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Spread Hope

Reuters Photo

Reuters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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海归,海带,海鸥 Part I

China’s narrow definition of educational success abroad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Many Faces: Education in China

“There are quantities of human faces, but there are many more faces, for each person has several.”

Ranier Maria Rilke

I once substituted  as lecturer for a Classics course in a Chinese Ivy League school. The beloved Harvard educated Chinese professor could not teach that term because of medical issues.  I entered the classroom as an unknown entity. Students at the University were used to “Waijiao”  (Foreign Teachers or literally Outside Teachers) with little or no experience being put into their classrooms more for the color of their skin or country of origin than for the their knowledge of the subject to be taught. After a brief run through the ambitious syllabus foisted on me I asked the class if there were any questions. One young man in the back of the room angrily asked: “What qualifies you to teach at this institution?” His question neither offended nor surprised me.

I knew a little of the history of this class and their previous foreign faculty members: one, in his sixties, had recently been asked to resign as a result of relational improprieties and another, also in his sixties, was dating three different young women at once (uknown to the others)  while living with another on campus. Neither teacher had a degree in English nor much of a cultural grasp of China beyond a singular fondness for young Chinese girls. Sadly, this breed of foreign expert had been the norm at that school for many years.

I calmly explained that I had been at on time, before my travel to China, a “real teacher” with a real desire to see them come to love and understand literature as much as I had during my graduate education. I told them that my credentials, awards, and publishing credits more than qualified me for undergraduate lecturing. I stress that  during my program I was taught by mentors and visiting lecturers in my program who had won every award from the National Book award to the TS Elliot Prize to the Nobel, to…But academic window dressing would only have meaning if by the end of the term they had come, to paraphrase Rilke, to enjoy literature more and more, and became more and more grateful, and somehow better and simpler in vision, and deeper their faith in life, and happier and greater in the way they lived and were able to appreciate the power of the written word as it has influenced millions over the decades.

Richard, the young man above, was the class antagonist the entire term: He became my favorite student by way of his challenges and lust for knowledge and academic integrity in his learning. He will graduate from Columbia this year and he still intellectually wrestles with me when I post something questionable on Facebook or other social networks where we remain connected.

Most new teachers in China will not have such good luck. They will not have vocal students (another post will discuss why they are silent and it is not for lack of opinion or ability) who will educate them about how they are perceived nor will they be lucky enough to teach top students much more than oral English idioms in a class better suited for elementary aged pupils.

Know this:

  • You are a foreigner and many round eyes and white faces have preceded you. Some have done their job well, most have not.
  • It is your responsibility to acculturate, not theirs.
  • Learn your students Chinese names and something of their background.
  • Be patient with yourself and your students.*
  • Know that the students have already spoken, and likely written on school boards, about you. Ask them individually how to improve their learning experience. They will tell you though not always with the grace and tact you might like. Do not be surprised to be told, if you open yourself to feedback, that you are short, fat, old, wrinkled or speak too fast, slow, too much or too little to them.
  • Know that the Chinese staff knows little or nothing about you and may not bother to take much time to engage you: you are a transient in their life of endless meetings, regulations, low pay, long hours and mandated curriculum. They may think you less prepared culturally and academically than their Chinese colleagues.

The China Library Project

There are three exercises I use in almost every class to bring each student, and consequently China, into better focus:

  • I take time away from regular studies to have each student write their name in Chinese on the board and describe each element and character in the name. I ask them to include the historical meaning of the name, who gave it to them and why. Att the same time I ask them not to use an English name in my class in order that I might learn their real names and the identities behind each one. This term, Purple Heart, Handsome Horse, Ms Poetry and Beautiful Phoenix are a few of the student names I will never ever forget–where I might not remember the faces or stories of Chloe, Vince or Sophie. And the stories behind the names have been worth a thousand Chinese culture classes as I have learned about Feng Shui from those whose names were chosen for luck by a soothsayer or master, enjoyed tales about entire villages with a common middle or last names, and shared in the hopes and dreams of parents who chose Chinese name characters hoping their meaning would influence the futures of their children by association or divine intervention.
  • I interview each student in many classes and ask them simple questions about the wishes, lies and dreams in their educational lives. I have come to know real people, not numbers, faces or acquired names. And the fear that once separated us has often dissolved and been replaced by lasting respect and I have been able to honor and stretch their boundaries. And they become as uncomfortable with the term Waijiao as I do because, while always an outsider, I am on the periphery with love and appreciation and a sincere desire to see them succeed:  “I hold this to be the highest task for a bond between two people: that each protects the solitude of the other”
  • The first ten minutes of any class is devoted to school, local, regional and national news. This keeps me informed about things I would never otherwise know, helps with language acquisition, and tells me culturally what is important to them and why. Politics and religion are forbidden discussion topics, but  feelings about sports, war, earthquakes, and even movies or television star scandals will inform about China you in ways you never dreamed possible. Students learn that I am not the America they condemn because of the reader-baiting bias of a CNN or other media source and I re-discover that they are not the perpetrators of the rules and ideologies by which the west defines China.

 

Becoming a teacher in China is more than lessons in language if you have respect, and most of all, patience:”… there is no measuring with time, a year doesn’t matter, and ten years are nothing. Being a [ teacher] means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn’t force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast. I learn it every day of my life, learn it with pain I am grateful for: patience is everything!”

 

American Professor in China,China Blog,China Business Consultant,China Editorials,China Expat,Chinese Education,Confucius Slept Here,Cross Cultural Training,Education in China,Intercultural Issues,New Oriental,Personal Notes,Teaching in China

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Dear Mr. Bagel….

Below, find a few of dozens of letters of application sent to an Italian restaurant (Danny’s Bagel) here in Guangzhou. The names and schools have been altered so students won’t suffer any embarrassment. I should have started a collection a long time ago of the many others I have seen….

Typically only 1/10 will even show for an interview even after sending in a recommendation. Even with the dearth of good paying jobs with insurance and social security paid by an honest and caring employer like Danny. Most new graduates or senior students will think a restaurant job too menial and of little value for future appointments even with the tremendous skill set they can acquire while there. Some of the letters sent by no-shows for a full-time position. I am sure they went on to much better things, like CCTV announcer or QIDE (启德)/New Oriental (新东方)English language teacher:

Dear Danny,

Hello, happened to see your ad online. I am a college student at a prestigious college. I major in journalism and communication. Being with people could always excite me, I’ll find it fulfills life to be connected to society. So may I ask for a part-time in your Dannys BAgel at weekend?

If I were not admitted to your Bagel as a waitress then I would like to have meals there as a guest, haha.

Best Wishes,

XXXXXX

“Danny,

I am very grad to make friends with you. I hope we can talk about some chinese and wesern cuisine. So we can study each other.

XXXX

My name is XXXX, a student studying french in guangzhou. It’s a pleasure to have your email when searching the internet, don’t worry, i don’t have a scare attempt. I just want to make friend with some foreigners and to improve my english and french if its OK. i am looking forward to your reply.”

XXXX

“Sorry for late reply. I have just finished my first job…. I have a bachelors in Russian. I like English very much…. I am a good girl I think.

XXXXX

One wrote a rambling three-page personal statement emphasizing her “sunny and careful and patient heart” and wrapped up with “suggestions” for the Danny, a 14-year veteran of business in China–I am still working on what she meant to suggest:

” Some companies especially cafes don’t want to hire short time waiter or waitress, because it will waste the training or other resources. But except for college students , where are young girls with terrific oral English? In other words, as far as I am concerned, hiring the right person may save the training time even can shorten the cycle of profits by so many orders. I think maybe I am not the best, but I am good enough.”

XXXXX

so, I want to work in your restaurant on weekend. What is more, i am good at cooking chinese cuisine. Thanking you!” XXXX

This blog is packed with my deep love for Chinese students and my own long and hilarious struggle to assimilate and acculturate into their culture, while trying to abide by government imposed constraints….I am sure my letters would be much worse, but then I am not an Chinese major at a “pretigious school.”

The barriers erected by, or in front of, students provide the fodder for many a novice writer or newcomer to the Middle Kingdom. For those of us who have been here a bit, it is black humor meant to release a bit of reflexive aggression so it is not misdirected back to the students we are committed to serving….Neither I nor Danny ever make fun of the students, rather we marvel at their lack of preparedness for even a wait-staff position.

One of the many failings of virtually every College and University in China is their inability to give students a sense of direction or prepare them for the future. I wish I had one yuan for every senior who told me that he/she had no idea what they wanted to do upon graduation. I could retire if I had another Yuan for every student that desired to get a “good job at a good company”without knowing what they might like do once there.

Every year I write three versions of every graduate school recommendation letter to cover: the path they “think” they might like to take, the mandated route their parents demand–invariably business or finance at a “top 5o” brand name school–or some easier alternative study plan that will give them time to finally decide on one of the former….

Most of them know the rules of grammar–they can do calculus like we Americans do addition and subtraction–and they can read and speak with astonishing alacrity and competence. But their cultural, vocational and social education has not equipped them to enter an increasingly  western etiquette driven job market without self study or mentoring by a patient teacher. I am hoping that the industrialization of education in China soon includes a module in vocational preparation–even if there is an extra charge.

American Professor in China,Cantonese Schools,China Editorials,China Expat,China Expats,China Humor,Chinese Education,Chinglish,Cross Cultural Training,Education in China,Humor,Intercultural Issues,New Oriental,Teaching in China

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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

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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

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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

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Chinese Twitter and the #080808 Twolympics

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

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

Twitter Olympics

Twitter + Olympics

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

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

Twolympics

Twolympics

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

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

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

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

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

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Chinese & American Online Searchers …

I enjoyed an article today about the search habits of Chinese and American youth. The short story is that the search stats for product information are incredibly similar:

Give advice to others about products/services purchased
*

Chinese 18-34       **Americans 18-34

 Regularly            Regularly

 Search Online        Search Online

Regularly          56.1%                53.8%

Occasionally       42.5%                43.9%

Never               1.4%                 2.3%

Source: BIGresearch, *China Quarterly (Q2 2008), **SIMM 12 (Jun 08)

What was not a shock to me, but might interest the folks who most read this blog (56% from the US)  was the way they shared information after they secured what they were looking for online: where American young adults prefer to pass information person to person or via email, Chinese Netizens text message, or call each other. So, that’s what is going on in most classrooms in China: They are not sending the exam answers to their buddies, they are just doing SMS reviews of that new i-BOD or i-Fone at the local electronics speakeasy.

As seriousness aside, it is a shock to a first-time visitor to see how prevalent SMS texting is here. I pampered myself a few weeks go with a movie and a pizza. It costs about 20%  more here (and 60% if adjusted for cost of living) for that combo than in the states–and we want them to quit buying 60 cent DVDs, but I digress. At Pizza Hut I guestimated that  2/3 of the people within view were either on the phone, sending a message or playing a game. And later, IN the theater, about 10% of the crowd there for Kung Fu Panda appeared to be glowing in the dark from ambient light coming off their cell phones.

What I found when i was teaching was that a rumor, truemor, or current event release could travel to every student residing at the far reaches of the campus faster than any Public Address system. Smart application designers are going to learn how to leverage that power in the very near future. I look toward mobile entrpreneurs to find ways to effectively deliver viral ads in the body of messages.

Me? I am still looking for a cheap James Bondian style pen that will jam non-emergency calls on the train, at restaurants and movie houses and broadcast parental style admonitions to the offending parties.

The more authoritative post is here:

Both Young Chinese & American Online Searchers Spread the Word but Differ in How They Communicate Findings, According to BIGresearch – MarketWatch

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Cinderella Teaching in the Greatest Monkey Show on Earth

China economy

An open letter to my students:

Two men recently completed a controversial recreation of Mao’s Long March. At every point along the march, people stared at them and puzzled over their purpose. On one particular occasion, a rural farmer walked up to the travellers and asked, “are you here to do a monkey show?” The historian-marchers, having long ago tired of explaining their journey, wearily assented. “Oh,” the farmer replied. “So…where are the monkeys?”

One of my colleagues (your teacher) a year ago told me that there were two types of expatriate educators in China: performing and non-performing monkeys. It was his feeling that neither administration nor the student body understood any of the reasons he elected to remain in China as a teacher.

Any of you who have been my students in the past two years have seen the movie Cinderella Man. Many of you remember two of the questions I asked following the movie: who would you most like to be in the movie, and who do you think I would most like to be? A few of you knew immediately what my answer would be. It’s the same answer I would expect from anyone who has devoted their life to pedagogy. Some of you wanted to Jim Braddock, champion of the world, devoted parent, and courageous cum-victorious underdog. Others of you would be happy being the rich, yet hardly kind, fight promoter. And a small group of you were comfortable, as I was, picking Jimmy’s trainer as our role model.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have great successes in my life, but my greatest pleasure comes from seeing any one of my students succeed emotionally, personally, financially, or professionally.

Some doomsayers think that China’s spectacular growth is a fairy tale and doomed to a tragic end. If I believed that, I wouldn’t be here. But I believe that some of your notions about education, teachers, and Western culture must change or this will be a very short chapter in book 4,000 years in the making.

Many of you know that my expectations of you in class are different than some other foreign experts. I expect you, for the short time you are in my classroom, to behave as though you were a guest in a foreign country. I expect you to rehearse new patterns of behavior and to make a paradigm shift in your thinking about business and culture in order make to more effective global citizens and international businessmen.

I returned this week from a vacation of sorts, as I spent most of it reading and researching Chinese history and culture in order to better integrate myself into this society and to become a better teacher.

I can probably never expect to be more than a shengren, an outsider who one day you may come to know and trust as more than just an acquaintance. I know that I already view many of you as shuren, or as zijiren, special people for whom I will always have a place in my heart, and for whom I will always make time should you need me.

Here are some of the things I learned:

  • I learned that if your country’s explosive growth continues at its current rate for the next 28 years, your economy will be as large as that of the United States. While this sounds impressive, the reality is that you will still have only one quarter the spending power per capita at that time as your counterparts in America.
  • Your country, as estimated by UNESCO, will be 20 million college seats short of its needs by 2020.
  • In fields like engineering, only ten percent of your current college graduates, because of a lack of resources (including high-quality foreign teachers) and an advanced curriculum, will be able to compete with their global contemporaries.
  • China invests seven dollars of research and development money for a return of one dollar in new production output. Conversely, America’s ratio is one to one.
  • Your economy has doubled in size every six years, and 250 million people have been pulled up out of poverty. You have the second largest foreign reserves in the world. You made 25% of the world’s televisions, 60% of the world’s bicycles, and 50% of the world’s shoes and cameras.

Sun Zi’s 36 strategies have served you well to this point. You have used offensive, defensive, and deceptive strategies to create the most enviable economy in the world. But to sustain your growth, you will need better knowledge of your enemy. As you know, Sun Zi said,

“Know your enemy, know yourself, and you can fight 100 battles with no danger of defeat. When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, the chances of winning and losing are equal. If you know neither your enemy nor yourself, you are bound to perish in every battle.”

Business is war. Were I still a military man, I might be guilty of giving aid and comfort to the enemy. It is my bounden duty to prepare you for battles in negotiation, acculturation, and professional assimilation. To further drag out this metaphor, I am the training officer who will ultimately be responsible for your campaign successes and failures.

For me, statistical data like that above isn’t much more informative than astrology in that it instructs you in what you can and should avoid. You can change a timeline that hasn’t yet been drawn.
I’m neither a performing monkey nor do I have a troupe of them for your enjoyment. I’m a teacher and a foreign who spends nearly 24 hours, seven days a week learning about and adapting to a China I’ve come to love dearly. All that is asked of you is that you honor my commitment and the commitment of other foreign teachers who take their jobs and their place in this society seriously. On one hand, a few hours a week against the rest of your life is a small sacrifice if you learn nothing. On the other hand, if it creates in you a kind of mental muscle memory that secures your position in even one future negotiation, it was time well spent.

With congratulations to recent graduates. I will always try be your cornerman.

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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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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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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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C-MBA Programs: Trans-Pacific Crossings….

China MBA Education

I had the pleasure to accompany the Cal Poly MBA Program’s learning tour through China yesterday with Professor Chris Carr, professor Jay Singh and a gaggle of new graduates and ongoing students.

One of the cultural differences, of an enormity of variations, that struck a few of the visiting MBA students was the inability of Chinese learners to move between departments. Students enroll for a major and are not permitted to transfer to another department. This is common at most schools like the one we visited and others that remain comfortable teaching via traditional Chinese methodologies.

However, both East and West are looking to each other to fill in gaps their respective time-honored traditions have created. Within twenty-four hours of our tour, I noticed online advertising for three of America’s top business schools now actively recruiting in China: Harvard, Duke, Lingnan, and Maryland. Conversely, American curriculums now have programs structured to focus on China. International business leaders, Chinese or American, know that cooperative negotiations often yield better results than competitive ones. I’m especially impressed with the program at Cal Poly structured to culminate in a four-credit business and cultural study tour of China. Cal Poly has beat Yale to the punch in the hope of internationalizing its graduates, but Yale’s president Levine wants every Yale student to spend time living or studying abroad as part of an undergraduate experience.

Wall Street Journal’s Jason Loew quotes the president of Yale University as saying, “the U.S. isn’t issuing enough work visas to the highly trained foreigners who graduate from U.S. universities each year.” He suggests raising the caps on visas for foreign-born holders of doctorate degrees in order to further capitalize on the sea turtle phenomenon I posted about recently. If Yale’s Richard Levin had his way, he said, he would “staple green cards, as permanent resident cards are known, to their Ph.D. diplomas.”

He cites our growing need for trained engineers and scientists in hopes to capitalize on their discontent with conditions in their homeland. If I had my way, the US Department of Education would be putting more money into developing our own crop of science-savvy graduates and further, we’d be developing more incentives for cross-cultural exchange in education.

If it is so important for us to bring in foreign talent because we are not able to supply it, I think the answer also lies in marketing in-country programs to the Chinese. Because according to Loew, Congress permitted 85,000 H-1B (stay behind) visas to be issued this year, of which about 20,000 are reserved for foreigners with a graduate degree from the U.S. Loew writes, “There were so many applications this year the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services stopped accepting forms one day after it started the process.” It signals something is amiss either in the social or educational structure extant in China. Even though China is offering incentives to returnees, the odds of getting rich here are much greater than those in America, and Sinophobia is fast returning, they are still opting to travel and stay abroad.

Employers and of course universities continue to put pressure on Congress to raise the visa quota, but last year’s immigration bill failed to go through. “Companies want it. The universities favor it,” Mr. Levin said, according to Loew.

Loew’s article reminded me that a handful of schools are beginning to adopt Western liberal arts approaches to education, likely as a way to preclude students’ dissatisfaction as much as gain competitive traction in the global marketplace.

Two of China’s top ten universities, Fudan University and Beijing University, are taking small steps towards liberalizing their curriculum in hopes of advancing innovative thinking. Around 10% of students at Beijing University can explore a variety of subjects for the first three semesters before focusing on a major. At Fudan University, all freshmen are now being integrated into a liberal arts-based curriculum.

Educational innovators in the United States and the UK need to seize the day and begin offering courses at home and abroad that integrate the best of East and West. England and America have long ago industrialized education but managed to maintain high standards and the majority of the world’s top 100 rankings for schools. They have sacrificed quality by industrializing their educational system so rapidly, so this is one case where they have more to learn from us than we have to learn from them. But, with the Chinese government throwing huge dollars toward overseas education in hopes of even getting a small return, and with educational institutions beginning to functionally adopt workably good methodologies, it’s time other schools follow in the footsteps of Cal Poly, Lingnan, Duke, Harvard, and Maryland.

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The nail that sticks up changes nationalities

seat turtles china

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have heard several Americans jokingly remark that while living in other countries they would rather people regarded them as Canadian.

Not unlike my days as a soldier during Vietnam, travelling with a blue passport generates discussion and often heated debate from non-Americans. Our approval rating Internationally may be lower than Bush’s at home, but I haven’t seen anyone hot-footing it to the consulate to denounce their citizenship–and who’d want Chinese students asking daily if you knew Dashan anyway?

Thinking about all of this I was dazed by an article in the Guardian last week that spoke of China’s enormous brain drain. The Sea Turtles (Chinese who have left China for study or temporary work and returned) do not seem to feel a biological or nationalistic imperative to head back to their motherland.

According to the Guardian, “China suffers the worst brain drain in the world…a new study that found seven out of every 10 students who enroll in an overseas university never return… ”

China is an economic eighteen wheeler without brakes and studies show that Despite business booming, government incentives to return,
and the odds of emerging from poverty being greater here than in the US, the the best and brightest are now staying away.

“The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences revealed 1.06 million Chinese had gone to study overseas since 1978, but only 275,000 had returned. The rest had taken postgraduate courses, found work, got married or changed citizenship.” The Guardian surmised it was a freedom issue. Imagine that. I regard it as symtomatic of a privatized educational system, exploding with students, and run amock with greedy carpetbaggers who care little about their charges.

David, the Dreamblogue’s Sancho Panza, asked me during a recent trip to Hong Kong, where the Internet is uncensored, the food and medicine quality less questionable and the burgers not likely to have come from animal that barked during their previous incarnation, “and we don’t live in Hong Kong, why?It seems a lot of Chinese kids are feeling the same way.

Last year the numbers of students from China headed to the UK to study increased 20% to 60,000 and China has just poured several million into programs to increase overseas opportunities hoping no doubt to increase western trained innovators. But how well that will pay off is questionable because in 2005, 118,500 took to study overseas. By 2010, some 200,000 will be in schools abroad. Like my friend in a very low margin wholesale business once said: “What we lack in profit we make up for in volume.”

There was a very telling student quote in the Guardian article: “I am slightly hesitant because China is developing very fast and by 2030, its GDP will probably surpass the USA. But I am concerned that I might not get a good job if I return. America may suit me more because they judge you according to your ability, whereas in China your background and connections are more important.” In China it is definitely not what you know, but who you know, who your parents are, and where you went to school. And while there are some tremendous schools here like Beijing University, Tsinghua, and other regional institutions of lesser, but honest repute, the fact is that lack of uncensored material, Internet capabilities and abundant antiquated facilities and poor teaching conditions make some, even great, schools a tough sell.

Then, Students who fail or perform poorly in mainland exams, are flooding to newly created degree mills like the profit-mad Macau University of Science and Technology. Some of the degrees are Macau accredited and others are not. If you have money the school will find a way for you to buy a diploma. It’s reputation is failing, but the enrollment numbers are increasing. Students with money will do a year or so at MUST and then attempt more credible pursuits in the US or at more authentic schools in Hong Kong or Macau. This year more than 15% of the MUST’s student body applied for transfer to western schools or other programs and the administration could care less as it continues to cash in on discontent—while creating its own branded version.

Yang Xiaojing, one of the authors of the brain drain report, was quoted as saying in the China Daily. “Against the backdrop of economic globalization, an excessive brain drain will inevitably threaten the human resources, security and eventually the national economic and social security of any country.” His fears are borne out in a survey this year which found that in Shanghai 30% of high school pupils and 50% of middle-school students wanted to change their nationality. THEIR NATIONALITY!

It is time for a Sea Turtle Preservation Society in China. A good start is to re-look at the corruption in newly industrialized mainland and Macau educational institutions, like MUST, who I see, through greed, declining standards, disdain for faculty, and lack of concern for a student’s ability to obtain work upon graduation, remove what should be an innate desire to return home.

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A city slicker in Guangzhou: That ONE thing!

Teacher in China

The Lost Laowai blog has a great project in the works. Ryan is asking that expats blog about “If I knew then what I know now…” concerning life in China.

This week was an especially emotional one for me. I visited the first University for which I taught. I even visited one of the classes I taught that is about to graduate. I received a visual hug and a room full of warm smiles. Ah, it is good to be a teacher. It had been a rare gift to be able share in the pleasures of education in concert with these students most of whom were the first in their families to ever attend college.

I went there to advocate for a job for a new teacher wanting to move from Macau to “real” China and a more heart-filling experience. He will get it there in classrooms that reach 104 degrees after climbing stairs to the classrooms on the 9th floor. He’ll get the experience he wants teaching rural students hungry for an education and a better life.

They had a few concerns about his age (he is 23) as they had suffered through a culture-shocked man about the same age a few years ago and did not want to have to nurse a newcomer through homesickness, depression and language difficulties again.

My second and most important reason for visiting was to mend a few fences. You see, I came to China thinking that my 17 years in other Asian countries gave me a leg-up on China, that my twenty-plus years of teaching gave me an edge in the classroom and that acculturation would be easy. In reality: I was hit as hard, if not harder, than the expat above that they had endured a year earlier, but I hid it better–kind of.

I was always questioning the system and constantly hounding the administration for its lack of care and feeding of the foreign staff. I rebuked a few teachers and office personnel for what I saw were violations of common rules of educational etiquette. I treated my station as one of privilege when in reality I was an ungrateful guest in a home that was still trying to understand how to balance duty and rules with a need to please….

I took the opportunity last week to sincerely apologize for my cultural insensitivity. I assured them that I had grown as a person, a teacher and visitor in their country because of them; in retrospect I now know they were doing the best they could under difficult financial and political constraints. I let them know that the teacher I was recommending was already more mature than I might ever be….

They then informed me that hey had always viewed me as a friend of the school and of China. They went on to say that the cultural divide that I so often spoke of was a gap we viewed from the very same rim. It was NOT the normal minimizing of conflict that is common here. It was a sincere affirmation of a connection that I had felt shame over dishonoring with my repeated petulance. It has made my eyes well with happiness many times this week.

If I had it all to do again– I would study Chinese from day one, shut up and listen more, and most of all, look very closely for the small acts of kindness that I as a westerner had come to expect as routine and I would express my thanks for them often.

Thanks Ryan….

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Continuing Education Classes for Expats in China

One thing I do miss about America is the grand amount of community and continuing education available to virtually anyone and much of it for free. I was stumbling through Illustratrator’s newest release on MAC yesterday and bemoaning the fact that even a book on the subject would be hard to come by or too expensive to ship or pick up in Hong Kong.

Coincidentally, two colleges contacted me about the possibility of low-residency Masters and Doctoral programs and Continuing Education. One school is based in the UK and one is in the US. Both have good reputations and a comprehensive offering of courses. Both asked me if I thought they could be successful in China with the expat community. I answered honestly that I hadn’t a clue, but that I would ask you.

Let me know your thoughts and please feel free to add a response or two to the poll.

{democracy:2}

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Clueless in China….

DUMB BLOGS

Many years ago, as a scoutmaster in Germany, I was privileged to direct a troop of precocious preteens. They were sons of the physicians and administrators at the hospital, where I worked as a behavioral science specialist in inpatient and outpatient psychiatry, and they had an mean IQ higher than most of my current colleagues–present compsny included.

One new “Tenderfoot” once balked at introducing himself to the entire group (he was 11) and asked me, “What should I say?” I told him that anything was fine–mind you, this was in 1978–and he quickly said: “My name is Tom and I don’t believe the Alpha Centauri system can support life.” I went home to bone up on astronomy and Tom went on to law school at Georgetown, but only after joining the chorus of collective wisdom that, in perfect pitch, generally corrected me on topics ranging from conservation to zooology with unfailing accuracy.

It was, truly without a doubt, one of the best times of my life. There is nothing a real teacher enjoys more than intellectual challenge–unless it is summer vacation, but I digress…. When a student, or group of students, puts a willing teacher to the test, well, everyone benefits.

I have a long list of moments in my life where I made Mr. Bean look like Lawrence Olivier. From declaring to a class that Sherlock Holmes was a cocaine addict only to find out later that he was fictional, accidentally shooting the hero in a professional melodrama production, and once asking America’s Cup winner Dennis Conner at the Tokyo airport “Where have we met before?, I have had my share of slapstick moments. And I would not take back one of them. I stand with Churchill who said: “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”

This week was no exception. I met a much revered academic and a psychology dean at a small, ambitious college that rightly aspires to great scholarship. I was applying for a job, or so I thought, as a generalist psychology professor with ancillary duties in Neuropschology . In fact, they were looking for someone well primary and well versed in neuropsychology. They had hoped during the interview to extract information from me that I assume did not make the jump from short-term to long-term memory and likely fell between the synapses somewhere during graduate school–back in the days of Peter, Paul and Pterodactyls. For the first time in an academic interview I was asked to define a series of terms. I simply had to say, “I don’t know.” to a host of questions one would likely find on a Psych’ 101 final.

As in my other days of Holmes and humility, I likely will re-read the yellowing pages of my graduate textbooks and Google myself silly as penance. In the end I am still be a teacher and pretty good at articulating what I do know. Having been a lecturer at some of the world’s top conferences and schools I don’t doubt my abilities in other areas. But, I have some work to do. And I promise I won’t nearly be like Goethe, who was taken from a library in a frothing stupor after trying to absorb all the information then transcribed in books. I”ll just add to my knowledge base and will never-the-less enthusiastically fail some other time in pursuit of other successes.

Maybe they have an opening for a lecturer in Nineteeth Century British Fiction.

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Zaijian

chinglish

Books have been virtually replaced by blogs. But, puns aside, many of them showcase the transformative elements Pablo Neruda* suggests as essential to written art in Ars Magnetica:
“From so much loving and journeying, books emerge.

And if they don’t contain kisses or landscapes,
if they don’t contain a woman in every drop,
hunger, desire, anger, roads,
there are no use as a shield or as a bell:
they have no eyes and won’t be able to open them….”

Here I have I have tried to smooth the stubble of memory, share poetry, attempt humor, journal my social conscience, and reconcile my longings while shoutng to you in some far-off room. I leave here absolutely bewildered that anyone, other than my long-suffering friends, ever returned to listen. I am grateful you did.
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