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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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Futures: How to make a killing in Chinese seaweed..

I just met with several students from area colleges at my apartment. They are all volunteers at some level for various causes in China. They are an amazing group: smart, kind and honest, as my mother would have said, to a fault. They accept China on China’s terms and do their best to ethically orient themselves toward success in a society where the rules are not always as clear as we in the west would want them to be…

Today, one student innocently shared information about university sanctioned illegal video and audio downloads and another showed me study materials stolen from America’s Educational Testing Service (ETS) that were reprinted, and repackaged without identifying marks and then sold to him by New Oriental (NYSE: EDU) staff. Let me digress a bit before I explain more to you of what I learned during one of my most enlightening lessons on IP theft, Chinese Education and academic cheating….

ETS in China

Before I could become an instructor at the US Army’s Academy of Health Sciences, then one of the most modern teaching facilities in the US, I had to take a series of courses designed to make me a better educator. I was required to pass six graduate hours of training in lesson plan preparation, test item construction and item analysis. These courses were meant to insure that all classes taught by me would be measured against overt behavioral objectives. It’s intent was that students would be fairly graded and measurably educated. And for the record: there was still great creative latitude available to instructors about how to present a course, but the structure imposed on us guaranteed each student a fair chance at a good score. We also had teams of graphic artists, an enviable TV production station with closed circuit capability and virtually unlimited other resources to assist us and our personal classroom styles–one of the few positive benefits of the Vietnam draft was a wildly diverse and talented military whose skills the Army sometimes put to good use….

All of this was incredibly costly. I remember helping preparing the Army’s Behavioral Science Study Guide by authoring the Learning Theory and Behavior Modification chapters. It took thirty faculty members several months to create a comprehensive guide to social work/psychology theory and procedures that was used for years around the world as a promotions test preparation tool. I know the expense of creating quality tests and their power and validity when used correctly.

Tests are everything in China. Literally. The annual college boards here are similar to our GRE, SAT, ACT, GMAT, LSAT and numerous standardized tests. But, the main difference is: in China your future generally rests on your academic acumen as measured by one test taken on one day of your life– It is not unlike the last year’s Olympics in some ways. Socially and financially the waiting time between re-tests in China, easier in the US, can be devastating here: A single point can mean you that IF you get admitted to a Chinese “Ivy League” school,you might still be relegated to a less prestigious major that the administration will order you to study–and no, you cannot transfer easily to any other department. Can you imagine a student at Harvard being told they MUST take linguistics as a course of study?

So, many students head for cram schools to get a leg up on the competition. New Oriental, which went public 2 years ago for 100 million USD, was sued by ETS a few years ago, but continues to flaunt copyright laws in most of its centers. In 2001, Xu Xiaoping, vice-president of New Oriental, acknowledged their “mistake” in connection with the ETS copyright issue and went on to say said that his school had contacted ETS several times to buy the publishing rights for authorized GRE materials, but that they had been repeatedly rejected–Imagine that. Xu noted that New Oriental would have become the largest buyer of ETS materials in China if ETS had made authorized GRE materials available to them. So, since N.O. can’t get materials–on N.O’s terms–from ETS, they just steal them.

One student told me about professional test thieves who make a great deal of money by signing up for ETS and IELTS exams and either memorize questions (long a practice of law and insurance board schools in the US) or just replace paper tests with pre-fab fakes and then sell the originals to New Oriental’s publishing consorts. The books have no author, publisher or copyright listed, but they are sold by staff at N.O. schools. N.O. then packs 200-250 students in a cram class, hires cheap and marginally qualified teachers or $150 a month interns to preside over classes so they can pockets millions of RMB a week in profit. I am occasionally glancing at stolen test prep materials as I write. I have given it a lot of thought and ask myself: What student of any nationality, anxious to further a career, could resist getting actual exam questions and study hints for any U.S. or Commonwealth test for only $3.50 USD?

Students from middle class families live in dorms with enforced curfews and those that are lucky enough to have TV may have to share one with up to 150 classmates. Libraries are not current and most school intranets prevent access to thousands of western sites. For many students, even those in International Business, their only view of the west, prior to graduation, comes courtesy of a heavily censored CCTV or those shows and books filched from bit torrent locations. I blame part of China’s student suicide epidemic on the dearth of stimulation at many campuses and the singular dominance of exam dedicated teaching. Even during the most grueling courses at the Army’s Academy of Health Sciences we taught “toward” the test, but promoted social activities and encouraged “real life” interactions and learning beyond classroom walls.

Then, there is N.O., a multimillion dollar, “publicly held” corporation openly preying on the desperation of students hoping to break ranks and better themselves despite China’s lock-step educational boot camps and profiteering cadres. Test prep is a several billion dollar a year industry here and there is no excuse for N.O. not paying its dues to the overseas organizations that are investing huge amounts of money in research, development and ongoing statistical analysis to level the academic playing field for foreigners and native learners alike. Cram schools are cheating ETS and others of profits and displacing deserving students who have studied according to the rules.

Research has long borne out the fact that such a model of learning: a punitive and obsessive approach to winning at any cost, creates only aberrant behavior. When we unnaturally force youth to adopt our national or political aspirations we should count the loss of their ability to enjoy normal developmental stages, once known as childhood, as a death and one as as final and unnatural as the corporeal loss of a son or daughter.

I was leaving a lecture last year when I heard what I thought was a rehearsal for a drama contest: a native English speaking teacher, one of the retinue of a British educational group preparing students for study abroad, was shrieking at a student some 100 meters away. Through the dementia I heard the words, “Test”, “Late” and Stupid” several times; then a door slammed shut in a violent rebuke of all I have ever held dear in teaching.  A once reputable organization that recruited students for UK schools has lowered admission standards for high-paying International students and is a money making machine that pours cash from unprepared rich kids into British schools and leaves recruiters, students and weary teachers wealthier, albeit worse for the experience. And the teachers, worn frail by students feeling they are nothing more than a paycheck for schools/teachers keep a wheel of frustration turning.

Later in the same day one of my favorite students, a senior at one of China’s top schools, phoned me. After a long silence in which I am sure he was trying to properly conjugate his emotions he whispered that he had done poorly on his Graduate Record Exam and that everything he had trained for, all the lost days of adolescence spent in test preparation, had been incarcerated in a single test score. This is the same young man who told me about well-known teachers here in China who will sell a letter of recommendation and who showed me materials handed out by “tutors” at New Oriental the publicly held cram school that pays students to sign up for and then steal US and British standardized exams and republishes and sells the questions. Many of these “learners” are those being pushed by parents to spend graduate school abroad in, what is for the student, one of hell’s circles for the duration of a degree in a field they well may loathe.

The video below amused many, but now me and is a sad example of what teaching in the cram schools can devolve into when educational carpetbaggers from the US, UK and China prey on a one-child family’s aspirations by industrializing and monetizing their dreams:

Test-prep classes at the New Oriental School can drag on for a long, long time. To spice things up a bit, teachers were encouraged to do wake-up performances. Things started mildly enough—joke telling, maybe a rousing song—but now, we have this rather risqué dance routine, performed by a TOEFL teacher at one of New Oriental”s Beijing campuses.” (HT to Kaiser Kuo)

Yesterday, one of my students from the past, an ebullient, artistic and wonderfully complicated young woman, emailed me for a recommendation to college in America. She has been a dutiful student at a Chinese “Ivy League” school, in a major chosen for her by the administration, only to answer the callings of a typically demanding academic mother and father. There was an uncharacteristically uncombed sound to her words, clues I may not have been meant to follow, but I did anyway. One of the gentlest spirits I have ever know and really a favorite student leaped into an uncertain eternity last year because school authorities in Macau stifled her cries for help, so I am not about to let even the most obscure hints of trouble go unchallenged.

This year twice as many “sea turtles” or Chinese student/expat returnees will fold up their foreign aspirations and come back to China in search of work because plans in light of a the west’s scuttled economy. Those that wash ashore, having been socially or financially promoted to a degree abroad, are known to their peers as “sea weed.” And their paper-bound skills, might be mistaken as useful by businesses desperate for middle managers that can help them fight this financial tsunami with newly forged swords of knowledge.

Schools like Macau University of Science and Technology, degree mills, with 2+2 and 3+1 programs ( do 2 or 3 years in China/Macau and then finish in the US or UK) have arrangements with institutions like Seton Hall and Central and Eastern Michigan in the U.S. have nothing to lose save their reputations by pocketing the money ill-prepared students pay them for what should be an honorary, not earned diploma. Many 2+2 programs are reputable and provide students an incredible international experience, but Chinese students need to be guided by career counselors not paid by the schools. They should seek out those who charge operating fees that ensure the student gets in the best school-one that matches the student’s needs.

It is time for some real prep’ schools for authentic scholars who will benefit a world economy and not a few wealthy opportunists.

Addendum: The students mentioned above and others who came to me for guidance, which I gave freely, are now happily tudying abroad at schools they are happy about: Arizona, Columbia, Rutgers, University of Nebraska, CUHK, Carnegie Mellon, UCLA Berkeley and others….

Note: This is one of the reasons IELTS China was started. Read more about it here (in Chinese): IELTS GUANGZHOU

Asia,Beijing,China Business,China Economics,China Editorials,China Expat,China Expats,China Resources,Chinese Education,Education in China,Executive Training China,Expats,Guangzhou,Guangzhou China,Intercultural Issues,Macau,Macau University of Science and Technology,New Oriental,Teaching in China,UK,中国人口福利基金会,中文,澳门科技大学

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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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You Must Go Home Again II

That I have withdrawn from the abuses of time means little or nothing. I am a place, a place where things come together, then fly apart. Look at the fields disappearing, look at the distant hills, look at the night, the velvety fragrant night, which has already come, though the sun continues to stand at my door.

Mark Strand

I have always thought suicide to be the ultimate act of violence: the explosion that results from a critical mass of shivers, splinters and agonizing open conflicts. And while psychologists assert that depression is anger turned inward, I view it as the long restrained blow in a battle won only by lashing out and retreating across waters into which enemies won’t ford. As I said in a post many months ago:

It is my guess that so many suicides on Chinese campuses are directly related to this sense of familial duty and the inability to express feelings of displeasure. I see student denial of feelings as type of socially/culturally mandated alexithymia that is pervasive in China. Alexithymia is a condition characterized by a disconnect between emotions and actions. Individuals who are alexithymic cannot accurately describe feelings they are having nor are they in touch with how the feelings are being manifested in other parts of their lives. Such disconnect breeds addiction, somatic disorders, difficulty in relationships, or violence.

I recently taught two seemingly disparate classes: one obliquely encouraged students to dialogue about their inner-most dreams and the other, coincidentally and disturbingly scheduled on the day of the tragic shootings in New York, had much in common: Students were asked to differentiate between the words job, vocation and calling and then apply them to issues in their own lives. I was deeply moved and, as is often the case, I exchanged my role as teacher for that of student. Those of us who have taught ESL for a number of years know well when to listen to the sounds that return to us from across the cultural divide. Chinese students are noted for their silence in the classroom Much of what they reluctantly express is meant to be superficial; hence, safe. But, occasionally, if you listen closely enough, you will hear the overflow of the heart become word. The sounds that I heard were not the usual echoes of my own voice and I paid attention.

It is suicide season here and it makes it all the harder to hear student voice fears and lamentations about the future. They expect that their jobs upon graduation, if they are lucky enough to win any in an economy hit harder than than the government lets on, may well be menial and unrewarding. They expressed an awareness that because they are students who will graduate from a provincial college rather than a country funded key university the likelihood that they would join the ranks of millions of the educated unemployed in now greater than ever in recent years. Many of them spoke of their vocational “choices” as inevitable: preparations foisted upon them by parents, poor entrance scores, or a lack of financial resources needed to pursue their true calling.

In my class of would-be businessmen and women there were actually singers, visual artists, humanitarian aid workers, writers, Olympic athletes and more….. My students spoke with passion about their dreams now being relegated to mere meditations on what could, or should, have been.

But when I asked them how they felt about giving up or belaying calls of the heart, I found that they had practiced for so long at giving an outward appearance of gratitude and acceptance that they could not see the dissonance. For them, to grouse about their lot in life, while spending their parents’ hard-earned money on tuition, would be to completely dishonor their families. Few Asian students would ever defy the wishes of their parents in such matters. Instead, it is easier to dissociate or suffer in silence than to profess displeasure at one’s lot in life. It is at once admirable and heartbreaking to see students inexorably tied to the dreams of others while abandoning their own.

I now know of ten student and Chinese teacher deaths in the last three years and all ended their lives by jumping from rooftops–an ending ripe for horrific metaphor.  Expats are far more creative in their self destruction as being an expat has its own set of invited and uninvited emotional contradictions: a feast of anxiety and mourning in he midst of the unfamiliar. I have watched expats lash out at their hosts for the very differences that compelled them to travel abroad. When our minds become cluttered with emotional matter we either reassemble and adapt, run toward more familiar surroundings, narcotize, lose our minds or lash out. Two of my friends have chosen, since since recently losing their businesses, to surrender to depression and deceit and I hope they come to some mental clearing where they can remove burdens of doubt, and rest and recover enough to negotiate a lasting truce with themselves…

In times of trouble I  stay up much too late to watch the box scores when Tiger Woods is playing, I watch endless hours of TV re-runs from the States, eat far too much toxic fast food, and worse…I have come close to wandering off the edge of the abyss, but have many good friends who know that sudden and prolonged silence from this outspoken teacher is a danger signal and I need to be called home if only via a message filled with a written or visual memory of the past…

My Chinese students are not always so lucky. Taught to wear discomfort fashionably they rarely give clues as to the depth of their despair or the strength of the opponents they are fighting. And even if they did, their polite contemporaries, also not eager to take on added responsibility, might ignore suffering in order to save their friend’s”face,” allowing them the illusion of strength.

It was a year ago last month that Chennie fought her last battle. She was an exceptional student who changed dozens of lives for the better. She was a favorite, she was gifted and not in retrospect: she earned the respect, love and admiration of students and classmates long before she died.  There was never a glister of sadness or anger in her eyes. I have stared for hours at the pictures that will keep her eternally young on Facebook and while I know some of the details preceding her death, I doubt I will ever arrive at an acceptable understanding of the hopelessness that drove her to take her own life.

I chose not to to give credence to the criticism of those who find my concern too saccharine or ignoble a task on which to to waste their conceit–like the administrators at Chennie’s school to whom she called out to in vain for help.

Chennie left me with a gift, of course, I wish I could return in person: I attend as best I can to those unable to sleep, I try to give voice to slight gestures of supplication I catch made in solitary anguish and I write in hopes you will do the same for the emotional or physical travelers in your life.

June 1988-March 2008

American Professor in China,Asia,Asian Women,Chinese Education,Counseling Services China,Education in China,Macau,Macau University of Science and Technology,Macau University of Science and Technology,Student Suicides China,Uncategorized

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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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If the show fits, throw it…

I was speaking to Zach, “monk in the Sycamore tree“, Xiao Shuang today about events of late in Iraq. Xiao Shuang and I disagree on many things related to soldiering, patriotism and heroism, but our mutual hunger for meaningful conversation only grows when we debate.

Zach believes that losing one’s life in war or service to a national imperative is akin to dying as a result of a drug overdose or any similar free will decision of dubious moral merit. As a veteran, son of a soldier lost to war wounds and diligent supporter of post-conflict care for the needs of soldiers after their premature introductions to death and human suffering–as if there were a good time for such things.  I am emotionally unable to deny feelings of pride and admiration for warriors and even if I cannot reconcile for myself any reason or rightness for a battle in which they may have had a dubious ideology foisted upon them I support their sacrifices and bravery. Xiao Shuang provisionally acceded that it is OK for one to give up one’s life for a cause, but only a worthy one, and then only though non-violent resistance.

shoe bush

Xiao Shang, with a slight nod, acknowledged my feelings and left that dialogue for another time–no story is ever unfinished with us, thank goodness. He went on to query my feelings about the war in Iraq beginning with questioning whether or not I understood the cultural significance of shoes being thrown at President Bush in an Islamic country. I gave a didactic/pedagogical answer: In the Middle east the throwing of shoes is a symbol of contempt and a grave display of disrespect far weightier than the physical act appears to be (even showing someone the sole of your foot is an insult) even a culturally impaired observer.  I shared with Xiao Shuang that I had recently polled Chinese business students about the leather clad curse thrown at my nation’s leader: I asked students if they thought that the act should be classified as an act of aggression or as an expression of anger that qualified for protection as freedom of speech. The responses caught me by surprise.

My students manufactured this scenario: They likened Bush to the Prime Minister of Japan during the occupations of  Manchuria and Nanjing and made clear that the throwing of shoes in Iraq was neither freedom of expression nor a reasonable expression of anger. The former was too aggressive to qualify for protection as mere freedom of speech and the latter was not nearly an aggressive enough act in their angry estimation.

The most recent war in Iraq was likened to the war invented by the Japanese in order to justify an incursion into Manchuria to rob China of much needed natural resources. And they compared the spread of rhetoric and doublespeak about building democracy in the Middle East to the propaganda spoken by the Imperial Army’s mainland invasion leaders, those based on assertions that they were merely unifying Asia for the sake of Asia’s preservation against American influences. Visiting occupied soil, bombed and blood-stained on orders of the Bush administration, could only bring pain, anger and anguish on the citizenry and would be weakly represented by merely throwing shoes. They were openly pleased that the last chapter in Bush’s public record bore a size 10 seal of disapproval. They doubted pro-war voices that say the war won him the right to express himself through shoe tossing.

(OMBW note: Does not look like much has changed in Iraq and China Smack has a very telling article here: Chinese Reactions)

I will save debate for later by asking Xiao Shuang and maybe students, if my contract allows, what would have become of any of us had Allied Forces not interceded with force in the Pacific during WWII. I am guessing his answer will be rooted in a call for love and compassion and acceptance any current suffering as a fraction of many yet to come in lifetimes beyond this one as we progress toward “The Right Way”.

Zach digressed a bit and went on to explain that he had viewed actions of the west, directed toward China as a whole during the Olympics, as a metaphorical set of shoes; a symbol not only of contempt, but of aggression against the Chinese people. A pastor from California painted upscale hotel rooms to “give a voice to the voiceless” (Xiao, a Buddhist, says he does not want or need a second larynx donated by a vandal) during the Olympics; and  Amnesty Australia put Olympic tourists in harm’s way by asking them to act on Amnesty’s behalf  in protest of China’s Internet firewall. Xiao Shuang smiling, wondered out loud why Amnesty Australia has not concentrated on its own censorship issues.  “To spoil and politicize for the average Chinese citizen, most of whom neither know nor are affected by China’s online controls,  our time to celebrate and embrace the athletic heroes among us was a clearly a lack of sensitivity and understanding of our culture and the pride we felt for the Games.

To believe that those who are subject to censorship are simply suffering in silence or incapacitated by fear is nonsense. The Chinese people are not as docile or as compliant as the media would make them out to be. And we don’t need lectures on the virtues of western life as much as we need tools of empowerment, education, and community building. We also don’t need meaningless regime challenging exercises that only steel the resolve of those  have not outgrown the need for power. They may raise funds for the groups involved but they only fuel ignorance and hatred. For the west to rally against situations they have not fully studied is like ranting at fire because it burns.”

Today China’s navy headed out to a sea beyond its territorial borders for the first time in 600 years to battle Somalian Pirates. Zach and I will not agree on this one. I am behind the EU and China in patrolling the waters to ensure the safety of their citizens and their property.

It will be interesting to hear the mediatative musings of Xiao Shuang as the rich and poor get poorer and the girth of hungry anger expands….

Asia,Beijing,Beijing Olympics,China Cartoons,China Economics,China Editorials,China Law,Videos

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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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Transcending Dental Medication in China

A few weeks ago I was in magical Guanxi province to visit with the the unbreakable Chun Li. During my visit I had, not one, but two fillings, put in during my time in the military, decide to abandon their posts–one on either side of my mouth. I went on a sudden food fast because it was impossible to eat. With several days left before I could leave Yangshuo for Guangzhou I headed straight to the local hospital. Everyone there was friendly enough. The dentist had her grandson assisting.

China Dentist

The Dental Clinic was on the second floor and all you had to do to find it was follow the smell of the bathroom, sans doors, next to my treatment room.

Dental Tools

The franken-lab tools and mixtures did not bother me nearly as much as having to rinse and then spit into a tiny trash can. I am not nearly as accurate at expectorating as the average Chinese, so I ended the session looking as though my sleeves had been been mauled by a St. Bernard.

So, the old joke goes:

Q: Why did the guru refuse Novacaine when he went to his dentist?

A: He wanted to transcend dental medication.

Sorry…

Well, I did not get the option of Novacaine. For the 70 Yuan ( $8.40) the visit cost me I had to make due with clove oil built into the filling material.

I still have horribly minty fresh breath and everything tastes like an Easter ham.

And no, I don’t know the onlooker here:

Chinese Dentist

And yes, I am feeling much better now:

Toothless Chinese man

Photos by Ms Bolly

Asia,China Expats,China Humor,China Photos,Chinese Medicine,Confucius Slept Here,Humor,Intercultural Issues,Personal Notes,Photos,Travel in China,Yangshuo China,中国

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Things to do in China when you are dying….

Don Quixote

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 had been struggling with the writing of this this post for weeks; and then, two nights ago I watched Elizabeth Edwards on 60 Minutes, talk about terminal illness and I knew it was time, ready or not, to type you this confession. First, I will digress a bit (imagine that)….

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.” Ms Edwards, like the Unsinkable Ms Yue, has made a similar decision: she will get on with life. The choice for any of us is the same as hers as we don’t know what will befall us. We celebrate life or accede to dying. She has made the only reasonable decision there is to make. Ms Yue has done the same: Fund raising efforts for her have failed and business associates have stolen money and merchandise that were meant to aid her, but she remains un-embittered. She has days of doubt, but seems well equipped to cast a cold eye on death. She still laughs with perfect abandon.

I have to be honest: It hasn’t always been as easy for me. Last week one of Ms Yue’s relatives, a successful web designer in Hong Kong, died of cancer. He was in his thirties. In the days before his passing the stomach cancer made him so thin that his spirit was kept earthbound only by the weight of his family’s love. This event and contact with five of my students, all in their twenties, diagnosed with various cancers, Ms Yue’s ongoing battle and I often find myself in need of emotional waders. And that is why I have not posted about my battle, until now.

My body’s immune system is too vigilant. My natural defenses have enlisted in a war against healthy tissue and I am an uninvited 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 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.

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 and penned a wonderful journal during the trip. I have longed to for such a land voyage ever since…

So, rather than lament my fate I have decided to take on a new project: I will be traveling next year to all 22 provinces in mainland China. I will end my trip in Beijing in time for a climb up the Great Wall before the Olympics. I have a fellow writer (he looks nothing like Charley or Sancho…) who will be joining me and we look to do some pretty ambitious things (videos, photo logs, the completion of Confucius Slept Here….) during our travels.

So, there will be soon another blog that will chronicle the adventure and it will be structured it so it can raise funds, via ads, for various causes while raising global awareness about a China not often presented to you by Western media. 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 and John Edwards I hope to be of service in the process of fulfilling a dream.

Today I was reminded of Somerset Maugham who thought death to be a dull and dreary affair and I advise you, as Maugham did, to have little to do with it. The new blog will be about China life on life’s terms and about those who choose to live it well.

I will tell you more in weeks to come. Onemanbandwidth will still be here during the trip and I hope you will be as well. For the record: I am in China for the duration and in the interim: I am typing as fast as I can…

American Poet in China,Asia,Asian Women,Cancer Journal,cartoons,China Cartoons,China Editorials,China Expats,China Olympics,Personal Notes,The Great Wall,The League of Extraordinary Chinese Women,Travel in China,Videos,中国

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I Love China and other finds…

Blogroll diving today I discovered I Love China written by a 8-year tenured British Expat in Shanghai. His is a diary from one of the faithful: He is as cyclothymic/manic-depressive as the rest of us, but he states that the norm for him is a genuine appreciation for the language, culture and heart of this country; hence, the blog’s name. He must be a good guy: he has Waiter Rant on his blogroll to balance out the Time Blog entry.

I found a wonderful picture on his site of a phenomenon so common here I forget how much of a novelty it might be for my western readers.

You see, In China one can own a 3,000,000 Yuan house in an “exclusive” complex that comes with all the amenities EXCEPT a clothes dryer. Every balcony in my neighborhood has skivvies to dress shirts hanging out to dry–damned tough some days when it is 97 degrees and 80 percent humidity.

Most “high-rent” locales like mine (a wallet-slamming $300 a month!) have a special porch area that is partially hidden from view so the neighbors don’t get to peek at your delicates. It is essential because locating a washer-dryer combination in a household appliances section of a mallin China is like finding chicken feet in the snack section of an American 7-11. I Love China snapped this shot in Shanghai:

Chinese Dryer

For the record: The web-footed one’s carcass and the adjacent slabs of meat are, thankfully, not real common in my neighborhood.

I am guessing that the drawback here wold be that in a steady wind the unmentionables could end up smelling like pork or duck. Then again that could be an aphrodisiac in Canton, but I digress….

Asia,Blogroll Diving,China Expat,China Expats,China Humor,China Photos,Confucius Slept Here,Humor,Intercultural Issues,Photos,Shanghai,The Internet,Top Blogs,中国,中文

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Interning the poor

China rural poor
One online dictionary defines interning as:

  1. The act of training someone for a job or vocation
  2. Restriction to a locale, country or prison

Recently a group of girls in Guilin who were training to be dancers were sent by school officials to intern in their craft. They lived in Guilin, a part of the exceedingly poor Guanxi autonomous region often in the news lately for civil disturbances related to government enforced birth control and abortion.

I don’t know about Guanxi, but in areas of Guangdong, arts schools and their charges are not held in high regard. Dancing, painting, contemporary music and poetry are often thought to be frivolous activities meant for those not expected to succeed in life. Business, marketing, engineering, medicine, and law are more socially acceptable here.

But most students in China, regardless of their vocational choice, are hungry for life experience in their chosen fields. They believe that transferable skills are learned in the workplace rather than the classroom and they trust teachers and authorities to guide those experiences. And most of the teachers there, a dear friend of mine among them, make about $100 USD a month for their efforts, but take their responsibilities seriously.

Xinhua news euphemistically reported this week that “The law was broken” when one school lost its moral compass and arranged for its students to work as bar girls: Guilin Intermediate Vocational Dance School’s cadre arranged “internships” for 22 teenagers in Hangzhou, China nightclubs.

The school officials told parents that their children would perform at “well-regulated places” and would each be paid 750 yuan (US$94) a month, a very hefty salary for an ethnic minority student in Guanxi, but the dark reality was they earned 100 yuan ($12.50 USD) and paid 50 yuan to an “agent,” 25 yuan to the dance school, leaving 25 yuan (a little more than $3 USD) for their them.

The most bizarre part of this story is the spin some educators and officials have put on the event: Yuan Bentao, a professor at Tsinghua University, said, “It is even more important that private schools like this maintain a respectable image so that they can survive in China’s competitive education marketplace.” Ya, that was the first thing that came into my mind.

Internet chat-rooms have called for jail time for the school officials. The school’s Chairman Guo Guisheng claims he believed he was “doing a good deed” for the impoverished girls and their families.

In all of the reporting on this issue I have seen no indication that anyone has done anything to dress the wounds that were surely opened for the girls involved. My mother and her sister were abandoned on the steps of an orphanage during America’s Great Depression because my grandparents could not afford to feed them. They never got over it emotionally and they were not morally degraded like these girls were: The students were often forced to share toasts with middle-aged businessmen then sent to bed to cry themselves into a drunken sleep.

A law firm director, Qiu Baochang, of the Beijing-based Huijia Law Firm added, “These schools have to improve their teaching if they hope to have good reputations; otherwise, they will easily fall into a vicious circle.” Alleged professionals like these make a case for the re-thinking of industrialized education in China.

It’s too late, counselor: The vicious cycle involves the haves and have-nots in your new China. The internships given to those underprivileged children better fit the definition of imprisonment. They are now socially and psychologically locked in to a wheel of poverty and trauma. The only thing these girls learned is that a lack of self-esteem for a poor child is not a self-induced psychological condition, but part of a realistic self-assessment. A prospering economy has driven off and left these dancers on the steps of bankrupt orphanage.

With big thank you to Virtual China /China.org

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I will meet you for Coffee at the corner of Walk and Don’t Walk….

china starbucks

Adam writes on the Lehman Law Blawg [sic] that the new ordnance in Shanghai requiring foreign businesses to add Chinese characters to their name is “misguided.” He goes on to make his case: “The claim that a foreign-language-only name is a major impediment to Chinese-only speakers is dubious. Even if potential customers cannot say the name, they can refer to it in other ways, for example, ‘that pizza place on the corner of Taicang Lu and Huangpi Nan Lu.’ As for access by taxi, unless you are going to the Shanghai Museum or some other such well-known landmark, names are useless. Whether you say City Diner or a Chinese name, you’re going to have to tell the driver ‘intersection of Nanjing Xi Lu and Tongren Lu’ to get where you want to go.”

Adam, I kind of expect to be reading Chinese (authentic Traditional Chinese) in Guangzhou, and even Portuguese in Macau. Just a guess on my part, but there seems to be some ethnocentrically driven historical precedence for the annoying habit of the local governments insisting on being able to navigate streets and order in eateries using their native tongue….

In China, that country bordering the country with the man with strange hair that is building a nuke, people brought up during the cultural revolution who don’t read English or Pinyin, probably don’t know the Hard Rock Cafe from a day-old bread store, but they have heard of Xingbake (the Chinese name for Starbucks) the American coffee joint or Kendeji (pronounced cun-dutch-ee) the chicken emporium. And even the Cantonese taxi divers can take you to either one if asked…

Adam gives his jury summation thusly: “Finally, foreign-language-named businesses add to the cosmopolitan air of a city. As one strolls through the streets of New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, one will see many Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese or other foreign-language-named businesses without English translations. Because Shanghai is unique in Mainland China as an international and cosmopolitan city, this diversity should be celebrated, not hindered.” Adam might have had me here if he he hadn’t introduced reasonable doubt in his argument by saying “Shanghai” and “free market” in the same sentence…But then, I lived in Chicago and did see a few businesses in ethnic neighborhoods with signs exclusively in the area’s dominant language, but most ethnic businesses in most cities have romanized names as well….The businesses intentionally wanting to appeal to immigrants left out “ease of menu translation” in their business plan to-do lists. The places looking to be cosmopolitan were smart enough to add English characters.

And if 谷哥 (Google) and 肯德基 (KFC) haven’t filed any ethnic diversity lawsuits because people here now know them better by their Chinese monikers, I doubt 星巴克 (Starbucks) is headed to court either.

By the way: “Guido”and “Boris” (their English names) from Guangzhou’s Tourism Board want to pay you a visit to discuss ways to improve on internationalizing their hick towns Hong Kong and Guangzhou… And “Makudonorudo” (the Golden Arches) in Japan wants you to represent them as they are tired of their name sounding like a morning rooster in the ads that air in the backwater town of Tokyo….

Adam is held in contempt of culture unil further notice…

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SEO SECRET….

SEO SECRET

I started an Search Engine Optimization (SEO) series a few months back and then abandoned the effort: Feedback from regular readers, most of them blogless and not looking to adopt, read, “I’m bored senseless!” It seems that only members of the China shoe-money society really read things and then they pissed and moaned: “It’s too simple,” or “Explain how to put an image in my post that doesn’t blow out my sidebar” were some of the two emailed questions….And then there was the uproar created by comments on a blog that used my posts to generate traffic by calling Fili and I “Greedy Superficial Bloggers” for discussing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) methods on our sites. It even got people taking sides and nearly cyber-rioting before he kind-of admitted it was just a scam meant to coax more readers to his site. But, I digress…

One of the deservedly best-loved sites on the planet is Post Secret. The trouble with being public and popular is that you are open to spoof. (Dear Sinocidal, I am still waiting for next April 1st….

The picture above was blatantly ripped off a very funny parody of Post Secret. Now, a lot of it is out loud funny, but a bit of it will only be understood by Fili, Ryan and others like the ass-hat. You can take a peek at it by clicking on the picture above. The photo references Matt Cutts, a paid stooge for Google whom I parodied hereon the site,  a few weeks ago. Anyway head over to the comedy and have fun. REMEBER to click on the links below the pictures for more fun….

PS: Speaking of Fili: Head over to his blog as that greedy, superficial blogger living in China’s latest province is actually offering free SEO help (There must be a catch :-)…) to anyone who wants to bring in traffic via sound and in-offensive methods.

Another SEO stunt in the works can be found by the hit-grubbers at Hao Hao and Chinalyst :-). They are sponsoring the 3rd-failed annual China Blog Awards. If you have already have a fave site you can vote for them and, more importantly, you can visit some of other blogs that you may not have cruised through yet. There is a terabyte of great stuff out there!

China Blog Awards

PPS:
pkblogs.com

Above is a way to view Blogspot (Thanks J) if you live in places like I do….One site you need to get to:

Free Oiwan Lam

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Secret Asian Man….

I love blogroll diving! Tak Toyoshima’s site is blocked in Guangzhou, so until United Media’s comics.com syndicated him last week I had not known of his work….

Reportedly the first Asian-American cartoon protagonist “Sam” grapples with an ethnic identity crises via membership in AA (“I’m Sam I’m an Asian American”) to excitement over the Americapalooza concert that will feature an Asian American band to a self-assured second generation defender of bi-cutural image:

secret asian man

The syndicated strip is great fun, but not nearly as edgy as the offerings on his website which are wonderfully politically incorrect:

secret asian man

Tak, an American born Japanese-American, grew up in New York City, attended Boston University and now lives outside of Boston where we hope the Japanese Prime Minister won’t find him.

Bonzai, Sam!!!

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Study in America: Study in US Guides

From The China Dreamblogue

Head over to BOD for recommendarions on where to study in the US, UK and Australia….

Study in America: University study in US

For anyone dreaming of university study in America: The China Dreamblogue has posted pdf guides on how to study in America, in both English and in Chinese…

Study in the US part 1

This is a guide to undergraduate study and educational opportunities in the US. You can find Arabic, French, Spanish, and Russian versions of the text: Study in America: American undergraduate Study.

Study in the US part 2

This guide explains the process of applying for and preparing for graduate study in the US. It includes information about admission, types of institutions, degrees, course loads, and grading systems. It will also discuss the different academic culture in the US and the US academic environment. It also covers specialized programs of study in the US: US nursing school, American law schools, US veterinary medicine, and American dentistry. You can find versions of the text in Arabic, French, Spanish, and Russian here: Study in the US: US Graduate Degree.

Study in the US Part 3

This guide provides thorough descriptions of short-term study options in the US, such as: high school exchange programs, work and professional exchange programs, vocational and technical programs, short-term university study, and professional study. You can find versions of the text in Arabic, French, Spanish, and Russian here: Study in America: Short-term US study.

Study in the US part 4

This guide provides important details on preparing for study in the US, such as obtaining a visa, predeparture information, housing in the us, and travel to the us. You can find versions of the text in Arabic, Chinese, English, and Russian here: Study in the US: US Visas, arriving in US, and travel to the US.

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Rats off a sinking ship: Yum!

The weather widget on my Mac says it is 97 degrees here in Guangzhou, but “feels like 107.” Who writes their copy? I think it would be a lot more descriptive, and accurate, to say: “97, but feels like you are clothed snorkeling in a sauna.” It has rained daily and the humidity is malleable. But, somehow I think we in Guangzhou have it better than the folks in Anhui and other areas experiencing torrential rains and home-destroying floods.

Guangdong residents have found a bizarre pot of gold at the end of the intermittent rainbows: Rats! They are being brought in by the truck-load especially from central China, where 2 billion of them (did someone really count?) were displaced when a lake flooded.

Rats!

The reason for jubilation?: “Rat Banquets!!” Rat vendors (I am in the market for one of their business cards) are making huge money on the fabled eating habits of the Cantonese. I have lived here long enough to attest that it is not a myth when they claim these folks will eat anything that does not eat them first, or objects that they have to fly in or sit on

The rats, reportedly NOT the bad bug-ridden rascals from Hunan where they are part of a crop-destroying plague, go for about 75 cents US for a kilogram to the buyers and fetch about $18 USD in the restaurants. The rat-catchers near the lake can haul in 150 KG a night and make about $10.00 USD. That is pretty good money in central China.

The oddest part–if there can be any quantifying– of the CNN story is that this new wave of furry fare is plentiful, not because of the lake, but due a lack of critter-chasing snakes and owls that the Cantonese love to include in their food and medicine.

Joyful Guangzhou netizens are now posting rat recipes on their blogs.

Yum.

P.S. Speaking of Guangzhou: Here is a site with some amazing 3-D maps of “home”…

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Elephant Hunting From Hong Kong….

elephant hunting

My laohua (“OLD eyes”) ache: I am several chapters over the safe reading line this week. I have been capitalizing on my delays waiting for China transport ( I want part of my ashes scattered at the Baiyun airport baggage claim area as YEARS of my life will have been spent there and in similar public transport areas) as an opportunity to catch up on a three year backlog of books on China.

After nodding through two history books I was desperate for an easy quick read, so I picked up a thin tome in Hong Kong entitled, Myths About Doing Business in Asia by Harold Chee. It turned out to be so laden with information that I was a full week, from Thailand to Shanghai, finishing it.

While in Shanghai one of the administrators at the Smith School of Business told me of a multi-national company that was setting up a new branch in town. They were flummoxed by the myriad answers they received to the same questions from a platoon of “China Experts.”

It reminded me of the old tale of the elephant and the blind men who sought to describe it by touching its parts: It was alternately a wall, a tree, a spear, a snake, a fan and a rope rather than a pachyderm. No meta-view of the beast was literally, or figuratively, possible.

Well, good news: Myths….gives us a clear picture of the China elephant in our economic living room. Is easily the most sensible and direct guide to doing business in China I have read. First published in 2004 (I told you I was behind) it tackles such myths as:

  • China is a market of 1.3 billion people
  • The market is easy
  • Chinese business people are not trustworthy, and a host of others…

In a review by The China-Britain Business Council Chee, and co-writer Chris West, are chided with: “there are handy pointers and suggestions, although the authors’ minds seem to be on other things when they recommend that, for meetings, “women should look smart but not too sexy.” They need to rinse the starch from those stiff upper lips as it is Chee’s straight-shooting style that makes this a worthy read. And before you think the book to be a literary set of patent leather shoes: it is rife with deft personal insights, but also well-researched data. I have already used information gleaned from the book to prepare two business plans for multi-nationals en route to China. Just an aside on the dress issue: If a woman wears anything remotely revealing or provocative in a business or educational setting her character will be judged, not by content, but by her appearance especially when dealing with older or rural Chinese people. “Nice girls” don’t do plunging necklines or visible bras, etc….. Cantonese have a love-hate relationship even with the “too sexy” stars of Hong Kong that they follow daily in the tabloids.

He writes without fear or favor for either side and makes it all too clear that it is essential for western managers to adapt to Chinese values and vica-versa. Our usual MBA-style, elitist approach to negotiations with Asians will only give the Chinese a strategic advantage. This is an essential read for newcomers, insiders and outsiders in the China. The book is best summed up by Beijing Management Institute’s Wang Xaoyu in a book jacket review: “An effective manual for all non-Chinese who plan to do business in China. The book digs out the essence of philosophy that Chinese people follow in their daily life.” Chee’s book should be a cultural course mandated into B-School programs of study.

Chee, a graduate in economics, “holds several masters degrees, and has studied at the London School of Economics, Essex, Kent Universities, and London University Institute of Education,” and teaches at the Ashridge School of Business in the U.K..

The seemingly simple lists in the Appendices alone are worth the buy: …key factors for dealing with the Chinese, and …key differences between China and the West are now tacked to my fridge door and will be staples in my future classes on Global Culture….

It is put out by Palgrave Press and costs about $275 dollars–Hong Kong dollars. I couldn’t resist….

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