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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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The Crock Theory

The Elucidation of the Parlous Panjandrum

or

The Crock Theory

by Dr. Dave Garber

One might begin by asking, “What is a Parlous Panjandrum?”  (parlous being synonymous with dangerous and panjandrum being a high muck amuck.  One might describe a person holding high office in a bureaucracy as a Parlous Panjandrum if the person’s behavior fits the definition.

An evolutionary stage of the Parlous Panjandrum is the Sisyphean Wanderoo,  Let me explain the roots of the term “Sisyphean Wanderoo.”   Sisyphean means like Sisyphus, who was a character in Greek mythology.  In Webster’s, Sisyphus is described as follows: “A son of Aeolus and ruler of Corinth, noted for his trickery: he was punished in Tartarus by being compelled to roll a stone to the top of a slope, the stone always escaping him and rolling down again.”  Sisyphean is used to refer to an endless and unavailing labor or task.  A wanderoo is a monkey or langur found in India and Ceylon — most of whom have bright red or purple butts.  The name wanderoo seemed to go well with Sisyphean and conveyed a graphic image of someone who is working very hard and not really accomplishing his/her objectives.  The Parlous Panjandrum generally does not remember being a Sisyphean Wanderoo.  Whence then the Crock Theory?

If one approaches a low level worker in any number of bureaucratic organizations, to include: government, the military, the academy, or business and ask him/her to briefly to describe the nature of the organization a common response will be “It is a crock of ……(fill in the blank)”  (This response will not generally come from the novitiate who, for a period of time, accepts the view of the organization presented in the organization’s indoctrination.)

A prevailing myth in bureaucratic organizations is that as one moves up the hierarchy one becomes increasingly free.  The assumption here is that when one can order others about and control one’s own schedule, that this represents organizational freedom. In fact as one moves up in an organization one becomes increasingly bound by organizational constraints that limit one’s objective view of the organization, to say nothing of freedom of speech.  In fact, organizational freedom is more accurately defined as the ability to see the true characteristics of the organization and to comment there on.  Thus those at the lower levels are free to see the organization for what it is, and to comment about it.  They see that it’s a “Crock” and can say that it’s a “Crock.”  In fact they go about knowing and saying with impunity.

With time and promotion in the organization the previously free individual becomes less and less able to openly say that it’s a Crock.  Frequently these workers become “closet “Crock” sayers.”  That is they go into a closet before work and say: “It’s a “Crock”, It’s a “Crock.”  They then go to work and act and speak as if it is not a “Crock.”

With time and promotion the Closet “Crock” Sayer’s memory fades and he/she forgets that it’s a crock.   This occurs around the time the individual becomes a “middle manager.”  Many individuals become truly dangerous (parlous) at this point because they take the organization very seriously and fail to see the humor that infuses all organizations.

Having forgotten that it’s a Crock, upward mobility subjects the individual to a strange metamorphosis — He/She becomes a “Crock.”  Less you despair, the problem with bureaucratic organizations is not that “Crocks” top them.  There are all types of Crocks: Plain “Crocks”, Fancy “Crocks”, “Crocks” with tops and “Crocks” with handles, to name a few.  The problem is with the “Cracked Crock.”  This problem is related to the contents of “Crocks.”  For it has been axiomatic since Isaac Newton that: “S— runs down hill.”

Dave Garber

—–

My first “real job” was working with a group of developmentally disabled girls. Severely handicapped teens with autism, Downs Syndrome, seizure disorders and more… It remains the toughest job I ever performed. I took the job as I waited to enter the military as a Medic and Social Work Psychology Procedures Specialist. The doctoral students in charge of the program were writing their dissertations in a new an exciting field: Applied Behavioral Analysis or “Behavior Mod” as it was known at the time. I volunteered to help them norm a self-paced course meant to train doctoral students at the University of North Carolina.

Serendipity brought me to the US Academy of Health Sciences after basic training.  The faculty Learning Theory and Behavior Modification instructor, a draftee , was about to leave the service. I was all of 19-yrs old,so my knowledge of Skinnerian principles of behavior stunned the staff and caused not a little doubt about my ability to teach in a Health Sciences School where war hardened vets were returning to be reclassified from combat jobs after tough tours in Vietnam. After two mandatory graduate classes in teaching techniques and examination methods and a trial class examination I was reluctantly brought on to the faculty. I was easily the youngest and least educated staff member and as a result endured more hazing than an Animal House inductee. Even without a degree, our cooperation with Baylor University soon landed me the august title, “assistant instructor” and then later instructor. It was the beginning of a long love affair with academics.

Major Dave Garber was my first and only boss at Ft. Sam Houston. He had a doctorate in Social Work and was a benevolent patriarchal figure to a rag-tag bunch of belligerent and far too intelligent enlisted draftees. We made the cast of M.A.S.H. look like a spit-and-polish outfit. Professor Potter, uh, Garber, who went on to become a full Colonel and the Army’s Chief Social Work Consultant was likely the only man alive with patience and humor enough to guide our department through the last days Vietnam and a fast changing and demoralized cast of military misfits. With better equipment and facilities than colleges have even today, we not only trained the military’s counselors, doctors, nurses and allied health care professionals, we literally wrote the book on Behavioral Science for the military, conducted POW family adjustment research, supervised interns in the Army’s burn center, authored computer assisted instruction material, made training videos used by service schools, and supervised interns in child guidance/abuse clinics and drug and alcohol centers. Dave often said, in years that followed that we “could do it all” and I am guessing we could have.

My peers went on to careers as Teachers, Career Military Officers, College Academics, Psychologists, Dentists Social Workers and more. It was a talented group….

This 19-year old would never have made it through without Dr. Garber. He never raised his voice to me when he found his name tag one day switched to read “Garbage,” and only once had to gently inform me that my signing out of the school for hours at a time for “PT”  was meant to be Physical Training, not Personal Time. And I was admonished, not demoted, for rewiring the non-commissioned chief’s phone to operate upside down and for filing lunch in his desk under the names of its parts: “Banana, Tuna Sandwich and so on…

He consoled me when I couldn’t handle working with trauma cases as I was not far removed from my own troubled teen years: a father lost to Vietnam and a mother claimed by grief. He encouraged my involvement in theater and turned a blind eye to my participation in professional stage productions in San Antonio even when it cost me the honor graduate position in my own class.  In return for his sage wisdom and generosity he received world-class teaching, serious and lasting research and healing clinical returns from all of us on his team.

The original Crock Theory was written by Dave and another faculty member while I was there. It reflects the wisdom, sobriety and keen, acerbic wit of the man who tamed and a group that otherwise would have surely landed in some stockade. The Army was rife with cracked crocks, but Dave wasn’t one of them.

Thank you Dave for allowing me to reprint this here and for staying in touch on Facebook and elsewhere. Thank you Professor for being a role model for all I have positively achieved as a teacher. Thank you Colonel for being a real leader.

A salute, and a warm hug for all you have accomplished yourself and through those of us you led to success.

cartoons,Entertainment,Heartsongs,Humor,Personal Notes,US Army,US Army,Veterans,Vietnam

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New and Selected Poems: The Expat’s Fiance

“Horror is partial, it keeps you going”

–Rita Dove

He’s proof that angels sweat

and make fat promises

in child-like English

She keeps twisting her oversized diamond

then minces toward the ladies room

on the highest of heels

tries to ignore the ghostly make-up

on the woman in the mirror

(dead to her father,

a disappointment to her mother)

and her weary looks of disdain

American Poet in China,American Professor in China,China Expat,China Expats,Heartsongs,Intercultural Issues

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Stone Pillow: New and Collected Poems: “Apertures”

I was just looking at Flickr photos that I snapped during a trip to Lanzhou in Gansu Province, China. It has been a couple of years since I took what was a life changing journey over the Yellow River and along the Silk Road. Gansu is the China I most love–sorry Guangzhou–with its dozens of ethnic groups. Despite its terrific poverty it is with rife with Confucian, Taoist and rich Buddhist temple bells and beautiful, delicate relics from Qing, Ming and Sui dynasties; and many of them can be found only a few meters from each other. And then there are the dozens of poems cradled in the giant Buddha’s arms and a countryside recites them in a different voice every spectacular season.

The pictures called to mind a poem I wrote a few years ago about how love for a person or place remains perfect, and  young even as we move through our inescapable developmental phases.

Apertures

I was just looking

through a photo album

one of those musty, three-tiered

prison blocks full of parents

slowly leaning away from each other

and children running at a standstill:

escaping more perfunctory poses.

There is one of you

just after I read you that poem

by another writer

about a woman

with your votive smile, inner nakedness

and a mid-afternoon firestorm in her hair

that he wished he had touched.

He told me once, his faced engraved

with regret, that he visits her often now,

though he didn’t attend the funeral.

When we first met

I heard

still hear your body

moving under your clothes:

the long felt silence of a temple bell.

Behind you, curtains were whispering

like nylons.

Why is it

that we capture ourselves

sometimes forever

in a flat semblance of the truth?

It is why

in pictures of me I am alone

standing outside my heart

with nothing for me to compare

until the day I’m holding you,

in a portrait with more

than a passion of intention,

and with a look as serious as a kiss.

American Professor in China,China Expat,Chinese Monks,Confucius Slept Here,Gansu,Heartsongs,Lanzhou,love,Personal Notes,Photos,Poetry,Stone Pillow,Travel in China,中国

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Involver Social Application and Olympic Documentary Join Forces

Discovery Channel Director and Producer Siok Siok Tan has made her Boomtown Beijing Documentary available to us…

It is great News!

Click on the video buttons above or head to the first of two “Involver” applications we will use:

http://apps.new.facebook.com/boomtown_beijing/campaign_memberships/home?_fb_fromhash=0976618598b5aab8a5de78491bb00104

Help us beta test the application and do some good in the process. The Library Project, The Ms Yue Cancer Fund, The Reading Tub and Sichuan Volunteer Teachers will all benefit.

Sign onto the application and invite your group members and friends. Please investigate all aspects of the application and send me feedback as soon as you can. The top 10 recruiters will get 10 free hours of social media campaign consultation for free.

Please watch the trailer and do what you can to help make this a phenomenal success!

Thanks everyone!

Beijing Olympics,Cancer Journal,Charity in China,China Blog,China Charity Blogs,China Editorials,China films,China Olympics,China Search Engine Marketing,China SEO,China web 2.0,Chinese Internet,Chinese Media,Faceboook,Heartsongs,Intercultural Issues,Online Digital Marketing,Online Digital Marketing China,Seo China,Singapore,social media,The Internet,The League of Extraordinary Chinese Women

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Ghost Whispers

death catcher

I learned today that my sister passed away. I learned over the Internet that she died in November of last year. She was much older than me and never in great health, so I had wrongfully assumed she had “crossed over” years ago. Tonight in the still heat of a stifling Guangzhou I smelled the sour scent of some hard traveled memories and heard her whisper to me….

No, we were not close. Marriage came early for her, when I was 5, and before I was developmentally mature enough to crave or mourn losses. My military family was turning corners in or out of countries every three years or so and making the word “home” an abstraction. My sister was never in our family pictures. I saw her only a few times through the years and her face in my mind’s eye is blurred. I can remember her often speaking of pain and that remains palpable.

Until tonight I had almost forgotten I had a sister. She had been adopted by my unmarried mother at birth. She saw herself later in life as a stubborn vine that connected all of us to my mother’s alcoholic ex-husband and his mistress: She was the offspring of an affair, so her past was kept secret by my simple and well-meaning parents until she was a teenager. My mother and father, emotionally unsophisticated and afraid, asked a Catholic priest to substitute for them and tell her that she was adopted. It did not go well.

I have been watching DVDs this week “expat style.” We often buy two or three seasons of a show at a time, ones we cannot watch on regular TV and then air them from beginning to end in only a few days. It is a way to keep current with our abandoned culture and remain bonded to the lexicon, fashions and familiar emotions of our birth home. This week I have been storming through two seasons of Ghost Whisperer. And I have come to love the show for its generally positive outcomes, its promotion of health through acceptance and forgiveness and its desensitization of our collective fear of the unknown.* The protagonist of the show, who can see troubled spirits, helps earthbound souls unpack the heavy emotional baggage that holds them here. She helps them release after-longing and pain from the past so they can peacefully migrate into their future. It is not a story about religion, or eschatology (life after death), but about how to live well and without regret.

My mother developed Alzheimer’s disease and never was able to finally confront the trauma of being abandoned by her impoverished mother during the Great Depression. Too, she rarely spoke about the man who had deepened her emotional wounds later in life. She did so to protect herself and to maintain some illusion of normalcy for my sister and me. There was no malice in her deception, though my sister never forgave her or my father and never found emotional nourishment that would sate the pain. Where my mother insulated herself with delusions ( and maybe her disease), my sister did so with anger and distrust. After my mother died, I read in another Internet article that my sister had embarked on a public journey to discover more about her origins. I hope to learn one day that she was successful.

I wonder if other expats learn about their vacated lives past and present as I do? I view time compressed, via boxed sets of information that arrive in emails, letters, DVD’s and Internet entries. It was almost five years ago to the day that I leaned my sister’s husband had died an improbable death: an avid outdoorsman, he had contracted Bubonic plague from an insect bite while hunting. He was the first man in America known to have succumbed to the disease in decades. He was the most gifted craftsman I have ever known, but held back from his dream of being a woodcarver and gunsmith by the needy gravity of my sister’s suffering. So, I grieved my loss and his because his short fame was only in the peculiarity of his demise. We wandering expats may seem not to care about what happens to you, but we do. I do. And I, like others, frequent the few paths we can find along time’s rivers looking for signs of you. But can be a lonely and overwhelming journey when information flows so fast from so far away.

I laugh, mourn, celebrate and educate in absentia. Memory also presents to me as a frightened bird that requires patience to keep it nearby long enough that I can study, appreciate and accept both its beauty and its flaws.

I pray that both my sister and my mother are finally at peace. I long ago forgave them for simply being human. I hope they forgave this homeless child for the manifestations of his confusion .

I am the earthbound spirit now: I am on the banks of the river, coaxing the birds and vigilantly listening for whispers….

————————————————

* In another coincidence, I was surprised to see that the crystal ball mind reader on the GW website was created by my old friend and British doppelganger Andy Naughton .

American Poet in China,American Professor in China,Asia,China Editorials,China Expat,China Expats,Confucius Slept Here,Expats,Heartsongs,Intercultural Issues,past posts,Personal Notes,Teaching in China,The Internet,Uncategorized,Veterans,Violence,Weird China,中国,中文

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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.

American Professor in China,China Business,China Business Consultant,China Cartoons,China Expat,China Expats,Chinese Education,Chinese Internet,Chinese Proverbs,Chinglish,Confucius Slept Here,Expats,Guangzhou,Guangzhou China,Heartsongs,Intercultural Issues,Internet marketing China,Macau University of Science and Technology,past posts,Personal Notes,Teaching in China,The Great Wall

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One Couple, Two Cultures: A review…

Futo

Running through the bookstore near customs in Hong Kong is generally a snatch and buy operation. I pile up titles that look interesting and hope none of them get confiscated going entering the mainland. It is often more of a risk that I will grab a paper doorstop that would have better have been seized by a agent than brought home. But, I am glad I found Waters’ book, albeit a bit dated in its outlook and appeal –even for me a couple only of decades behind him in age.

One Couple, Two Cultures is a a series of interview that was published in 2005 by then 85-year old Waters. I am more anxious now to read Faces of Hong Kong: An Old Hand’s Reflections, his autobiography. He is a decorated British WWII Veteran, Karate Black Belt, a weight lifting Champion, an over seventy record holder in 800 and 1500 meter races, a PhD. in Hong Kong History, a Best-selling author and an educator with an enviable academic and governmental service record and more.
The book heavily weighted with Bristish-Hong Kong-ese unions began in the 1980’s, or before, is rife with the history of social acceptance regarding cross-cultural marriage in Hong Kong and does have a handful of very illuminating quotes and anecdotes:

“Never marry a Chinese woman. They’re steel rods swathed in flowers.”–Jonathan Hughes

“She doesn’t like to kiss on the lips. ‘It is very unhygienic’.”–The British husband of a Hong Kong Chinese wife

Despite my selected quotes, the book is filled with the hard-earned reflections of many happy couples grateful for the trials and tribulations of language, bi-racial child-rearing, overcoming stereotypical thinking, “fusion cooking”, the courting of neighbors and in-laws and the daily wonderment that brought them closer as they successfully conquered difficulties.

While the book won’t be an advisory manual for a young couple courting in Northern China it will be an enjoyable historical treatise on the yin and yang of relationships in 20th century China. From the mentions of early “protected women” (mistresses of western men who could not marry in polite society and carried a certificate that identified them to police as respectable women and not prostitutes) to the “Nanyang” emigrants to south-east Asia there is much to learn here. It is evident that the xenophobia experienced by some inter-racial couples in today’s China today is a much smaller price to pay for love than days of yore.

With a hat tip to the best lady-pipes in Chicago, for the cautionary photo above…

Asia,Asian Women,Book Reviews,China Expat,China Expats,China Humor,Confucius Slept Here,Expats,Heartsongs,Humor,Intercultural Issues,中国,中文

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The trouble with Oiwan….

censored in china

When the Oiwan Lam controversy began I predicted four things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Oiwan Lam

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Compassion Fatigue

One of the lines I repeatedly quote from Waiting for Godot is “Habit is a great deadener.” The more we see poverty, death, disability, illness, and systemic dysfunction, the more we become desensitized to it. The more we add charitable acts to the bottom of our to-do list, the more we deaden our reflexes to react to immediate human crises.

I’m a sap. I’m the guy who gets tears in his eyes in a pawn shop, and I wonder what set of circumstances could bring someone to surrender the symbol of their emotional commitment to each other for few dollars. And I ask myself “What egregious sin must a man have committed to compel his family to hawk an heirloom like a masonic ring for ten to twenty percent of its worth?” Part of it is that the shops bring back memories of my childhood, when my father and mother would pawn their savings bonds in the middle of every month so that they were able to pay a car payment or a grocery bill. I’m not sure we ever redeemed. perhaps an emotional element of the the dreamblogue is my attempt to metaphorically recover those bonds for someone else.

The Blog of Dreams, for me, is also about fighting ennui. It is also about standing up to the pain that I experienced when one of my 22-year-old students lost a leg to bone cancer and another 23-year-old student died last week of leukemia. I’m not trying to be maudlin, nor am I trying to paint myself as some kind of extraordinarily kind person. I am doing what I have to do in order maintain some kind of balance in an environment that constantly erodes and degrades my capacity to react to human suffering. I have no interest in being like the Pulitzer-prize-winning photojournalist who watched a vulture wait for an African child to die. He snapped his shot, won the prize, and was later denounced by colleagues with vicious criticism for not taking the child to an aid station . He later committed suicide. Watching people die around me this year has hushed my sef-preservational black, as I’ve watched friends and colleagues try to navigate hopeless situations. The Dreamblogue is a personally proposed imperative and my long trek to the aid station.

Onemandbandwidth has been short on content for the past three weeks: let me tell you why. David and I have written around 50,000 words during that time in support of the Dreamblogue in the form of: a grant proposal to Global Voices Online; sponsorship support proposals for colleges in the UK and the US; a PR Web release about our journey; hundreds of e-mails to potential supporters (not donors); project profiles on social networking sites; correspondence with intended recipients of our charity; the editing and revision of 22 articles about the mainland provinces we will visit; and more. David and I transformed my apartment into a two-man hermitage because we have literally spent 19 to 20 hours a day for the past six days, carpals to the keyboard, in preparation for this trip. The only breaks we took were to watch reruns of House, M.D. (while we kept editing) and to play an occasional round of Scrabble online.

Years ago, there was talk of a self-perpetuating machine…now if only we could figure out a way to not take our once a day eat break we could make engineering history. Lately our work is generating more work, which generates more work…we need to MoBlog!

The universe has us on hold right now, and the muzak, though promising, has a dreadfully slow rhythm. Proposals are making their way through the digestive tracks of various commercial and organizational enterprises–we DO understand, but it ain’t any easier….

I’ve read several stories on the Internet this week bemoaning the lack of medical care in China, the widening gap between rich and poor, and descriptions of the disasters in north and the south that have devastated China. Some are touching, some are appalling, but for me, each of them lacked the one element that seems outstanding in my emotional and mental gestalt of late. All but one member of The League of Extraordinary Chinese Women is dead, and I hold myself accountable at some level for possibly missing something. In these reams of paperwork and multitude of posts, what word or phrase, what measure of credibility is missing that can make people to resonate with what I feeel?

Onemanbandwidth will be doing a 301 redirect soon, and lend all of the power and cyber-momentum built by the site to the Dreamblogue project. I’ll write some articles-ambitious, critical, and ridiculous as always–from time to time on the Dreamblogue; however, the project has a life of its own and it is much more important than a personal online diary.

David and I only want one thing from you, and it’s not money nor pats on the back (we haven’t done anything yet). The only thing we want is for you to social network our requests for people’s dreams. Tell your friends to send us their dreams. Link to us, favorite us on Technorati, and tell others to do the same. Give us a few minutes of your time and a little space on your blog (which we know are valuable), and we’ll do our best to reflect credit on your generosity. Yhank you to those of you who have already acted.

And before we sound a little too altruistic for our own good, you need to know what is in this for us: David and I hope to write a book or two about their adventures, and I long to see historical China. The people that will be helped most immediately are those people we have personal contact with. I selfishly want them alive and in my life for as long as possible. By doing so, maybe I can assuage some of the guilt I feel for not being able to do more this year for the people I love. These are our dreams, and we want to achieve them. In exchange, we want to help a few realize their dreams, too–especially the fantastic work of the Library Project and the Reading Tub.

There is no good way to end this post except to begin our work. The Blog of Dreams is our newest answer to compassion fatigue: by sharing our dreams with each other and funnelling the power of those desires into helping others, we may be able to restore our capacity to witness and ease some human suffering.

poverty in China

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Disaster is not on summer holiday…

A must read article at Global Voices Online about the lack of reporting and blogger reponse to the horrific disasters in China of late that have left over a million people homeless:

Yunnan

Charity in China,China Editorials,China Photos,Chinese Internet,Chinese Media,Greater Asia Blogs,Heartsongs,Human Rights,In the news,Top Blogs,Top China Blogs List,中国,中文

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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….

American Poet in China,American Professor in China,Asia,China Expat,China Expats,Chinese Education,Confucius Slept Here,Greater Asia Blogs,Guangzhou,Guangzhou China,Heartsongs,Intercultural Issues,Teaching in China,中国,中文

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Blog of Dreams



The Dream:

Our dream is to travel in 2007 to every mainland province in China. During this journey, it is our intention to chronicle the everyday lives of ordinary Chinese citizens. Our motivation for the trip came from a group of women known as the League of Extraordinary Chinese Women. The LOECW was comprised of 5 women from various walks of Chinese life—wives, semi-professional women, a bookkeeper, and a student. The one thing they had in common was advanced-stage HER2 breast cancer. These women, with little access to formal education and less information from outside sources about the disease they had contracted, naturally and courageously combated their disease with friendship, enthusiasm, meditation, and what medical care they could afford.

One member of the original group has survived, and a newer, younger member has been added recently—a 22-year-old student who lost her leg to bone cancer. Both of the survivors lack the financial wherewithal to apply standard medical treatment to their illness. We devoted time and energy from our blogs and lives to raise money for members of the league. As a result of our initial efforts, we were able to extend the life of some members, and we enabled the student to purchase a prosthetic leg.

During this first effort, we began to think about other Chinese people left behind in the wake of this huge industrial growth. Around this time, we also met Thomas Stader and Laurie Mackenzie, two expats who have devoted their time, talents, and treasures to Chinese, educationally and economically left behind, by giving them access to life-changing education. Our meetings sparked Yanzhi Liu’s interest, as he was (and still is) a board member for the US-based group The Reading Tub. Because we are educators and bloggers actively involved in search engine marketing optimization and education, we sought to find a way to organize the entrepreneurial energy of the people we met and turn it into a force that would help us, and other people, realize the dreams we now hold dear.

We decided to experiment, via the Blog of Dreams, by asking students in our global internet marketing class to take a hands-on approach to global marketing by contributing to a positive world awareness of China while aiding worthy causes. Students immediately drove a brand new blog to the number 23 position (out of 75 million) in the Favorites section of Technorati, the premiere blog aggregator in the world. Students ensured that one of our blogs was nominated for and eventually won Best Asian Blog in the Annual Weblog Awards. This blog already held dozens of top ten slots in search engine slots for keywords related to China business. So, with this kind of early momentum, student commitment and huge volunteer support, we knew we could create a project that would make a difference in other people’s lives via the Internet.

The Dreamblogue is a simple concept. We will contact people through PR Web, Blogger News Network (BNN, for whom we write), Google News, Social Networks like Facebook and our volunteer network. We will also promote an Internet MEME that asks people be to share real dreams for themselves or someone else. After a specified period of time (maybe once a month or once a quarter), we’ll select a contributor who will win a prize donated by one of our charitable sponsors. We hope to give away vacations to China, scholarships for study abroad, equipment, Software and cutting edge gadgets that will appeal to our broad demographic. We want to attract a Postsecret-type (http://postsecret.blogspot.com) interest in our blog that will drive enough traffic that we can generate advertising revenue to give to educational and medical concerns. We also plan a book about China for expat and business newcomers.

The blog will use Feedburner and Blogads as its primary advertising revenue resources. The number of ads that we allow will be limited: no more than 1 ad in our feed, 1 ad in our posts, and 1 ad in our blog ads. All of the money generated from these sources will go directly from Feedburner and Blogads to the charities we support—we will never directly handle the money.

The other advertising that we will be present on the site will be for other corporations and institutions that sponsor our adventure, and those ads will be top listed display ads in the sidebar of the blog of dreams.

Any educational concerns that join us as sponsors for the trip will have direct links on our site to translated pages or individual websites that will advertise to Chinese students and more importantly, their parents. We will do all of the search engine optimization and translation and ongoing support for these.

The Blog of Dreams will have videocasts, podcasts, a China picture contest (to be turned into a coffee table book) , a weekly Chinese horoscope, weekly Chinese recipes (also to be a book), and most importantly, the daily dreams of people from around the world. In all, the Dreamblogue has been created to be a tool of understanding and a place where dreams can be spoken into reality. We also plan a book bout

Click on the stamp above and head for the Dreamblogue. The first thing you can do to help is favorite them in Technorati and then link to them if you have a blog.

ABOUT US:
Who we are:

Lonnie Hodge is a writer, educator and SEO consultant with over 20 years of experience working and living in Asia. He is a past recipient of America’s highest honor given to a poet: A National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Writing. Because of the Unsinkable Ms Yue’s constant inspiration via, her courage in battling cancer, Lonnie, along with David, were compelled to create The China Dreamblogue.
Lonnie has done SEO for corporations and bloggers large or small. His work for non-profit groups is done without charge. To date his clients hold over 30,000 keywords indexed in #1 positions on major search engines worldwide.
Lonnie has been a lecturer worldwide on topics related to Humor and Wellness, psychoneuroimmunology, Psychopharmacology, Personal Communication, Asian Culture, International Trade, Search Engine Optimization, Marketing, ESL and Personal Growth and Development for Universities, small and large businesses, The Kellogg Leadership Program, The Fetzer Institute and more…
He is a Professor with over thirty years of teaching experience at Universities worldwide including: Baylor University, The University of North Carolina, The U.S. Army Academy of Health Sciences (while he was a soldier during a few of the Vietnam years), The University of Maryland and Business/Technical Colleges in Asia.
He is currently one of China’s leading Trade Specialists and Consultants. He is one of only two peer- reviewed and accepted SEO specialists in China.
David DeGeest is a teacher, blogger, and educator in China who regularly assists in the editing and writing of OneManBandWidth. He holds a degree in mathematics and English from Grinnell College. He came to China as the recipient of a prestigious fellowship from Grinnell’s Office of Social Commitment. In the past year, he has edited a motivational memoir and an international Bonsai book. He has devoted his time to learning Chinese, language and literature, Martial Arts and SEO while promoting the Dreamblogue.

More information will follow tomorrow.

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China Photo Contest

fotolia_1684848.jpg

Have picture of the Middle Kingdom you like and want to share with the world?

OMBW will sponsor a contest that will run all year and culminate in a coffee table book that will raise funds for China charities and the Literacy Group The Reading Tub.

It is simple:

Send your best shot of people, places or events in China to: dreamblogue@gmail.com with the information required below. We will post several shots, once a week, on OMBW and on http://blogof dreams.com where you and your friends can vote for your favorites. The top 250 will make it into the book. There is NO entry fee.

There will be prizes, yet to be decided, for the winners, links back to blogs or sites if requested, contributor copies of the coffee table book. All rights are returned to the creator upon publication and you are free to multiple submit your work to other sites, magazines or contests. First prize in each division will be an expense paid week on the road with Yanzhi and Dawei and the Dreanblogue Team during their charity and friendship tour of China

Ideally there will be three divisions:

Hobby Photographer: You take pictures for personal enjoyment and you have a shot that you would like to share with the world

yangshuo

Amateur: You aspire to be professional and have a bit more experience or training than do most of us in the amateur ranks

heart on

Professional: You get paid for your work, but are willing to share it with us at OMBW and the Dreablogue so we can raise a few dollars for charity

great-wall-1.jpg

We will try to post new pictures once a week on Friday. The rules:

Make the photos as Web-friendly as possible: No more than 450 Pixels wide please. If you win we will ask for the high resolution file.

Include the following information with your email:

  • Real name
  • Division
  • Province where picture was taken
  • Name of Photo as you want it in the ALT tag
  • Your location and email (not to be published)
  • Your desired screen name for voting and picture tags
  • A short statement giving us permission to place the picture on OMBW and The China Dreamblogue during 2006-7
  • Your blog or website URL, if there is one, to which we should link the photos

There is no limit to the number of photos you can submit….
Look for the first photos next week!

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After the applause….

TEACH IN CHINA

I finished a class this week and there was applause. The general reticence of Chinese learners to be demonstrative in the classroom had me thinking their joy was merely over the fact that the period had finally end. Caught off guard, with tears in my eyes, I lowered my head and tried to understand what had brought on such a response.

The class had been a simple one: an exercise that had them speaking about themselves, the origins of their families and the meanings inherent in the elegant pictographs that are the Chinese characters that represent their names. They chalked each one on the board and told the room stories of history, hope and love that had gone into the choices made for them and by whom the names had been given and why.

Let me digress back a week and tell you of an encounter I had with one of the Chinese nationals teaching at our school: She wandered into a conversation I was having with two other Chinese professors and introduced herself with an English name I knew could not be hers by heritage. I then asked, as I always do, her “real” name in Chinese. She replied that it was much too difficult for a foreigner. I asked again and she answered with a simple name, nearly as common in China as is Smith or Jones in America. I was not sure if I should be angry, saddened or pedagogical or silent at that moment. I simply drew the character for her name in the air and then asked if I was correct. She confirmed my choice and left the conversation after quickly instructing, thereby saving face, that Chinese names were richer in meaning and more carefully chosen than were western ones. My three daughters Alizon (named for the beautiful lover in the verse play The Lady’s not for Burning), Adrienne (named for famed feminist poet Adrienne Rich) and Chieko (My “Thousand Blessings Child” nearly lost to a prenatal condition) might disagree, but I nodded acceptance and went back to small talk with my colleagues.

It was later that day that I conceived the teaching lesson I mention above. And I cconceded that it was often true that Chinese families incorporated, on the whole, more thought and care when choosing a name: superstition, family placement, tradition about who in the family normally names a new child, hopes associated with the birth of the child (sometimes even questionable ones like giving the girl a boy’s name because they had hoped for a male child), Feng Shui master recommendations and dozens of other factors that never enter into our decisions in America. I thought that she had made actually made a great case for students (and herself) not using English names. I wanted students to know that some of us are really hungry to know more about Chinese culture and willing to endure being uncomfortable with the difficulties of language acquisition. And I wanted to re-instill a sense of identity and connection with their own culture that I dreaded they could lose if they abandoned their uniqueness because of a fear of not fitting in or being wholly understood for foreigners.

Many foreign teachers, for convenience, give or accept English names from the foreign charges in their classes. They allow students to abandon the most beautiful written language on earth and deny their heritage by replacing their names with handles like “Flash,” Zinger,” Caca,” and “Bush” and “Bin Laden” (who incidentally are really friends)….Some students have perfectly reasonable names and, for whatever reason, ask to be called by the same. In those cases I obey their requests.

Some teachers make the case that they give English names as part of practice in cultural education. I remember doing the same thing in German class in Germany. The difference was/is the English names here usually generally stick with the students for decades, even life. Coversely, I can remember many a foreign teacher in Japan expressing feelings of anger about having their name transliterated by a Japanese into an inadequate and odd sounding phonetic alphabet. Many teachers thought the practice was racist and that the Japanese should learn to correctly pronounce their names.. But, I have rarely heard an ESL teacher take the opposing stance when it comes to student titles.

How can we ever translate the stories of five thousand years written on their faces, hear their fragile voices chime with the long-traveled love of ancestors, or walk down the aisles of the dialectic between us without even knowing their real names?

I had dinner the following day with a British teacher who told me that a wise lecturer of his had once added this question to a final exam: “What is the name of the person who cleans this room for you every day?” Some thought it a joke while others saw it as a call to find learning in the commonplace–that upon examination becomes extraordinary. I don’t know how that teacher graded this lesson, but I know the best answer I could have received would have been: “I don’t know, but I will find out.”

Some of greatest lessons in life and my deepest understanding of any culture has come from taxi drivers, and hospital orderlies–real stories for another post. These kinds of awakenings have been more commonplace than revelations gained through dialogue with supervisors or professional pedants. And too they have come from students, like mine this week, with the onomatopoeia of temple bells, the warmth of summer sun or the synestheia-like fragrance of jade in their names. Why wouldn’t I want to hear the wishes wished for them instead of some silly nickname foisted on them or adopted by themselves because of some misunderstanding of a western movie or TV show?

One of my friends in American, his last name is Lason, has kept meticulous records of his family tree. He comes from Russian Jewish roots. His original family name was Lashinsky. The customs officials at Ellis Island altered it for eternity because it sounded “too Jewish.” While some families changed their names voluntarily, many ethnic minority group members at Ellis had their names altered to accommodate the ethnocentrism of a few in power. If someone opts to choose an alternate pronunciation for whatever reason I can understand it, but I don’t ever want to be the cause.

My class showed its gratitude for being able to share a verbal communion, a common meal of understanding and appreciation with a curious stranger to their past. And after the applause I reflected on my job which I believe is to nurture what is already there: a shy and folded leaf of promise obediently growing toward the light available to them. I feel it is my duty as a visitor in this country to learn as much as I can about the people and places I inhabit. And it is always my mandate as a teacher to instill pride and a sense of identity in students; especially those who feel inferior because they have been affected by the stereotypes of a western media that often ridicules Asian names and customs.

So, after the applause I moved on to the next class hoping to a grateful janitor, taxi driver, and attentive educational orderly and hoping to keep learning from the teachers on the other side of the aisle. There is no requirement to remember my name.

Asia,cartoons,China Editorials,Heartsongs,Intercultural Issues,Macau University of Science and Technology,Personal Notes,Teaching in China,中国,中文

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Wishes, Lies and Schemes of Social Commitment in China, Part I

one-drop.gif

There is a school in America that maintains an “Office of Social Commitment.” Ostensibly, the office is charged with, in part, sending bright, globally aware scholars to regions that can develop and utilize their youthful enthusiasm. Ideally this fosters the “fellows” acquisition of information about local culture and accords them skill building opportunities that can be transferred back to America or generously subsumed into future professional choices.

Here is the rub: The four fellows who come from that particular school are sent to work in two institutions: One is in Macau and the and other is in Nanjing. The former is a third-tier private, for-profit school with most students coming from well-heeled families, and the latter is an elite prep’ school. The fellows in Macau are simply handed a teaching schedule and sent off, without any preparation, to face the Great Wall of Student Silence that is built into most Chinese classrooms. Attempting to scale the Great Wall can repel veteran teachers and injure novices and journeyman alike if they are not well equipped. Chinese administrations will not help teachers to adjust as they have little time and patience for new and, well, expendible teachers. I watched two “fellows” suffer emotional melt-downs (they are somewhat fine now) because they received little or no responsible assistance to problems from their “commitment” office or their Chinese work-site. It seems that social commitment is only an external consideration and does not apply to working field staff.

Dostoevsky wrote: “As a general rule people, even the wicked, are much more naive and simple hearted than we suppose. And we ourselves are too.” Sadly, that used to reflect my world view, but living in China among opportunistic and the ill-intentioned, posing as humanitarians, has altered my thinking. The head of the aforementioned social commitment office has in his website bio’ a telling metaphor: He ends his long list of organizational memberships and awards (Surely proof he is a good guy) with the announcement that he is adopting an Asian child. The child has no name, no history mentioned and upon close examination seems to be there only to add credence to the director’s bid for earthly sainthood–along with his being a “living kidney donor.”

In Nanjing the fellows are a bit better off, but are as essential to the fulfillment of ideologically meaningful goal as an i-Pod in the Gucci bag of an Orange County co-ed. This isn’t the community building your hippie dad knew in the Peace Corps of the seventies when he dug wells and irrigation ditches alongside poor farmers. The only holes that are dug in the examples mentioned are the emotional ones, like above, that once idealistic fellows will spend years extricating themselves from. The Chinese students at both of these schools, while lamenting environmental issues and social ills in the mainland, often come from families that work in government or head up companies that are part-and-parcel of troubling environmental issues and in financial charge of workers that increasingly need more attention than their designer clothed school children.

When I recommended possible educational agencies that might really benefit from the investment of a young foreign teacher, or schools where poor children may never have seen an outsider like those served by Volunteer English Teachers, I was told that it was just too much trouble to negotiate acceptable new contracts. Since when did social commitment get easy?

If you are headed here to help make sure you have the training and support you need to embark on your journey. And be sure you are not just part of your own or someone else’s need to uphold the appearance of humanitarian interests.

In the next installment I will be looking at NGOs, and Missionary Groups operating in Macau and the Mainland…

Coming:

Addicted to Mediocriy II and Dreams, Repression and Violence II….I lost many follow-ups in the server crash and am now reconstructing…

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Heartsongs: The Library Project

“Children’s books are a luxury to have in Asia, and a rarity in an orphanage.”

–from The Library Project

Guest Post by David DeGeest

Thomas Stader has a vision to build libraries for children living in orphanages and rural areas around Asia.

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Stader, is one of those rare people who come to China with big plans and a bigger heart. He came to help and began to put his plan into action in 1993. To accompany Stader’s big heart, is a well organized plan rife with several clever ideas. Instead of trying to organize all of the complex processes that would be required to build libraries, Stader uses pre-existing supply chains and forms cooperative agreements with local NGOs and corporationg for funding and logistics. These tactics, combined with the lower overhead costs in Asia, allow him to build libraries for $150-$300 USD each–without comprimising the structural quality or integrity of the libraries. Welcome to an age when quality NGO work combined with smart marketing and good business sense can transform a philanthropic daydream into a sound reality.

building a library in China

The Project has made remarkable progress. In 2006, Stader was able to create two libraries for approximately $300 USD and some help from Aston Education, JinaLive, and the Dalian Charity Federation. In 2007, The Library Project will expand to do work in Xian and Jinan. By the end of the year, the project plans to create 15 new libraries to schools and orphanages with a total project cost under $15,000 USD.

Here’s a list of the typical costs from one of the recent library projects:

Hard cover book, 100 pages: $3
Soft cover book, 100 pages: $2
Harry Potte Series: $15
Color comic book: $1
Black and white comic book: .5
Book shelf: $25
Table and chairs: $50
Plants, posters, mats: $25

children in a newly built chinese library

The Library Project plans to have 80 libraries running in China, Cambodia, and Vietnam by 2009. You can help by clicking here.

Note: all pictures featured here come from The Library Project’s site.

There will be follow-up articles on this worthy endeavor soon…..

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The trouble with Oiwan

censored in china

When the Oiwan Lam controversy began I predicted four things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Oiwan Lam

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