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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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It is OMBW’s Free Degree Day!

Tired of no respect? Weary of fellow Airport Security officers ribbing you for taking vocational education all five years of High School? Do you think George Bush could beat you on Scrabulous? The answer for you is here today on OMBW!

Get instant respect from the Jiade school and for no money!!!

There is one small catch. You need to pass this simple test:

1. What stands out in this picture from an Internet advertised English Training school (移动英语—沟天下 易如反掌) I discovered today on the Chinese net (YES, REALLY!): MOBILE SCHOOL

Harvard Faculty

If you answered, “David quit dyeing his hair!” you are on your way to a new and profitable career as a China fake-goods spotter. That alone will save you tons of dough on eBay and Craigslist!*

Now the tough one:

2.What is unusual about the school’s certificate of appointment from Harvard University?

Fake harvard diploma

If you answered, “There weren’t three Decembers in 2004!” you are almost there!**

Last question: Why do they call it the Mobile training center?

And if you answered, “Where the hell is stuff I paid for?” you can download your Jiade diploma right now:

FREE Jiade diploma!! Click Here!!!
This post was the result of the 175 spam emails I relly recieved from Hong Kong Scammers this month (posing as Nigerian Scam artists posing as sons of deposed rulers in some overthrown African country) all phishing for fools. This issue was discussed recently on Josh’s Blog and I just had to chime in.A friend living in Macau actually had her website bandwidth hijacked recently and used as a phony front for HSBC bank. She is lucky as has her site back and I can only hope they slammed the bad guys. But, cyber-crooks are getting more and more sophisticated: The graphics, phishing techniques and quick transfer of your cash or credit card balance is frightening. I had an online bookstore several years ago bilked of thousands of dollars via medical textbooks that were being bought with stolen credit cards and then resold to nursing schools country-wide. The ending to that story is mixed: I helped authorities nab the bad guys, but never got the money or books back.Do you think you are good at ID’ing phonies? If so, try McAfee’s SiteAdvisor test: It is 10 questions designed to test whether or not you can spot “phishing” attempts to steal passwords and other personal information. I scored a 9/10 which means I am still vulnerable!–They all aren’t as easy to spot as the site above. Here is the test and some hints on how to not get got: SCAM …. They pulled it from the site just yesterday after we tested it, but their blog still has it listed ( a scam re-direct to the security advisor download :-))…. Or maybe they were hacked….They do have up a spyware quiz: SWQ

*Harry?

**Chinglish in the citation…and Harvard has a Principal?

Asian Humor,China Business,China Editorials,China Humor,China Photos,China web 2.0,Chinese Internet,Chinese Media,Education in China,Humor,In the news,Internet marketing China,Just Plain Strange,Personal Notes,Photos,Teaching in China,Weird China,中国,中文

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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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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

Asia,Asian Women,Charity in China,China Cartoons,China Editorials,China Law,Education in China,Human Rights,Human Rights China,In the news,Intercultural Issues,Teaching in China,Violence,中国,中文

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The Hong Kong Monkey Trials….

Devolution The original Scopes “Monkey Trial” was a test of a 1925 bill passed in Arkansas that forbade any doctrine from being taught that opposed divine creation as expressed in the Christian Bible. Scopes, a teacher, was accused of teaching evolution. At that time, and even today, many people like the just-departed Jerry Falwell, viewed the Bible as the literal word of God and inerrant in its view of the world. Others still follow closely with the belief that it is a “God-Breathed” and man written document that is the essence of what God intended us to know about creation. . The issues raised by the Scopes trial remain, to this day, hotly contested in communities and American courtrooms and it is not religion they are arguing. Lately, Hong Kong has seen a bit of the circus atmosphere that was part of the Scopes courtroom drama between famed atheist lawyer Clarence Darrow and Presidential candidate, and fiercely Christian, William Jennings Bryan. The players, although not as flamboyant, are acting with a fervor and commitment about Freedom of Speech issues and drawing a crowd on both sides of the debate. An “Obscene Articles Tribunal” recently ruled that a student newspaper at Chinese university (academically one of the highest rated in the World and once a bastion of free speech) broke the law by distributing a sex survey. The Tribunal has yet to issue a penalty, but I am guessing, regardless of its weight (there is possible prison time involved), that the punishment will have as profound a public impact as did the $100 fine given to Scopes who was found also guilty of teaching evolution. The chief editor Tsang Chiu-wai said that regardless of the ruling of the Tribunal the will continue to publish the paper. This morning things got a bit more interesting. The South China Morning Post had an article on the front page that asked in its lead-in: “Is the Bible decent?” An anonymous website (http://truthbible.net) has launched a campaign to have the Christian Bible censored. The website is reported to object to references to “rape, cannibalism and violence in both the Old and New Testament.” So far the number of complaints to the Television and Licensing Authority concerning the Bible to has almost tripled those that were aimed at the Chinese University publication. If the complaints are proved valid ,full texts of the Bible could only be read by adults and would have to be sold sealed and tagged with a warning label. The website has its own warning on its header that reads: “This website contains biblical material,which may be offensive and may not be distributed, circulated, sold hired, given, given, lent, shown, played or projected to a person under the age of 18 years”:
bible warning Still a few decades away from surrendering autonomy to the mainland, Hong Kong is still struggling with how to please Beijing, maintain some semblance of self-rule and yet answer to constituents and leaders on both sides of Freedom of Speech issues. On the same front page issue of today’s SCMP the chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, Ma Lik, said Hong Kong had an “unpatriotic view” of one issue in particular, “The government should teach what actually happened on June 4th….” and he went on to add that “Freedom of speech is not absolute; it should be based on facts. when facts are not clear, people can only have wild talk.” Mr. Ma has been an advocate of universal sufferage (the right of anyone to vote) in Hong Kong, but qualifies that by saying only after the Hong Kong government educates teachers about what “really” happened in history. It is Arkansas all over again. I am glad that in the west we have preserved the right to “wild talk” from the days of Moses right up to the Jerry Falwell and historical revisionist Ma. It is time for America to watch, as did Europe during the Scopes trial, to see who or what prevails. One hopes a win is not brought on by the “alchemy of ignorance” whereby hot air is transmuted into gold, but by a concern for civil liberties, in the Hong Kong Monkey Trials.

An update on the stats here: BIBLE

Censorship,China Editorials,Chinese Media,Hong Kong,In the news,Intercultural Issues,中国

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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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Addicted to Mediocrity: Education in China II

Several years ago, there was an American dentist who was well known in alcohol recovery circles. He was frequently invited to speak about his circuitous and hard won arrival at sobriety because he was easily one of the most entertaining speakers ever heard on any subject. One story in particular remains with me: Having been told of the death of a colleague, and to preclude public contact while “paying his respects”, he visited the grave site where his friend would be laid to rest. As he leaned over the six-foot deep hole to bid a heartfelt, albeit inebriated goodbye, he fell into the hole. Unable to extricate himself he simply laid down for a brief nap.

When mourners arrived and gathered for the lowering of the casket there was a collective gasp of horror when a figure attempted to rise up from the grave. The dentist mused, “A normal man would have been embarrassed.” But, habit had been a great deadener and he was beyond shame. It would be many years later that he actually reached a “bottom,” deeper than the aforementioned six foot resting place, that acted as a catalyst for recovery. More on this in a bit….

Two weeks ago, amidst finals, I had to quickly return to my office to retrieve a forgotten document; en-route, I passed the classroom of one of the younger Chinese teachers. The brilliant and beautiful Ph.D graduate of one of the top schools in the world was asleep at her desk while her students chattered, used cell phones, applied make-up, read books, dozed, and smoked cigarettes. It looked more like a scene out of Chalkboard Jungle, Stand and Deliver or Freedom Writers, but without hope for a happy ending. In retropsect, the most astonishing part of the experiece was my lack of surprise and concomitant emotional indifference. I guess I have seen this too many times in too many Chinese and expat led classroom–while the teacher was awake.

Students in China, unlike students in Japan, are no longer adherents of Confucian principles. Since the days of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, where teachers were shamed, beaten, jailed and even killed (1966-1976), reverence for teachers is, at best, an arguable ideal. The average Chinese college student in many schools (there are exceptions), who thinks himself respectful, would still manage to incur the wrath of most American Professors because they have not had modeled for them the manners and etiquette expected of a western scholar.

Last week the Chinese media and the Internet were alive with rumors of this incident captured on film:

Stories abounded about the perpetrators, whose names and school were quickly made public on bulletin boards nationwide, and they had to be secreted away because a bounty had been placed on them. Allegedly 100,000 RMB (about 120,000 USD or 5 years of a school teacher’s gross salary) had been offered to the person or group that would literally beat them into respectfulness. The students, who finally apologized to the teacher, reportedly are back at school and neither the school or the teacher will further comment.

What is most disturbing to me, other than the physical attack and threat of harm to the teacher, is that the scene is all too typical of what many pedants are asked to endure in China. The industrialization of education has led the spoiled offspring of one-child families (Little Emperors), especially the newly prosperous, to believe that they have a right to lord their rich consumer status over low-paid, poorly prepared, and administratively unsupported educators. Teachers are expendable, and salvaging tuition is a higher calling.

Many of us who have been here for several years manage our classrooms with strict discipline and genuine concern for student well-being. Eventually, our sincerity is believed and that, in turn, generates a certain measure of respect. This allows for a reasonably manageable classroom where the handful of students serious about language acquisition and cultural gain can actually glean something useful.

In some rural schools, where teachers might be as paid as little as $50.00 USD per month, educators sometimes resort to brutality against students in a quest for control. There are laws against such behavior, but they are not often enforced. The students, I beieve, are rebelling against a system heavily reliant on memorization, humiliation and devaluation of self. I do not absolve abuse teachers of any negligence or liability by believing that their behavior is part-and-parcel of a dysunctional system. “Chinese education has a long history of corporal punishment,” says Thomas Gold, a University of California-Berkeley sociologist who studies China. Teachers’ “social status remains low, so they may be taking out their own frustrations on laggard kids.” I could not agree more.

My last school, the one where I just resigned, caters to wealthy, underachieving children from privileged families. The school virtually sells advanced (and unaccredited) degrees to business and government leaders from the mainland; accepts known plagiarized theses from students who may or may not have attended classes; admits almost any undergraduate (these programs are accredited) with a healthy bank balance; hires raw mainland talent, looking for a foothold in teaching, at a fraction of the wages paid by government established schools, and with only ten-month teaching contracts containing no provisions for retirement; they protect a registrar who holds American and Chinese Passports and the deanship over five departments who brags about hiding his income from the IRS via a Hong Kong bank; they pad their website faculty list with professors from famous universities who are not active teachers; have investors on their board with government ties who shower the school with land and facility donations; and have a turnover rate for staff that is higher than the local McDonalds. The teachers, though better paid, feel no more self worth than those in rural environs.

It is hard for students to command respect for an education entity, such as the one I left. It is blatantly greedy and inept. But, many, many other Chinese schools, especially privatized ones, have also abandoned functional educational models in the pursuit of profit. And with only 1/3 of graduating seniors assured of work this year many students cannot muster the motivation to respect a system that does little for their future, less for their net worth and still condemns their teachers to social contempt.

It is no wonder that 40% of my former school’s Freshman class applied for transfer. And 20% of the best, brightest and ethical at the school were accepted by other institutions and thankfully will leave. Others wish they would have followed suit because they will be left behind with an even further demoralized and unruly student and faculty population. Only 40% of those students educated abroad will return to China to share the skills they will acquire. My guess is they will avoid the teaching profession if possible.

Any normal system would be embarrassed. It is necessary to examine ways to curb profiteering, improve classroom conditions and teaching methodologies by educating educators and then rewarding them accordingly. It is time to foster respect for those entrusted with educating China’s new managers.

In a country now increasingly pressured to compete globally in business–via skills and quality and not price–while tariffs, environmental concerns and increasing production fees lower profits, one would think China would sober up and ask for a ladder to be lowered to rescue a system now forty years stranded nearly six-feet under.

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Macau’s “Flying Dutchman” School of Law…

macau university of science and technology

The lightly regarded Macau University of Science and Technology (MUST) just lost a few more credibility pounds.

The school, which has been under public fire this year for nepotism, corruption, awarding of unaccredited degrees, and acceptance of financial favors from government officials who are also MUST investors, may have finally crossed the line. According to several student reports: post graduate law students have filed complaints with the Ministry of Education for false advertising and a lack of regard for academic standards on the part of MUST. The students had previously demanded of MUST’s Rector, Xu Ao Ao, an explanation and a meeting to discuss options, but they were ignored. Two of the complainants, already practicing lawyers in Macau and Mainland China government offices, are now reportedly preparing a class-action suit against the school.

It all started when new students showed up, hefty tuition dollars already paid, to start studies with the likes of former Harvard Law School Vice-Dean David Smith and other advertised heavyweights (Smith allegedly claimed 25 famous newcomers were en-route and NONE actually showed up) in a newly created International Economic and Commercial Law Program. Several weeks into the program, sans the elite faculty promised to them, the students were reportedly told by Dean Smith that independent study was “a good strategy for the time being.” The candidates had arrived already aware that a degree from MUST grants little more than continuing education and the letters attached to an advanced degree because the school does not meet the minimum governmental standards needed to allow any of its undergraduates to sit for a bar exam in Macau or Mainland China. However, most of the new graduate students, already practicing attorneys, were hoping to improve advancement potential with newly acquired skills and titles earned at MUST.

The hot water went from simmer to boil when a MUST law school vice-dean was asked, face-to-face, to write a letter of recommendation for a student who desired to go on for a PhD. But upon closer examination it was discovered that the student had never attended any classes on Macau’s campus nor had he previously met the vice-dean. The same vice-dean was also given his renewal contract, but in it he was stripped of administrative duties. This was probably due to his objection to higher-ups that the proposed awarding last year of a MA in Law to a student, whose thesis was copied verbatim from the Internet (one stolen sentence discussed progress Macau had made in the years leading up to now and now was 1998!!) was inappropriate. The student is being allowed to re-write his thesis, originally signed off on by Smith, and never put through normal review channels. The administration, and specifically the Law School Dean David Smith (who was also the university vice-rector), refused for months to act on the case that ultimately prompted the resignation of the vice-dean. This month David Smith also resigned and is moving on to a new school as Dean of their law school.

The administrators at Macau University of Science and Technology have refused to talk to me about this issue despite repeated requests. Also, they will not discuss a case involving allegations of tax fraud and contract manipulations for personal gain by school Registrar Alex Chen Nai Chi. Email communications between faculty members at MUST have now been limited, in part due to a spate of negative comments about the rector. And, a warning has been posted on the schools main site page cautioning everyone, in Chinese, that rumors will be dealt with by criminal prosecution and fines. I have never seen a University openly threaten critics before now….

The warnings have not stopped netizens from posting dozens of complaints against MUST on popular search engine Baidu. BBS forums contain information allegedly gleaned from Education Ministry documents and claims MUST sold some 10,000 MBA degrees to mainlanders in 2003 alone. A parent airs issues here: BBS

A visiting business professor at MUST serving as a chair for various doctoral committees told me in an interview that he was leaving the school because of pressure to pass students in low-residency masters and doctoral programs. The students, already government officials or factory executives in the mainland, pay large sums to be awarded sheepskins not accredited by the Macau government because they do not meet the minimum amount of required residency hours demanded by the government for such programs.

Currently, MUST claims to be a comprehensive school, but only has four faculties: the Faculty of Information Technology, the Faculty of Management and Administration, the Faculty of Law and the Faculty of Chinese Medicine. The Chinese Medicine graduates have difficulty legally practicing medicine after graduation and, as stated before, the law school graduates cannot be licensed to practice in Macau or mainland China. Despite MUST’s continuing difficuties, well-heeled students able to pay high tuition and boarding costs are swelling the young school’s class sizes. MUST acts as a springboard to study abroad for many who performed poorly on initial national mainland exams. According to the Hong Kong US Consulate, the United States’ Homeland Security Office grants a 13% advantage in getting a visa to mainland Chinese who have spent a year or more in Macau or Hong Kong. Last year, more than 15% of the 5,000 member student body applied for transfer to other schools in Macau or abroad.

On a positive note, credible institutions like the University of Macau and Macau Polytechnic have benefited from the administrative and academic practices of Macau University of Science and Technology. New teachers, fresh from top schools around the world like Cambridge, Boston University, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and the University of Michigan, have also used Macau University of Science and Technology as a academic waiting room. Many of them have moved on to respectable positions elsewhere, often leaving their time on the Flying Dutchman off their resumes.

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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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Dreams, Repression and Violence

weight of the world on asian shoulders

This week I 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 Virginia, had much in common: Students were asked to differentiate between the words job, vocation and calling and apply it to 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 to listen to the sounds that return to us from across the cultural divide. Chinese students are noted for their silence in the classroom and for their rapid adaptation to accepted or expected classroom behavior. Much of what they will 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 this week were not the usual echoes of my own voice and I listened carefully.

Most of my students lamented that their jobs upon graduation, if they were lucky enough in an economy hit harder than than the government lets on, were likely to be menial and unrewarding. They expressed an awareness that because they were students at a provincial college the likelihood that they would join the ranks of millions of unemployed graduates was greater than average. 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 lawyers, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners and those training to be businessmen 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, but they have practiced for so long at giving an outward appearance of gratitude and acceptance that they cannot 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.

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 induced alexithymia that is pervasive in Chinese culture. 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 have long considered suicide as the ultimate and most devastating act of domestic violence. Suicide is more than anger turned inward: it is rage brought to fruition. And last year four students and two faculty members, unknown to each other, jumped to their deaths in Guangzhou in the same week. I believe that at least two of the deaths were acts of aggression.

Coming: Dreams….Part II


vt

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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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Can you read me now?: The Oiwan Lam case…

China Censorship

Recently, I posted an article regarding Oiwan Lam and the absurd allegations of obscenity that have her facing a potential fine of $50,000 and a year in Hong Kong prison.

If you think it is a case that does not impact you as a blogger or as a citizen, please think again. It was a relatively benign Flickr photo that has her headed to court next month.

Recently, a staunch advocate of China NGO’s, the China Development Brief, was forced by authorities to close its Chinese edition, missionaries have been deported by the hundreds, and hundreds of thousands of blogs were blocked (or re-blocked) in the shut-downs of Blogger, Blogspot, Typepad, LiveJournal, WordPress.com and others. One voice silenced or oppressed is not a delicate rebuff of human rights: It is violent and terrifying and part of the cyber-genocide of ideas that represent and celebrate dialectical ideologies. Liberal or Conservative, no one is in a privileged class once purging becomes routine.

John Kennedy of Global Voices Online, and elsewhere in the blogsphere, has listed the salient issues involved in Oiwan’s case as demands on the Free Oiwan Lam cause group now on Facebook:

-Grant Oiwan judicial review and strike down this ridiculous case, as was done with the Chinese University student magazine and Ming Pao newspaper (see my article The Hong Kong Monkey Trials) before her.

-Make the currently unelected members of the Obscene Articles Tribunal accountable to the public.

-Demand a legal definition in Hong Kong of ‘indecent’ so that the term will no longer be abused by crusading judges and applied at their unjustified discretion.

I will be posting a link soon to Oiwan’s defense fund is at interlocals.net .…Be sure to click on the button created for Oiwan. PLEASE Drop a few dollars in the kitty, And please blog about this issue….

More:

Oiwan’s interview with the BBC
The latest information here: RC

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Empty Shoes: The Re-Telling of an Important Story

I had thought this story was lost, but thankfully:

January 4th, 2006

Ms Yue will have her final chemo’ treatment tomorrow. She will then be eligible for experimental treatment. The experimental treatment will cost 40-60,000 US dollars: 30-40 years of salary in China.

MS YUE YING

The Pearl River Delta in China is not unlike the area devastated in Louisiana and further East or the hard working towns in West Virginia that the coal industry depends on. It suffers through typhoons, floods, mining disasters, and lives are forever changed by devastation, and death. I am pained for people on both sides of the Pacific. I grieve for the families that twice suffered in West Virginia.

Like the Mississippi Delta, the Pearl River Delta is in the midst of a class four silent storm. It is a cancer zone. It is the dumping ground for every industrial success above it: a slow moving sewage system for dozens of cities.
It was the victim of a cadmium spill far north that made the long journey south. The Pearl River, so beautiful at night, is dark and foreboding in the day. No one would dare eat a fish caught from its banks in our city–and there are thousands of more factories on its shores as it meanders to Hong Kong from here.

When industrialization began I am sure most people in China had no idea that its economy would grow so fast that its infrastructure could barely barely hold on to its hat as the winds of change howled, and continue to howl, past daily. I am also sure that they had no idea that their environment would suffer as much as it has and their people with it.

America has had her growing pains and fights with the environment and governmental ineptitude: coal Mining and the recent immense tragedy in West Virginia, deforestation, erosion, Katrina.

I grew up in a Steel Mill Town where every morning you could wipe orange residue off of the hood of your car. The government never helped–even when people were dying.

China is trying to heed calls from these deaths due to close mines, repair hillsides denuded of trees, and in one neighboring town where the cancer rate is so enormous, officials are finally forcing companies to adhere to strict standards.

The effects of the the issue in China invaded my life: The fight became personal.

Let me digress for a second:

The Japanese have an old ritual that they perform when someone leaves for a long time. It is Kagezen. They will set a place for dinner for the loved one until they return. The metaphor found me today when Yue Ying was being wheeled into surgery for a breast cancer biopsy, a problem that struck as fast and as fiercely as Katrina or West Virginia, they handed her slippers to her family. At the risk of sounding trite, I was struck by how small they were. I was taken over by just how tiny, frail and helpless I felt at that moment.

I went to the waiting room with Yue’s sisters. There were a dozen other anxious families there–all with shoes in hand or set neatly down on the floor in anticipation they would be filled again.

It was hard for me to believe that the delicate slippers I held had carried the weight of such an immeasurable heart, such monumental grace and extraordinary integrity. She is 45 years old and has made much of herself despite the lack of resources that were available for anyone who grew up in China when she did.

Yue’s were the last pair of shoes in the room when Dr. Wang, a wonderful, gentle, professor/surgeon/oncologist who did a fellowship at City Hospital in New York, announced that pathology had confirmed a pervasive malignancy and that she would have immediate surgery. Though I had seen the X-rays and read the reports and had taught at Medical schools/Health Science Centers and clinically directed a hospital in the U.S., I was unable to contain my grief. It IS different when it is you that are affected–even obliquely.

She was in surgery for over five hours. She headed for recovery awake, tearful and typically apologetic that she was trouble for those attending to her.

I went home to change, eat, meet with a few colleagues and head back to the hospital where I spent the night. Probably more to comfort her than me.

Kagazen has long been over. Prayers, good wishes and her determination sent death on his way and the unsinkable Ms. Yue has been back fighting an extraordinary fight.

But, regardless of how optimistic one might be, how tied to faith or hope, something beyond a part of your body is forever lost: A strong sense of mortality takes residence in its place. It has been a tough few months of chemotherapy, and uncertainty.

Her shoes are waiting by her bedside. And I am convinced that Yue will be back in them. She will be as strong, beautiful and grace-filled as before. She is now. She has lost her hair but, not her poise and power. If anyone can keep illness or death at bay it is her.

China has a long way to go, as does the U.S. in thinking less of government than it does of its people. And cancer treatment for women worldwide has even further to go. Here people commit suicide or die these days because of lack of protection with health care. They do not want to burden their families.

My heart goes out to the recent and ongoing victims of both Delta areas and the families who have twice suffered in West Virginia. Here is my wish that, one day, you will never do Kagezen for anyone because of pollution, senseless disease, industrial disasters government neglect.

Cancer Journal,cartoons,China Editorials,In the news,Personal Notes

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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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What would Buddha do?

Buddha in the sky with diamonds

Several years ago, attending a Jimmy Buffet concert with a Catholic priest (Indian trail, NC, not Margaritaville) , we were discussing ways to raise money for his new parish. In neighboring Georgia a woman was drawing huge crowds claiming to see incarnations of the Virgin Mary. So, we laughingly concocted a never-to-be scheme that involved catching and releasing a trout on the church property that we would say bore some saint’s likeness on its its tail. We would then put donation baskets all up and down the creek. It was sacrilegious, but damned funny anyway.

A few years later I visited Shingo, Japan where they claim to have Christ and his brother buried on a hill above town. Jesus, according to local mythology, let his brother take his place on the cross and then went to rural Japan and retired to a happily married life in the sticks. Surprisingly, there was no marketing involved anywhere near the grave site.

Please bear with me as this all comes together for you in the usual intuitive flash at the end…

I just read a delightful book first printed in 1999 entitled What would Buddha Do? by Franz Metcalf. The pocket-sized tome is rife with well thought out answers to a host of everyday questions, some that made me laugh out loud:

1. What would Buddha do if his credit cards are maxed out?

2. What would Buddha do when making a salad?

3. What would Buddha do to avoid burnout?

4. What would Buddha do about trusting the media?

The answer to last question can be found in the Buddhist writing Undanavarga 22.17: “One’s ears hear a lot; one’s eyes sees a lot. The wise should not believe everything seen or heard.” Buddha must read the China Daily too, where I found the picture above. It seems Buddha hung around for about an hour on Heibei’s Zushan Mountain, but unlike the manifestations in Georgia, he didn’t impart any wisdom to the local tourists.

In another book I reviewed recently, One Couple, Two Cultures, there was a story about a British man and his Chinese wife discussing behavior common in each other’s country. The wife seemed to have no trouble commenting on behalf of the entire 1.3 billion residents of China, while the Brit’ demured on speaking for the whole of England. I can with absolute certainty say that had the Buddha appeared in Stone Mountain Park, Georgia, that every redneck (remember before you shoot that my father hailed from Harlan County, Kentucky), instead of burning him as a heretic would have tried to sell him on Ebay. I still remember the eerie glow-in-the-dark St. Joseph that watched over me as a child sleeping in the dark.

Now I’m not sure what made them think it was Buddha and not Mother Theresa, Confucius, or Steve Irwin. But I continue to digress…

What surprised me the most is that nobody is now selling watches of Buddha waving from the peak or claiming to have private chats with Gautama himself. Another missed marketing opportunity for China. David and I are thinking about sorting through seaweed potato chips until we come up with  some that look like Sun Yat Sen or Lao Zi. We promise to donate all proceeds (and extra chips) to charity.

So what would Buddha do if Buddha were alive today? I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t be standing around in the Heibei fog, though he might possible blog a few meditations–using a wordpress platform, of course. So I’m off to see if WWBD-in-canton.com is taken. This way, we can answer the pressing questions like:

1. What would Buddha do if someone stole a taxi out from under his nose?

2. What would Buddha do if someone took the food from his plate at a Cantonese buffet?

3. What would Buddha do if he found out he were watching a bootleg copy of Seven Years in Tibet?

4. What would Buddha say if his disciples kept commenting on his weight and skin color?

Now I’m getting ready to read Metcalf’s answer to “What would Buddha Do about that Coffee Habit?” If this post isn’t a call for my spiritual rehab or caffeine detox, I don’t know what is.

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Bamboocycles!

Bamboo Bike

I have been blogroll diving again! There is a new one in town Responsible China (No, it is not an oxymoron!) and it is worth your attention: Erica Schlaikjer, a trained journalist (She has had paltry internships at: The Chicago Reporter, Crain’s Chicago Business and National Geographic. But, she has never written for OMBW, so….) one of the producers for Entrepreneur Magazine’s online radio show, The China Business Show, hosted by WS Radio, is the author.

She has a bunch of great posts up now and I picked one to showcase that I thought was interesting:

The article is on Bamboo Bikes. It caught my attention because I helped a company create a prototype of a Bamboo baseball bat last year, but it proved too durable and they opted for something that Barry Bonds could break–even off the juice. But, I digress….

According to Erica, China is home to 450 million bicycles and 4.21 million hectares of bamboo and it make sense to combine the two into something good for the environment. And it appears that designers Liakos Ariston and Jacob Prinz, who started Daedalus Custom Bamboo Bikes two years ago after drawing up designs on a napkin, feel the same. The problem is the bikes will be for Laowai or well-heeled Chinese as they cost about $1,250 each. For $1250 a Cantonese would want it to float, double as a shelter, act as a fishing rod, stand-in as an eating utensil and play bootleg MP3s and DVDs. If the truth be known, I wouldLOVE to have one of these, but at my salary it would take three months of starvation.

“The raw materials are sustainable, so potentially make less of an impact on the environment, the designers say. But that’s not the only appeal.”

‘We’ve gained a lot more respect for the material we work with because we’ve had a few accidents on them and generally riders and bikes have come out unscathed,’ said Ariston, 25 . . . .” I get the unscathed bike part, but I wonder how the rider gets a break (no pun intended) from injury.

If it gets cheaper to make it could have a future in China as Erica reports that China’s Ministry of Construction wants to restore bike lanes to their old glory.
Here are some links she posted to bamboo related projects and designers:

Bamboo Bike Project
“The project aims to examine the feasibility of implementing cargo bikes made of bamboo as a sustainable form of transportation in Africa.”

Brano Meres Engineering & Design
“This is my second home-made frame. This time I used bamboo rods connected with carbon composite joints.”

Calfee Design
“Beginning as a publicity stunt in 1996, Craig’s bamboo errand bike evolves into a well-tested new model for the general public.”

Thanks Erica and welcome to the Sphere!

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And don’t forget to put the seat down….

It tastes like chicken

I just got back from Phuket* where most things are suspect: The prettiest girls are, well, guys and the DVDs are more expensive, but still originally shot on a camcorder in a movie house projection booth. The one thing they could not fake was the pristine water surrounding Phi Phi (unfortunately pronounced a lot like “pee-pee”) Island. I could actually see to the bottom and nothing dead floated by me.

Upon my return to Guangzhou I really could not help notice that our city prostitute, the Peal River, who looks great at night still was not someone you would want to wake up to in the morning. To mix a metaphor, pun intended, during daylight hours it looks like payday in a five year old’s proud potty chair.

Last year I respsonsibly reported that China produced more than 12 billion tons of industrial waste-water in the first half of 2006. That was up 2.4 percent from the same period in 2005 according to The China Daily quoting a State Environment Protection Administration report.

A major index of water pollution called the chemical oxygen demand increased by 3.7 percent in the first six months, while emissions of sulphur dioxide rose 4.2 percent, the report said. Acid rain, which affects almost one-third of the nation, also remained unchecked, it said. The environment watchdog attributed the increased volume of pollution to the country’s booming industries, as the economy steamed ahead by 10.9 percent in the first half of the year. It said food-processing, paper-making and chemical plants accounted for more than 80 percent of the increase in the chemical oxygen demand level. The watchdog said only 30 to 40 percent of public industrial projects had undergone environmental evaluations before they went ahead, and criticized local governments for not implementing strict environment protection policies.” China may only wake up when it truly realizes the monetary value of its failed five-year plan for environmental improvement: pollution has resulted in economic losses of over 65 billion US Dollars–about three percent of its GDP.

Shortly after that the then Guangdong Governor Huang, Hua Hua (such a happy name, huh?) led three thousand apparantly blind and olfactory challenged people in a swim across the river to prove it was indeed cleaner than in previous years–this despite local hospitals publicly warning folks off of the adventure.

Hua Hua said the, “We hope everyone will join hands to protect the river so the day will soon come when Guangzhou citizens can swim in it every day.” I would think walking on it everyday would be a more attainable goal.

In recent years, local governments have spent 27.5 billion yuan ($3.6 billion) reducing and controlling sewage discharge into the river and you still cannot see the sun reflected in the murk on a good day. It is good to be a government contractor in China.

Well, the worst publiciy stunt since Bush landed a plane on an aircraft carrier is going to be repeated this year! Guangzhou’s top gun Zhang Guangning is leading the charge sometime in the next week or two. They will be celebrating the cleanliness of the Pearl River.

I think the boy-girls in Phuket are more believable. For a MARGINALLY work-safe photo of David and the “Boys” Continue Reading »

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The trouble with Oiwan….

censored in china

When the Oiwan Lam controversy began I predicted four things:

  1. Support for her cause would be hard to muster because people might feel as though Oiwan invited trouble by publishing a picture that she knew might provoke the ire of Hong Kong Censors. Civil disobedience is not as cherished as it was in the past;
  2. Support would quickly wane as the matter did not seem as urgent or foreboding as the Hao Wu case. Oiwan is facing 12 months in jail, a costly defense and a hefty fine, but she is not incarcerated at the moment;
  3. Bloggers might not pass the torch, or the hat, because the issues are complicated and Hong Kong specific;
  4. People would find it hard to empathize with Oiwan: Hong Kong is part of China and censorship is expected here.

EastSouthWestNorth, Rebecca McKinnon Boing Boing, Lost Laowai, Image Thief and a handful of others have done their best to explain the issues while rightfully advocating for one of their own. An advocacy group on Facebook has collected 69 members, but few calls for action have subsequently originated from western computers.

Oiwan did not invite this kind of response. She put her journalistic foot in the water and was dragged below the surface by the well-mapped but unpredictable undertow that is the Hong Kong Television and Entertainment Authority (TELA) and the Obscene Articles Tribunal (OAT). These are the same forces that roiled against a Hong Kong University student newspaper for a ridiculously benign sex survey, Michelangelo’s David in a 1995 magazine ad and Cupid and Psyche on a book cover at the most recent Hong Kong Book Fair.

The charges against Oiwan created a tremor in the blogsphere , but the aftershocks are so imperceptible that we have gone about life as usual. Some Hong Kong bloggers are taking up the cause by posting other classic art works as an act of protest and solidarity. The rest of us should also act on her behalf.

I met with John Kennedy of Global Voices Online today and he spoke again to the issues involved in Oiwan’s case that affect all of us:

  • He thinks, and public opinion in Hong Kong backs him up, that the Tribunal and the TELA are antiques in need of dry storage and replacement (my sorry metaphor, not his). He thinks the Tribunal, which operates independently without reliable standards and accountability, should be elected officials that have to answer to the public.
  • He feels, and again is far from alone in his opinion, that a legal and reliably quantifiable definition of “obscene” or “indecent” should be adopted.

The latter is important to all of us as it would prevent dissidents from being punished at the whim of judges with personal or political agendas.

IF blogger’s rights can be upheld in Hong Kong it can instruct and inform governments and lawmakers everywhere about the need for free speech legislation and reform. Oiwan, who has no desire to be a martyr, is every man and woman who wants to speak their mind or read another’s in cyberspace. And, as Rebecca McKinnon has said so well in her blog, Oiwan is a writer who has devoted herself to the non-profit sector most of her adult life, so she has few financial resources to assist with what will be a costly and important court battle.

Help Oiwan and help yourself with a little link love to her cause blog (Banned in Mainland China), a posting of the banner below (feel free to use my bandwidth) and by, please, donating a few dollars to her legal campaign by clicking here:

Free Oiwan Lam

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