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海归,海带,海鸥 Part I

China’s narrow definition of educational success abroad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Turning Hashtags into Plowshares

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be authentic

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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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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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…

Chinese Monks,Chinese Proverbs,Confucius Slept Here,Cross Cultural Training,Student Suicides China,The Unsinkable Ms Yue

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Trans-America

To say that returning to the U.S. after three years in China has been culturally disorienting would be euphemistic. Shel Israel is touring the Great Wall celebrating his awe and acquired insights via his blog and Twitter, and Robert Scoble is in Shanghai flashing packaged chicken feet in front of Fast Company cameras. Like them, I am trying to make sense of a new landscape. America is a bit foreign to me now as I travel the western U.S..

Cal Poly Business School

Cal Poly Business School

I was present in San Luis Obispo when the horns began to honk and cheers went up in all directions as Barack Obama became President Elect Obama. It reminded me of the day Hawaii became a State and they let us out of school amid a great and historic celebration;  I passed through San Francisco and visited a lawyer friend turned spiritual and inspirational entrepreneur (they are not contradictions)–who now lives in a monastery–when I heard frightening, violent words hurled from cars, Kristallnacht-like verbal stones, aimed at gay pedestrians in a bizarre celebration of the passage of a ballot Proposition banning Gay marriage in California.

I passed dozens of buildings vacated or marked “For Lease” in the city and on the outskirts of several better heeled cities I saw at least nine new prisons with oxymoronic names like “Pleasant Valley Prison” or soft-sell monikers like “Men’s Colony.” Local communities seem desensitized to penal “engines of inequality” where blacks and non-violent drug offenders are incarcerated instead of treated and rehabilitated (As an aside: VP Elect Biden has been instrumental in legislation to help repair the situation) and appear happy to have a new source of jobs in or near their already affluent communities. And then I spoke to curious, bright business students at Cal Poly for whom Professor and Associate Dean Chris Carr has helped create a soon enviable program that aims to inspire entrepreneurs and new venture champions in spite of the recent economic downturn.

I have reeled at the price of “cheap” food, been overwhelmed by the size of portions and left from restaurants feeling guilty for wasting so much of what was served to me. I have been unnerved by the quiet and open spaces so prevalent here and concomitantly heartened by the abundance of alternative energy initiatives and blue sky I wish again for China…

California Wind Turbines

California Wind Turbines

(Taken with my i-Phone so…)

It has been a meditative, disheartening, inspiring and enlightening journey for me. I came here to get much needed medical care from a system broken and in need of fixing, but still far superior to anything available in China. I stopped along the way to teach MBA students what I could about China and to give them insight/tools that might help them personally or professionally upon graduation. And as always, it has been me who has learned the most. This trip has fostered in me a greater “attitude of gratitude”: I hale from the greatest country on earth and feel even prouder of my home now that the election is decided. I live in an extraordinary place. I love my adopted home of China and am looking forward to my return…There are problems, but hope and promise in both places.

Oh, to attempt to escape from being too soporific or pedantic i will share one of my favorite photos of the trip. It was taken by a visitor from Spain who also waned me, in the middle of the men’s room, to shoot him in front of a very kitsch urinal. Say what you will about Chinese bathrooms and the holes in the floors (which they think more sanitary than placing your bum on a previously occupied seat), but this Niagara style waterfall warranted a photo:

Potty Humor?

Potty Humor?

Cross Cultural Training,Faceboook,Guangzhou,Human Rights,The Great Wall,Uncategorized,Violence

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China: The Balance Sheet….

when china sneezes dragon

China: The Balance Sheet differs from most other books we have been reading in preparation for our 22 province journey across China for charity and understanding. China guides to business or living become obsolete almost before they are published. And most of the “expert” commentary on China gives the reader intellectual whiplash: The data contained in strategy texts is often conflicting or out-dated. This text offers comes with online resources for continuing information and is a testament both to the wisdom and commitment of the authors.

China Balance Sheet What the World Needs to Know About the Emerging Superpower

China: The Balance Sheet isn’t so much a book as it is a project that yielded enough information for a book. It is a collection of work, information, and analyses collected by the Institute for International Economics and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, The Balance Sheet is rife with diverse demographics, like statistics about China’s graying population, as well as an informed political discussion on the Middle Kingdom’s long, curious relationship with Russia. Yes, its such dry reading that we carried an Internet canteen–interspersing the book with irreverent spoofs from Sinocidal to keep from humor dehydration–but every sentence, to drag out a metaphor, is an informational oasis for a Sinophile.

One of the more engaging elements of this book is its ability to maintain a separation from the standard strains of China fever: while the book delivers competent, clear information about mainland China, it avoids over-generalizations and makes clear the plurality and multiplicity of a country with 56 distinct ethnic groups, 200 spoken languages, and size enough to make Europe jealous. As Lucien Pye of foreignaffairs.org says of the book: “The main thrust of the analysis is that diversity has replaced the monolithic system that Mao Zedong created. There are, therefore, many Chinas — rural and urban, wealthy and poor, educated and illiterate, international and isolated.” And yes, seemingly benign statements like that one make it unavailable on the mainland, but censors should tale a second look as it is careful to avoid the paranoia about China’s growth that pervades Western news and doesn’t issue dark proclamations about China’s fearsome rise or apocalyptic fall. The book holds to tenets set forth in early pages: “Because we believe that constructive US policies toward China must rest, first and foremost, on a firm factual and analytical footing, this study’s primary purpose is to provide comprehensive, balanced, and accurate information on all key aspects of China’s own development and its implications for other nations.”

Will the Balance Sheet help you understand business culture in China and learn the secrets of guanxi, face, or how to hold your chopsticks at just the right angle to impress the Chinese delegation leader? No. Will the book arm you with a clear understanding of the economic, political, and demographic realities facing China now? Yes. You can find an overview and preview of the first chapter of the book here and a collection of 2007 published addendum’s here.

This ranks high on our list of must-read texts along with Harold Chee’s Myths.

By David DeGeest with Lonnie B. Hodge

Book Reviews,China Consultants Directory,China Resources,Cross Cultural Training

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