sees the immense potential for change in networks like Facebook, Friendfeed, Xing, Twitter and the like and has penned a structurally sound and reasonably idealistic (they are not contradictory terms) blueprint for leadership.

I am a teacher; that makes me, not so much a leader as it does a conduit, through which leaders can speak, albeit with my voice. The real value for anyone choosing to follow me is that I try to pass on the best of what I read and learned from the many thought leaders I am privileged to know or have met during my 30 years of encounters with social media. Don’t get me wrong: It is also a place of instant feedback and communication and often great fun I think the Twitter commentary on the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics, written by a number of quick-witted and well-seasoned China Hands were as enjoyable as the event itself.

Most of my personal tweets or comments, ones that add little to public dialogue, are sent back to recognizable digerati/Twitterati in private. Many vapid tweets I see are saccharine and paw at community leaders in an attempt to gain favor. And the stars are not immune to a glamor shot and a few well-placed compliments it seems. But, of what community value is there in narcissistic displays of public affection?

I have spent the better part of the last five months paying back debts, monetary and relational, accrued after losing my way because I chose to take directions from people who mimicked (and continue to mimic) leadership well enough on the net that even I actually thought they knew the way out of the virtual forest. They were folks are who must imagine they will gather a crowd at their virtual funerals and be buried beneath a score of “growing gifts” spread on the casket. It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world, but for Twitter?

Post Script:

I admit that Twitter has now practically replaced my RSS reader: I find more relevant, up to date news being sent by trusted sources there than anywhere else. I track multiple conversations on everything from education and the arts to Creative Commons and censorship. I pay close attention to the sage wisdom of the leaders of my tribes: @shelisrael the online professor of social media or his Aussie counterpart @deswalsh; the forward thinking enthusiasm of @pitchengine and Jason Kintzler’s new social media pr tool; the strong prolific online working man’s writing from @chrisbrogan;
the intelligent world meta-view of @rmack; the important grassroots realities of @globalvoices;
the enjoyable, raw energy and inexhaustible commitment to the web community of @loiclemeur; the heart-songs and charity of the Library Project’s @tomstader; the spiritual thoughtfulness of @Meryl333; the cutting edge insights of @jowyang, @oliverdombey, @techcrunch, @dannysullivan, @brainsolis, @scobleizer, @danharris, @sioksiok, @wolfgroupasia, @kaiserkuo, @pdenlinger, @ganglu, @nuibi, @chinaherald, @gswafford, @pacificit, @igorthetroll, @flypig, @the busybrain and
dozens of others to whom I apologize for not them listing here….

China Humor,China SEO,China web 2.0,Chinese Internet,Personal Notes,中国

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The Monk in the Sycamore Tree

Shanghai and Beijing have enviable expatriate communities; many long term residents of China from other countries live, and foster social connections across cultural boundaries. Unless you are an young, resilient, party animal or a consular type, Guangzhou, with a few exceptions, can feel  uncomfortably transient and fragmented. That is why many have told me they hope for Web Wednesday to build on its first successful meeting of Chinese and Foreign Internet professionals.

That is all to say that a visit from an old friend, especially a gentle , deep-thinking one who always breaks up the unceasing rhythms of this hurried, harried immigrant workshop town for me. when he is around I happily feel cobwebs clearing on internal scaffolds of old dreams and aspirations.

He he is a Buddhist monk, 小双 (Xiao Shuang) who goes by the English name of Zachias. Zachias was the Tax Collector described in Christian literature as the man who climbed a sycamore tree in order to get a better view of Jesus Christ. 小双 actually chose his name after hearing a lecture of mine on Trappist/Benedictine monk and prolific writer Thomas Merton. I was talking about Merton’s last journey  before his death. He traveled to Tibet to meet the Dalai Lama in his quest to discover the true waters of religious thought he believed flowed from mainsprings the east. Merton had given his lifer to solitude believing that the distractions of the secular prevented a clear view of the spiritual. But, at that point in his life he also thought that the notion of complete segregation as practiced in his monastery created an illusion of holiness. Holiness is something in the distance and one rises above the crowd to witness it, to be guided by it, not to achieve it.

Writer Edward Rice would later call Merton, in a book by the same name, The Man in the Sycamore Tree.  Xiao Shuang aspires to be like Merton who is thought to have been a reincarnation of the Buddha by many Tibetan and Indian practitioners: He aspires to be a seeker of truth, not a symbol of reverence. And I aspire to adequately chronicle our talks of 25 years just as Rice did with his beloved friend Merton. In our two and a half decades of campanionship and cooperative learning we have never once argued. We have talked about everything from existential phenomenology to our mutual love for the Chicago Cubs.

Today we spoke of the Russian decision to commit troops to combat during the Olympics and actions of an American zealot in China for what has been called a “pseudo-guerrilla protest” on behalf of Tibetan Independence.

On both the conflict in Georgia and the missionary known as “iamgadfly”  he quoted Merton:

“While non-violence is regarded as somehow sinister, vicious, and evil, violence has manifold acceptable forms in which it is not only tolerated, but approved by American society.”

He viewed, as do I, both acts as unacceptable and violent: Russia violated a long-held moratorium against violence during the games; imagadfly purportedly was “giving a voice to the voiceless” when he vandalized upscale hotel rooms in Beijing, covered the walls in pro-independence slogans.

Zachias holds that a few obscure slogans in a hotel room, even broadcast on Youtube, could do nothing more than raise some angry voices in a country that recently received hundreds of hours of approved television instruction in Tibetan culture following the recent riots.  Ifimagadfly thought the Tibetans could not be heard before, he should imagine the din and roar resulting from his actions. Merton believed that the prayers issuing from his Abbey were powerful enough to effect world change. Zachias and I tend to believe, like CS Lewis, that prayer has more influence over the petitioner than the petitioned. At the risk of sounding opposed to human rights protests, we are both sure, and think Merton would agree, that delivering supplications to a deity as you commit a crime in a foreign country is unlikely to create a spiritual  butterfly effect for Tibet.

Beijing,Beijing Olympics,Censorship,China Cartoons,China Editorials,China Expat,China Law,China Olympics,China web 2.0,Chinese Internet,Chinese Media,Chinese Monks,Confucius Slept Here,Global Voices Online,Human Rights,Human Rights China,Intercultural Issues,Personal Notes,The Internet,Tibet,Twitter,Uncategorized,Videos,Violence,War,中国,中文,小双

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Chinese Twitter and the #080808 Twolympics

A 4th year Chinese student in IT dropped by today and laughed at me spending as much time delighted by news appearing on my i-Phone as on the television. It took a long time to explain to someone, who isn’t even allowed a TV in his dorm or access to much outside of the school intra-net, that I was (insert wry smile here) “riding a wave into the future of social media”  I was “tweeting” a story about an Olympic medalist friend of mine and realized that the student  was not even alive when my buddy won his cache of medals. But, I am lucky enough to stay young and trendy (2nd wry smile goes here) because I play in the social end of the web’s information pool.

I have virtually stopped using my RSS news readers since social media ‘s soup of the day, Twitter, saw its user base explode in recent months. I get sent (tweeted) dozens of links a day that I dutifully follow to viral fun and even breaking news that might not have reach me via email alert for several more hours.

Twitter Olympics

Twitter + Olympics

I have also have made a host of new “friends’ around the globe. The blogosphere, before I slowed down my postings, brought me almost daily into a cohesive network that connected me to dozens of like (and not-so-like) minds in China and elsewhere. Debate, helpful web information, coping strategies and places for fun and personal development appeared in ping-backs, linked posts and comment threads that I would discover via statistics programs, and aggregation tools like Technorati.

These days most of the news, reviews and acerbic boos I track are first broadcast in real time over Twitter, Friendfeed and Facebook. And yesterday’s hash mash (a way to view aggregated info on a single topic)  during the Olympic Opening Ceremonies was just straight-up fun! David Feng, the hardest working tweeter in the business, did a better job at translations, and commentary than did any of the newscasters on CCTV or Pearl (HK). Kaiser Kuo, Paul Denlinger, Thomas Crampton, China Buzz (from the news center), Rebecca MacKinnon, Papa John. Siok Siok Tan, Marc (from inside the stadium), Frank, and a host of others joined the creators, like Flypig, of a phenomenon that was and is by turns funny, wonderfully irreverent, informative and better at fashion critiques and obscure celebrity sightings than (insert the dubious catch of Canadian language geek DaShan walking with the Canuck team) is Perez Hilton’s army of snitches. And they do this while character-cuffed to 140 (133 if you count the hash tag) keyboard ticks a tweet.I think having to compress  thoughts quickly and concisely forces you to write free of your normal subjective shorthand and makes for unusual candor and sometimes great comedy: Cyber-Haiku.

Twolympics

Twolympics

Intermittent breaking news about the Hurricane near the US and the deeply disturbing report of a Russian attack on the Georgian capital was woven into observations being made during the parade of nations. If you were following along, you did not want for flash bulletins on anything of importance inside or outside the venue.

You can follow, or join in, on the micro-madness (you are gonna need to draw on that course you took in speed reading) here at  #080808, view some of the icons, and click on them to follow folks, created for the ongoing funomenon here: Icons

And just so you know that the rumors of traditional media being dead are truly and greatly exaggerated: The organizers and participating Chinese-Tweetlandians were humbled and impressed by a mention in The Times where, if you want the skinny on the people and reasons for all of this you “can read all about it” here: Chinese Tweeters Celebrate Olympics With #080808 – NYTimes.com

As veteran film producer/director, and wholly addicted tweeter, Siok Siok Tan broadcasted last night: “Twitter is fun again!!” Yes, that and a lot more….

Sorry, I need to go now and tweet that I wrote this story….

Beijing,Beijing Olympics,China Cartoons,China Expats,China Humor,China Olympics,China Sports,China web 2.0,Chinese Education,Chinese Media,Faceboook,Hong Kong,Humor,In the news,Intercultural Issues,Personal Notes,SEO,social media,Twitter,中国

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And let the real games begin…

Beijing Olympics

Four years ago I befriended a Vietnam veteran who was clean and sober after years of Cocaine addiction. He was one of the hardest working and congenial men I’d met at the VA hospital. He was employed in a minimum wage rehab program where he pushed wheelchair bound patients to and from appointments.

He had his own apartment in a declining and dangerous section of Chicago and custody of twin boys. It was like a sad scene from a predictable Hollywood tragedy when two young gang members approached one of the twins at his home. One of the gang members shot the young man, an top African-American student with college ambitions, in the head. They had intended to murder the other sibling who was who was less inclined to social conformity.

When my friend went to the police with information on the possible killers he was turned away in an angry exchange that ended when the white policeman told him that he would lock him up. When asked for what reason the officer replied, “I don’t need a fucking reason, boy. Since 9-11 it has been one long year of the cop.” He was right: Law enforcement was, overnight, accorded special privileges and many did not do well with the responsibility and instead used it as a personal weapon in their own private wars. My buddy finally found someone who would take him seriously and the killer was jailed when a plea bargain let the accomplice go free in exchange for his testimony. The veteran, demoralized by the struggle and grieving, relapsed into depression and drug use.

The same is happening here in China. A friend came to me after being detained and beaten by local police. Local constables now have the right to ask for your passport and visa on the spot. Those that have not carried their papers up to now, have started…The police have used it as a way to intimidate local Africans (blacks have an especially tough time maintaining work and cultural relationships here due to rampant racism) and Muslims. Some area police are extracting protection monies from Africans and calling it an immigration fee assessment.

When my friend pulled out his cell phone to answer a text from his wife, wondering where he was so late at night, the police who had been manhandling his countryman, thought he was snapping pictures of the assault. That is when they gave him a dose of the same treatment. His countryman was detained past his scheduled departure out of the city and missed his plane back to Africa.

With sudden power arbitrarily given to street cops, the heat hanging in the 90s along with similar humidity levels, and increasing paranoia over possible security threats it is tense here.

Below is a Youtube video of a scuffle in Beijing that left police and reporters injured. People hoping to get the last remaining tickets for the games spent two days in the heat and in unruly, close-quarter lines that we who live here can barely tolerate for a short time on a good day.

Some are calling it infringement on freedom of the press and chastising Beijing for not making good on its promise to allow reporters unfettered access to stories in and around the Olympics. I tend to see it as a lack of preparation for the enormous crowds and throngs of media personnel. Defects in crowd and traffic management planning have paralyzed the city more than once in the last few weeks.

The games have already begun, but outside the stadium.

The original story here at the ever vigilant Shanghaiist:

HK reporter and cameraman taken away after Olympic ticketing kerffufle

AJ report on Beijing:

Beijing Olympics,Censorship,China Editorials,China Law,China Olympics,China Sports,Chinese Media,Hong Kong,Human Rights China,In the news,Intercultural Issues,The Great Firewall,Videos,Vietnam,Violence,中国

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Curse of the girdled Bosom

Gong Li

More than two months after its release and the media storm about Gong Li’s near explosive role in Curse of the Golden Flower online and print media can’t let go. China Rising (NFTMK) did a great post, in December, on the possibility of industry fabricated hype designed only to recoup the $44.6 million US dollars that it took to stage this monumental undertaking. This week, The Record (TR) takes a different bent on the whole controversy and reports on an article out printed in a paper in nearby Shenzhen. It seems that Curse… has prompted a call for ratings surprisingly by cinematographers who believe that government censors, if following guidelines, will have less lee-way when panning or permitting a film to show in China or at festivals abroad. The law requires approval of a work prior to export or the film maker is likely looking at years of suspension from the craft. Several directors are currently exiled from the film community and would welcome a fairer system before remorsefully coming back into the good graces of the government. The movie is rated R for its violence, not its cleavage, in the United States and that means that children younger than 17 must be accompanied by an adult to see it. But, media hype or not, Gong Li’s barely reticent flesh is causing real debate over the appropriateness of certain stimuli for young Chinese children. I am a huge fan of Gong Li and have followed her since her role in Zhang, Yimou’s world revered classic Raise the Red Lantern in the late 80’s. And I want to see Curse badly enough that I will brave a Chinese theatre soon to do so: Chinese cinemas generally have the sound up so high that you need hearing protection to keep your ears from bleeding. I had a good laugh recently when I returned to a mall where the movie has been playing since November. The cutout of a tightly wrapped Li that was a lobby traffic stopper has been replaced by a tamer version of the film star that most native Chinese don’t think is so hot with or without enhancements.

I wish I knew where that offending cardboard ended up….

By Lonnie Hodge

Asian Humor,Asian Women,China Olympics,China Photos,Hong Kong Stars,Photos,中国

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Beijing’s Olympic Oracle Bones

Tim Johnson over at China Rises is busy rifling through the 172* page Confucian journalists guide for the Beijing Olympic Games, but found time time to share some insights on the new pictographs selected for the venues:

beijing olympic

These are much more imaginative than those from previous games and are meant to look like ancient Chinese characters of old used on oracle bones and modern day seals or “chops” as some call them. They are named “the beauty of seal characters” which should have been reviewed by the counter-chinglish squad, but I agree with Tim that they look great.

It is a marked improvement over the Fuwa that started out embroiled in controversy because of their similarity to the Japanese Kero Kero (ケロケロちゃいむ, Kero Kero Chime) from a manga written by Maguro Fujita. The characters from the 30-episode anime series on Japanese TV were supposed to be mascots at the Moscow Olympic games of 1980 before the boycott and subsequent employment of Misha the bear. I caught a look at an obscure, but useful, Chinese language learning website called Chinese Tools and saw a post comparing the Friendlies (Now Fuwa) to the Kero Kero…. The Fuwa (Chinese: 福娃; pinyin: Fúwá; literally “Good-luck dolls”) are the mascots of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. They were announced by the National Society of Chinese Classic Literature Studies on November 11, 2005, a thousand days before the opening of the games, but 25 years after the Moscow games.

Fuwa kero kero

I panned the Fuwa a few months back when government changed the name of the Beijing Mascots from Friendlies to Fuwa (gesundheit!) bringing good news to folks who bought commemorative coins with the old name inscribed. Why the name change was made so late and why the original announcement was kept so low key is still somewhat of a mystery. China Radio International (CRI) originally revealed the switch and listed the reasons why the name should be changed:

“Firstly, Friendly is somewhat an ambiguous name, which could refer both to friendly people and friendly matches,”(and everyone knows that none of that nonsense is consistent with the goals of the Olympic Games!) a Dr. Li from Lanzhou University was quoted as saying on the site. “Secondly, the term Friendlies has a similar pronunciation to ‘friendless’ and thirdly, the spelling of Friendlies could be spelt as ‘friend lies’.” Dr. Li also thinks Grape Nuts is a venereal disease.

Laura Fitch, a Canadian who works in China as news editor, welcomed the change, saying the name Friendlies sounded “a little bit childish” and “doesn’t really have a meaning.” Laura didn’t get out much in Ottawa, but am I still glad that this was an expat approved switch and that the whole world will now get to say the more sensibly adult Fuwa which sounds similar to the sound made by my Chinese roommate expectorating. Laura, who should have talked to fellow Canuck DaShan first, is working on changing the goofy little term for coach back to “agonistarch” which means “a person who trains combatants for games.” and Dr. Li is lobbying for the Chester in Chester Drawers to be changed to a Chinese given name and he also thinks that Car Pool Tunnel Syndrome could be more easily understood by city dwellers if we talked about taxis and underpasses. But, I digress….

* Everyone esle got a post-it-note.  Johnson was given the Olympic tome after his trip to Tibet….

Asia,Asian Humor,Blogroll Diving,cartoons,China Editorials,China Humor,China Olympics,China Sports,Chinese Media,Chinglish,Humor,In the news,Intercultural Issues,Just Plain Strange,Weird China,中国,中文

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Ghost Whispers

death catcher

I learned today that my sister passed away. I learned over the Internet that she died in November of last year. She was much older than me and never in great health, so I had wrongfully assumed she had “crossed over” years ago. Tonight in the still heat of a stifling Guangzhou I smelled the sour scent of some hard traveled memories and heard her whisper to me….

No, we were not close. Marriage came early for her, when I was 5, and before I was developmentally mature enough to crave or mourn losses. My military family was turning corners in or out of countries every three years or so and making the word “home” an abstraction. My sister was never in our family pictures. I saw her only a few times through the years and her face in my mind’s eye is blurred. I can remember her often speaking of pain and that remains palpable.

Until tonight I had almost forgotten I had a sister. She had been adopted by my unmarried mother at birth. She saw herself later in life as a stubborn vine that connected all of us to my mother’s alcoholic ex-husband and his mistress: She was the offspring of an affair, so her past was kept secret by my simple and well-meaning parents until she was a teenager. My mother and father, emotionally unsophisticated and afraid, asked a Catholic priest to substitute for them and tell her that she was adopted. It did not go well.

I have been watching DVDs this week “expat style.” We often buy two or three seasons of a show at a time, ones we cannot watch on regular TV and then air them from beginning to end in only a few days. It is a way to keep current with our abandoned culture and remain bonded to the lexicon, fashions and familiar emotions of our birth home. This week I have been storming through two seasons of Ghost Whisperer. And I have come to love the show for its generally positive outcomes, its promotion of health through acceptance and forgiveness and its desensitization of our collective fear of the unknown.* The protagonist of the show, who can see troubled spirits, helps earthbound souls unpack the heavy emotional baggage that holds them here. She helps them release after-longing and pain from the past so they can peacefully migrate into their future. It is not a story about religion, or eschatology (life after death), but about how to live well and without regret.

My mother developed Alzheimer’s disease and never was able to finally confront the trauma of being abandoned by her impoverished mother during the Great Depression. Too, she rarely spoke about the man who had deepened her emotional wounds later in life. She did so to protect herself and to maintain some illusion of normalcy for my sister and me. There was no malice in her deception, though my sister never forgave her or my father and never found emotional nourishment that would sate the pain. Where my mother insulated herself with delusions ( and maybe her disease), my sister did so with anger and distrust. After my mother died, I read in another Internet article that my sister had embarked on a public journey to discover more about her origins. I hope to learn one day that she was successful.

I wonder if other expats learn about their vacated lives past and present as I do? I view time compressed, via boxed sets of information that arrive in emails, letters, DVD’s and Internet entries. It was almost five years ago to the day that I leaned my sister’s husband had died an improbable death: an avid outdoorsman, he had contracted Bubonic plague from an insect bite while hunting. He was the first man in America known to have succumbed to the disease in decades. He was the most gifted craftsman I have ever known, but held back from his dream of being a woodcarver and gunsmith by the needy gravity of my sister’s suffering. So, I grieved my loss and his because his short fame was only in the peculiarity of his demise. We wandering expats may seem not to care about what happens to you, but we do. I do. And I, like others, frequent the few paths we can find along time’s rivers looking for signs of you. But can be a lonely and overwhelming journey when information flows so fast from so far away.

I laugh, mourn, celebrate and educate in absentia. Memory also presents to me as a frightened bird that requires patience to keep it nearby long enough that I can study, appreciate and accept both its beauty and its flaws.

I pray that both my sister and my mother are finally at peace. I long ago forgave them for simply being human. I hope they forgave this homeless child for the manifestations of his confusion .

I am the earthbound spirit now: I am on the banks of the river, coaxing the birds and vigilantly listening for whispers….

————————————————

* In another coincidence, I was surprised to see that the crystal ball mind reader on the GW website was created by my old friend and British doppelganger Andy Naughton .

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The Perils of Prosperity in China: New Grapes of Wrath

Poverty in China

The number of middle class and wealthy Chinese is growing in China, but the distribution of wealth is increasingly disproportionate. And the situation is worsening with the nouveau riche paying the government the fines required ( Fines range from under 5,000 yuan ($646) to 200,000 yuan ($25,800) depending on the violators location and income) to raise more than one child. Rural poor, in contrast, are increasingly worried more about basic health care and housing and cannot afford to consider a larger family. According to The Guardian, “…growing numbers of pregnant women are risking their own lives and those of their children by seeking back-alley deliveries to avoid fines for having more than one child, Xinhua quoted Deputy Minister of Health Jiang Zuojun as saying.” A Chinese news source stated that more than half of the maternal deaths in one province were due to illegal abortions.

Several papers reported this week that a new baby boom is likely on the way in China, but will be comprised of well-heeled children. Under current laws the offspring of one-child families can now raise two children of their own. In my last school, made up primarily of rural students, most of them had brothers and sisters. The school where I teach now is populated by the only-children (those born with a “golden” spoon in their mouths) of industry owners and government officials: the Little Emperors often spoken of in Industrialized China.

The consequences of the growing disparities in a country still defining the boundaries of a new social structure are vast and varied, some with devastating outcomes: China Digital Times recently reprinted a story about a farmer in China’s beautiful Yunnan Province. The land owner’s crop of sweet potatoes was destroyed as local leaders, empowered to make decisions about private land holdings, sought to force him to grow tobacco. Rather than yield, Yue Xiaobao detonated explosives strapped to his body as he approached officials from his village of Lishan. He killed himself and Lishan village leader Ren Xuecai. Nine others, mostly village cadre, were hospitalized and many were expected to lose their eyesight.

Increasing poverty, lack of health care, greed and the unchecked authority of local government officials has led to more violence and suicide countrywide. There are recurring reports of uninsured rural villagers killing themselves to save their families from the financial burden of a needed medical treatment or hospitalization. Like Liu Xiaobao many have injured or murdered government officials or health care professionals before taking their own lives.

The cultural divide is no longer an issue between western nations and China, but an internal and burgeoning one between classes in a country new to the perils of prosperity. I remember well the stories of civil and criminal disobedience my parents told of life during the Great Depression. It is now China’s turn to grapple with industrialization; there could well (I hope) a Chinese Steinbeck or citizen journalist that chronicles the changes brought on by the nearly twenty thousand concerted annual protests in China and the individual citizen voices now making themselves heard.

Asian Women,cartoons,China Cartoons,China Editorials,Human Rights,In the news,Intercultural Issues,Personal Notes,Uncategorized,中国

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