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Whose enemies are they? Pt.1…

Last week during a visit Zach, the Monk in the Sycamore Tree, looked more like a Catholic priest in a open air confessional as we spoke through the screened window separating my porch from the living room. He explains his occasional habit a “3-minute meditation” meant to take him out of his everyday orbit and force his mind and body to accept an alternate reality and the revelations that emanate from such a departure.I am quick to call it a “bullshit excuse” to revisit what he’s missing and has been lost in his life,  bad or good, and quick-cure his loneliness–part of a need to stay tethered to the forces that shaped him.

Vengeance

In between smokes (Zach, not me), we watched “Cold Case” on Hong Kong TV together earlier and, as usual, fell into an unstructured dialectic dialogue ( an argument) brought on by a show many criticize as vapid and simplistic. Anyone who can justify smoking a cigarette as a pathway way to understanding Dharma (the confluence of the active and passive nature of Universal Law) can certainly conjure a personal philosophical treatise on a prime-time TV show.

I cry every time I watch Cold Case. I am a sap and especially affected by music. They use popular  music in  cold Case that is so widely known that is part of our collective consciousness; it is well chosen and stand-alone it frees emotions previously confined to solitary spaces in memory (OK, that is my bullshit excuse for the day). I regard Cold Case as I do Ghost Whisperer: It as an allegory meant to instruct us that to seek the healing of long-suffered wounds is a natural necessary element in personal happiness.

Zach says history is tired of being relived and we should command the sweetness of release from sadness and pain through prayerful self-examination in the here and now. He believes that to replace bad memories with the flood of endorphins and enlightenment that come from meditation actually cauterizes anguish. He said, as has another of my friends, that other people’s enemies are not his adversaries and that Cold Case encourage people to hang on to the past and fantasies of revenge. And where I applauded the investigators that brought closure and consequences to the guilty this week Zach saw it as a fight (albeit fictional) that he’s glad he can avoid in similar real life encounters. He has no need to bear a grudge against malevolent characters–invented or real.

Last week I helped create a sting that jailed a Chinese gang member who had scammed my friend ( a charity director in China ) a week earlier and then was dumb enough to try it again.  I was as angered and incensed as was my buddy: He is my friend, and via my worldview, I owe him allegiance to him should I perceive he has truly been wronged. His enemies are my enemies. Zach was quick to point out that a budding celebrity in social media had,in the past, covertly asked me (on no less than 7 occasions) to help her retaliate against people she claimed had wronged her in some way. It turned out that this minor star had duped all of us in her tiny constellation and I had wrongfully shut out some good people. I admit to being wrong and brought to where I was by a gifted siren, a sociopath who feigned being wronged for whatever narcissistic pleasure. It does not mean that my core desire to be an advocate or protector of my friends is inherently wrong.

Zach drew a parallel to how we deal with China and its enormous need for charity. The western press, he said, revels in stories about wrong-doing and has no use for humanitarian tales of need or triumphs of the spirit from people in a country we have been duped into loathing. ‘Your two years of efforts to raise funds for victims of poverty and disease in China have yielded you less money than was spent today to pass out free drinks at Google Headquarters’. It seems your friends are not many people’s friends either.” And with that we both laughed though mine was tearfully distracted by knowing five people I know personally have died and one is waiting for the end of her life because I have not been able to rally kindness as well as others have rallied hate.  And while Zach himself has volunteered countless hours of comfort to cancer and earthquake victims he is right: My “friends”–rather my friend’s problems–do not belong to anyone else even if I think they should.

Cold Case is focused on wrong-doers finally paying for their past transgressions. But, we never see how they are punished for deeds. And often we are lead to believe that even the perpetrators received some measure of peace because they could not chant away feelings of guilt with a mantra of lies or just causally walk away from secrets that their conscience wouldn’t let them lock up down some dark corridor of memory. Zach thinks Karma (Karma Niyama) –in plain speak the everyday consequeces of someone’s actions–more oten than not rules in cold cases. Me, I think that the scumbags seem to win far more than the good guys because we are basically an apathetic people too concerned about meaningless aspect of our own lives–our “personal branding” as my sociopathic friend calls it. If we take the position that truly moral fights belong to someone else we leave human beings exposed to packs of emotional and materially hungry jackals. On a larger scale we allow for holocausts, the murder of Jewish and Palestinian children in Gaza, the clogging of rivers with bodies in Rwanda, and we become accomplices in genocide. On a smaller scale we are disloyal and selfish and might as well be holding the metaphorical knife that wounds our friends or their families if we don’t take a stance once we are recognize the truth. A Sichuan earthquake survivor told me, with a gravity that pulled all warmth from my body, that his idea of charity was now a sincere wish to die– to save those that worried about him from more trouble and frustration. He is like the women I have met in the cancer burdened Pearl River Delta who have hidden medical reports from their families in order not to bring them the financial pain of treatment bills.

Zach went on quietly to tell me about a meeting between the Dalia Lama and a group of western psychologists a few years ago: The western intelligencia advocated the expressing rage and saw anger as healthy while the Dalai Lama pointed to objective studies of bliss that showed his followers to be happier and more fit than those who divested themselves of rage through retaliation or outburst. I agreed, but pointed out that the cost of selfish devotion to one’s own bliss was condemnation of the opportunity for healing by others.

Zach,who left today after giving me a warm and sympathetic hug, has a religious and spiritual imperative to follow that I respectfully disagree is a good one. In the new rage that is social media we twitter-borgs tend to judge people by the company (Company? Say rather a brigade, batallion or division…) that follow us on a site. And we are loathe to challenge those with influence for two reasons: we want their blessing (and maybe some of their followers) and we are afraid to become victims of their displeasure for fear of losing some of our own social capital. We have turned from offline friends and global neighborhoods to “followers,” numbered minions doing forced labor in our personal branding camps. It has become easy to lose one “friend” when there are 2,000 more still in the fold. When I “tweeted” to 2,000 followers that a newlywed American in China had his money and documents in the Beijing aiport only one person, a Chinese travel agent with meager personal reserves, offered assistance.

To be continued…

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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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Dreams, Repression and Violence

weight of the world on asian shoulders

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

Most of my students lamented that their jobs upon graduation, if they were lucky enough in an economy hit harder than than the government lets on, were likely to be menial and unrewarding. They expressed an awareness that because they were students at a provincial college the likelihood that they would join the ranks of millions of unemployed graduates was greater than average. Many of them spoke of their vocational “choices” as inevitable: preparations foisted upon them by parents, poor entrance scores, or a lack of financial resources needed to pursue their true calling.

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

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

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

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

Coming: Dreams….Part II


vt

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When you drink water remember the source…

JapanA few years ago my Korean Taekwondo master, with another American and his very young Korean teacher in the room, spoke to me in perfect Japanese. He proceeded to tell me that I should be wary as there was conflict between the two men. Then he winked and told me, again in Japanese, not to reveal the extent of his linguistic skills to anyone else. He had known for years prior to this day that I was fluent in Japanese, but had remained silent.

A day or two after his disclosure I asked him why he had kept it such a secret. He explained to me that to speak Japanese was to call to mind the days of his youth and the Japanese occupation of Korea. He had been forced to abandon his family identity by taking a Japanese name, forbidden to study Korean martial arts, and was witness to the arrogance and brutality of the Imperial army. I guessed his motive in revealing his secret to me came out of the then daily news on the continued Sino-Japanese-Korean animosities at that time: This was the oblique way a proud, accomplished man could release some long-held pain.

It was not long after our talk that he and another icon in Taekwondo encountered a man in an elevator in a Seoul hotel. The man asked, in his native Japanese, if they were also from Japan. The two men, ordinarily gentle and soft-spoken, emerged from the elevator while the visiting businessman remained aboard, having been rendered unconscious.

And only a week after the elevator event, Korea demolished an extraordinarily beautiful building in Seoul that had been erected during the occupation by the Imperial army. The Koreans did not just tear it down: they smashed each brick individually. The enormous collective pain of a nation had bled into every emotionally permeable membrane.

Japan has made half-hearted attempts to heal a divided Pacific rim community that still views Japan as unrepentant and inexorably tied to its militaristic past. Haruki Wada’s Asian Women’s Fund for comfort women, sexually used and abused by Japanese soldiers, is one of Tokyo’s most telling gestures.

The fund basically was meant to give the appearance of an apology without angering a large segment of Japan that viewed restitution as a loss of national face; hence, disgraceful.

fund did do some good for a fraction of the tens of thousands affected. A few hundred women from Taiwan, the Philippines and elsewhere received about $16,000 US Dollars from the fund (not the government) and a personal (not official) apology from the Japanese Prime Minister. Chinese women in the mainland received nothing as Beijing refused to set up an official authentication system for the victims. Other money from a relatively tiny fund went to hospital bills, retirement homes and medical facilities that benefited some women.

The latest round of reconciliation talks between Beijing and Tokyo are bound to evoke old memories for many in Korea, China, Taiwan and the Phillipines again. And forgiveness is unlikely to be forthcoming as long as the guilty party is still asking others to apologize or intervene on its behalf.

Beijing has been using water analogies throughout this process: China has called for the melting of ice and building a bridge over a sea of peace between the two countries. But, I doubt there will be much water flowing under non-existent metaphorical bridges until the leadership of Japan claims ownership for a destructive past, corrects false and state sponsored historical teachings, and begins tending to the living souls of its neighbors instead of conjuring the spirits of atrocity via visits to Yasukuni Shrine.

A Chinese Proverb: 饮水思源 (When you drink water remember the source)

China Cartoons,China Editorials,Chinese Proverbs,In the news,Intercultural Issues,Japan,Korea,War,中国

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