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Lazy Panda: Lessons in Cultural Localization

Around March 21st I ventured out of the house to a popular Muslim eatery not far from me and only a minute’s walk from the Yellow River. This particular noodle restaurant has an impressive view of one of the prettier Mosques in Lanzhou. Despite my unease in crowded areas and the fact that virtually everyone pauses to look at me or listen to the words spoken by this “foreign ghost” I am relatively comfortable along the Silk Road. The people here are well grounded, happy and generously patient with me–I am one of the few white faces that they see venture into the back alleys of their wholly ethnic neighborhoods. I usually find laughter, song, and endless questions. But, this night seemed different.

The looks from Uyghers and Hans alike were disquieting: Either I was struck suddenly paranoid, unknowingly wearing some tribal gang tattoo or people had taken a sudden dislike to my ethnicity. On the short elevator ride to the reception area I was roughly bumped by two large and unapologetic men. As I have spent the last five years in Guangzhou, where etiquette means you don’t stare at the victim if a truck runs over your competition for a cab, I was only slightly ruffled until one of them asked, without looking at me and in terse local dialect if I understood Chinese. I answered in the affirmative and they pushed ahead heads down and mutering in discontented low tones about someone or something they did not like.

And I was still wonderfully ignorant and emotionally fine as I flagged down a taxi. But, once my cabbie looked in the rear view mirror he began sternly advising me against scuffing his seats, not once, but three times on my way home. I am not sure how I could have damaged them any more than they already were: I was guessing he had the transport contract for the local vet who did the lion’s share of cat declawing.

I am not sure I have ever been happier to arrive home and turn on the news. Surely even CCTV would tell me that the Japanese earthquake had spun the world off its axis and people were more disoriented than usual.

In fact, the Libyan assault had started that day. The French had swung first, but the Americans were clearly to blame on social networks. Uygher separatists were using the event to rally for dissent and revolution and CCTV, despite minimizing U.S. involvement in the conflict, was having little impact on the volume of less than rosy twittered epithets being propagated online. I had an Alexander Wallace-like epiphany: “Start telling people you’re Canadian, aye.”

Yesterday, with some trepidation, I returned to the restaurant. I was greeted like a prodigal son and ushered to a comfortable table where several waiters and waitresses dropped by to practice their English. And I wasn’t body checked into the elevator’s walls on my way out where I quickly was able to catch a ride with an ebullient Chinese Gabby Hayes.

The only negative event of the evening came when a young woman disturbed my deeply reverent communion with a bowl of white river lilies in peach sauce. She was hitting her husband with surprising force and making him literally and figuratively lose patriarchal face among the 60-70 patrons aggressively watching the altercation. Between swings she would stop briefly to vilify him and explain to the restaurant that he had left his newborn son unattended for more than an hour in favor of Five Treasures Tea with friends. And she called him a “lazy panda.”

I caught on that “lazy panda” was not a term of endearment after our tea fancier was frog-marched out of the restaurant and sent back to his enclosure somewhere in Lanzhou. His friends began to joke about the nickname he had earned earned since the birth of his child. It seems he is a lot like the furry masked creatures at Chengdu who don’t show much interest in propagation. It was then I guessed his wife to be a pretty creative zoologist when not involved in a live capture exercise or a domestic violence assault.

The political and cultural weather is better now. It’s quit snowing and people are glad to be out even among the strangers in their communities. And I learned a great deal during this last storm:

Behavioral contagion in the form of anger or violence is color or religiously sensitive, and does not remember names or faces from friendlier times.
No man should aspire to be cuddly like a panda.
I am a guest here and always will be. And it behooves me to watch for signs of inclement days ahead. Cabbies and waiters are emotional meterologists and can gauge the pressures that associated with the best and worst of everything moving in and out of town.

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Chinese Herbal Remedy for Shortness Discovered….

Cure for shortness

Air China flights from Tokyo to cities near the birthplace of the world’s tallest man Bao Xishun, also known as Xi Shun or “The Mast” (Simplified: 鲍喜顺; Traditional: 鮑喜順) born in 1951, are booked for the next three months in light of a recent discovery by barfoot doctors in the area.

Comissioned by the Chinese Olympic Committee to find undetectable growth substances to give to baketball and high-jump athletes they instead found a blocking agent for the genes known to breed shortness.

Several years too late for me–I stand at 170 cm–the substance causing the stir, Obecalp-A, is made from distilled Miongolian sheep bile. It is expected to recieve governmental approval in Japan even faster than did Tamilflu or Viagra.

Shortly, after Mongolian herdsman Xi Shun made news, the hunt was on for the reason he grew so tall. Bao Xishun claims to have been of normal height until he was 16 when he experienced a growth spurt that resulted in his present height seven years later. “Who would have thought it was the sheep?” said Xi Shun’s new wife. She hopes to pass six feet next year by taking the supplement.

There is already a huge underground market for the extract which is being called “Woolhite” in back alley pharmaceutical shops. Hong Kong authorities have already seized 330 million HK Dollars worth of the drug headed overseas and warn that side effects of poor production can include aimless wandering, sleep disorders, and uncontrolled bleating.

 

(Thanks for allowing a repeat post…)

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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!”

 

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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.

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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.

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Stone Pillow: New and Selected Poems “Fishing for the Moon”

Poet Li Young-Lee has often spoken of certain works as “quarrels” with his father. Many of mine, like Fishing… fall into the same category. Studies have been done that imply that the post-death emotional impact of a family member’s passing is far greater for those who had a strained relationship with the deceased.

My father was, at various times in his life someone easy to quarrel with because we were nothing alike. It was a long time in coming that I really believed, and not as an apologetic attempt at self-delusion, he did as best he could with what nature and nurture had given him. Life was not easy: He spent his teen years in a Masonic sanatorium recovering from tuberculosis during the Great Depression before joining a traveling carnival where he worked as a roustabout before heading off to WWII in the infantry.

When he died ironically there was only one person, other than me and my mother, who viewed his body at the funeral home. Ironically, it was his fishing partner, a black man several years my father’s senior. The two of them would sit for hours without saying a word to each other. It is only now that I am awed by the quiet simplicity in both of them and I often lament being cursed with far too much formal education. How wonderful it would be to spend a day with my only ambition being to carry home a creel of fish to a faithful wife who valued food and survival skills far more than money or talk.

This poem was written while I was studying for my MFA. My daughter loved the early drafts as much as she loved my father.  She hated the deconstructed versions that academic critique groups foisted me, an insecure writer.  I have since tried to give it back some of its original emotional charge while not handing it over to sentimentality or subjective shorthand.

bk10

Fishing for the Moon
On the lake’s granite surface

The moon’s blind eye kept watch

As small stars, silver lights, fell.

Lures cast by my father that would raise

My sleepy head  and I would listen

For fish that would wound the calm,

Flare into the enormous night air,

and fight him reeling them toward shore.

One night, in my late teens,

An indecisive breeze touched us both:

I remember the familiar odor of age,

Cigar ashes rubbed into overalls,

And Lucky Tiger hair balm on a black

Forever military scalp.

At thirty-five or so, I tried to quit my ascensions

Away from tobacco farmer beginnings:

Theology, the military (but as an officer of course)

And accepted I was no match for the tattooed arms

And yielded to the strength of experience,

His eighth-grade smugness, and the once embarrassing

Southern vowels and long lines that could coax

Fishing tackle to scribble success across a lake.

I walked the reservoir’s circumference

The night he died and listened to icy respirations

Give in to winter. Drowning in his own fluid,

He sometimes smiled: a delirious toothless smile,

Like he had just landed a keeper.

I remember promising, no lying, in the nursing home

To him that I would take him fishing again.

But, he died before I knew how bad I would feel.

His eyes went white: turned inside, toward the water,

While his naked fingers would query the deep, dry pocket

Left from the injury: the Vietnam head wound.

It was a year after the seizures

That his arms fell limp at his sides

And the man who could not read anything

Except inland tides and solunar tables

Lay helpless in a hard bed.

They say it was pneumonia.

I say it was the lake claiming him

Where I returned his ashes: reticent,

Swirling near the bank they ebbed

Toward the center, where I cast

Lure after lure, fishing for the moon.

Personal Notes,Poetry,Stone Pillow,Uncategorized,Vietnam,War

One response so far

Candy’s List

I was reminded of this post by a “tweet” on gratitude from one of my favorite people @Chinkerfly and then I managed to recover this from Blogger News archive. It is one of my favorite posts:

Blessings in China

Some foreigners are astonished at, and puzzled by, the myriad things that some Chinese, especially older ones, have never experienced. I am in awe of the Chinese who brave new experiences and immerse themselves in change with child-like abandon. My P.A. Jia Li is such a person and so is Ms Yue who recently rode on an airplane for only the second time in her life and kept her nose pressed to the window the entire time…

I remember going with her and another teacher three years ago to see King Kong in a big screen movie house. I learned later that it was her first time, at age 45, to see a film indoors. In her neighborhood, and many still, the whole community brings out chairs and a van plays the flicks against a canvas hung between poles or or on an apartment wall. She was mesmerized and would not take her eyes off the screen even to ask her most pressing question: “Is this real?”

Then there is Candy, a native Macanese working at the Venetian, who went on vacation to Canada and America for the first time. She was 24 Years old and had lived most of her life in Macau. I had wrongly assumed her to be more “westernized” and hence, was entranced by the diary she kept of first-time activities, foods and the places that particularly thrilled her on her journey.

Years ago there was a book entitled The One Minute Meditator” that gave you hints on how to celebrate and relax into events that we have become deadened to in our daily privileged routines. I have a renewed sense of life and good fortune courtesy of Jia Li, the fearless Ms Yue and Xiao Candy. Here are excerpts of “firsts” from her travel diary:

Foods:

Maple Syrup
Casserole
Root Beer
S’mores
Subway Sandwiches
Tap Water
Bratwurst

Things and Places:

An American Wedding
Sledding
A Snowball Fight
A Road Trip
Walking on a Frozen Lake
Taking a Sauna in a House
A Gas Station
Crazy Cars
Big Dogs
A Country Cabin
A Glow in the Dark Frisbee
A Big Sky
Ice Hockey
Carrying Wood for a Fireplace
Playing Old Maid
Seeing an Owl

Life is good, isn’t it?

Asia,Asian Humor,China Business,Intercultural Issues,Macau,Personal Notes,中国

4 responses so far

Lucky Pants!

It is time for my annual Lucky Pants Post! I am putting it up early so you beat the rush to the Great Wallmart to bag your boxers. A couple of years ago Ar Yang took me shopping in Nanning for these to ensure my good luck and I still have red stains on my cheeks (embarrassment, not….)….

LUCKY PANTS

Ben Ming Nian, or Lucky Zodiac Undies, are a must for anyone who is celebrating their birth year as a Bull in China. Happy Niu (cow) year!!

If you are not a Bull you don’t NEED any lucky pants, but it couldn’t hurt.

I was in a rural area this weekend and learned of a few more superstitions: You never break anything at a potential parent-in-law’s first meet-up because it signals a possible break up in the future and they won’t serve you chicken wings because it might instill a sense of flight in the bridegroom.

And about LUCKY PANTS!: You are supposed to have a healthy supply of these every twelve years and wear them EVERY DAY (pray that they are color fast fabrics: see above) and they will reportedly protect you from ill fortune.

Now if you look closely at the picture above you will see that there is a Chinese symbol on them. It is actually “GOOD LUCK” written upside down. Upside down it means: ” GOOD LUCK is coming” (I heard that)!!

I came across a couple of great stories while researching this post:
One mistranslation for a popular Christmas movie changed “You will get a pink slip for Christmas” (Guess the movie? Know the album?) to “You will get red underpants from Santa Claus” Thanks to the translator’s error, viewers happily envision the hero in a pair of red underpants, not realizing he was fired for Christmas.

And in India a man allegedly prevented a train disaster by waving his red underpants in the air. (Don’t visualize!): Nimai Das was relieving himself near the tracks when he noticed that a part of the track was missing. Shortly afterward, he saw an approaching train.

According to The Indian News Source Sify, he stripped and began waving his red underpants frantically to stop the train. He caught the driver’s attention (imagine that) and the train stopped just a few meters ahead of the broken line.

Maybe he was born in the year of the Bull…??  HAPPY?

After this was published the first time many people pointed out to me that I was #1 in Google for months as Professor Lucky Pants. That tag best belongs to a couple of my old poetry professors most certainly born in the year of the dog  😉

Asian Humor,China Business,China Humor,Confucius Slept Here,Humor,Intercultural Issues,Just Plain Strange,Personal Notes

10 responses so far

AN AMERICAN POET IN CHINA

My first mentor during my MFA training in poetry Mark Doty had won coveted several awards before I met him and he went on to claim every major award, save the Pulitzer, in and out of the U.S.: The National Poetry Series, Britain’s T.S. Elliot Prize (the only American to ever win and he is nominated again this year), The L.A. Book Critics Circle, National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, A Guggenheim Fellowship and now the National Book award. He is America’s best Lyric Poet.

I started going through work, finished and unfinished, after learning of his selection for the National Book Award. His award awakened in me my deep respect and admiration for all he taught me and has prompted me to invite my fickle muse to visit with hopes she’ll have me back. It was during my search that I discovered this post…

Here it is  recovered again from the past with a still unfinished poem added at the bottom….It is far from complete, but you’ll understand why after reading it…

AN AMERICAN POET IN CHINA

I was blog-roll diving last year over at China Rises and saw a listing for An American Poet in China. Now that peaked my interest! I opened the site in another tab, and then another and once more just to be sure: I was looking at my own site.

I am not sure what prompted Tim to label the link as such, but I am grateful. Of all the salutations or titles that I have proudly worn, or have had foisted on me, poet and teacher are the two I most cherish.

Google did not fail me as I went on a hunt for an American Poet in China: I found Tony Barnstone, once an English teacher in China and now Professor of English at Whittier College (Nixon’s Alma Mater) His books include Sad Jazz: Sonnets; Impure: Poems by Tony Barnstone; The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry; Out of the Howling Storm: The New Chinese Poetry; Laughing Lost in the Mountains: Poems of Wang Wei; The Art of Writing: Teachings of the Chinese Masters; and the textbooks Literatures of Asia, Africa and Latin America, Literatures of Asia, and Literatures of the Middle East. Born in Middletown, Connecticut, and raised in Bloomington, Indiana, Barnstone lived for years in Greece, Spain, Kenya and China before taking his Masters in English and Creative Writing and Ph.D. in English Literature at U.C. Berkeley. You can find his work here: Barnstone

You see? There is life after ESL teaching.

And I came across an old acquaintance Li-Young Lee: He was born in 1957 in Jakarta, Indonesia, of Chinese parents. His father, who was a personal physician to Mao Zedong (His book, banned in China, is The Private Life of Mao Zedong) while in China, after being released from imprisonment in a leper colony following Mao’s death he relocated his family to Indonesia, where he helped found Gamaliel University. In 1959 the Lee family fled the country to escape anti-Chinese sentiment and after a five-year trek through Hong Kong, Macau, and Japan, they settled in the United States in 1964.

Li is the author of Book of My Nights (BOA Editions, 2001); The City in Which I Love You (1991), which was the 1990 Lamont Poetry Selection; and Rose (1986), which won the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Poetry Award; as well as a memoir entitled The Winged Seed: A Remembrance (Simon and Schuster, 1995), which received an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. His other honors include a Lannan Literary Award, a Whiting Writer’s Award, grants from the Illinois Arts Council, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts, and a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship. He lives in Chicago, Illinois, with his wife, Donna, and their two sons.

He is one of the most passionate writers in America. Many of my phone calls and visits with Li-Young Lee left me believing that I was indeed talking to someone who was hard-wired to an enviable spiritual reality that he successfully struggled to make sense of in his work. I once asked fellow poets at Vermont College to describe him and every single poet, man or woman, called him “beautiful”. A few of his poems are here: LEE

And to my great surprise I found my name. In March of last year the National Endowment for the Arts in America published a retrospective of their last forty years of support and development of Literature in America here. My name was there along with Alice Walker, Issac Bashevis Singer, Eudora Welty, Mark Doty and Li-Young Lee. All of us, and hundreds more in the last 40 years, were once (in some cases twice) given $20,000 fellowships to support our work. I remember it as the most humbling and affirming moment of my life.

The NEA was embroiled in controversy the year I won my fellowship. Attacks by Senator Jesse Helms and many others, following the famed “Piss Christ” piece, ended many NEA programs.Helms and I exchanged many letters on the subject and would themselves make for a special post. The literature program survived its critics because it employed a blind selection process: Only 2% of applicant writers that year, individuals who had already published a required minimum of 20 poems in 5 national magazines or journals, were further encouraged to create work with the help of the awards decided by a distinguished panel of American editors and writers. Most of us are now academics and a few of the thirty chosen that year have gone on to great celebrity.

I have a new book finished, but I am not sure it is ready yet (For a poet, it never really is ready) and I will get to it soon enough because I know were I to have listened to that inner voice of doubt every time it sounded off I would never have published anything. I will let you know when I am OK with its imperfections. Poetry is for me like prayer was for C.S. Lewis: He did not believe that his petitions changed God just as I am doubtful my poetry changes those who read it…But, Lewis knew his supplications changed him as my work changes me…

Here is a FREE anthology by past and present grant winners that the NEA put out as a 40th year gift. I missed inclusion as they new only that I was in China, but had no address for me. I know you will enjoy it. And here is a link to a brilliant writer/translator of Chinese literature (and past NEA Fellow) David Hinton. Enjoy!

And finally my last work–still in progress:

AFTER BEING ASKED TO CUT HER HAIR

—for Ms Yue

When she called, yesterday evening

or the night before, I had to walk

into the thick heat of Southern China

toward our prostitute of a River–beautiful

after dark and flattered by artificial light.

I found it especially hard to breathe

because she reeks of smoke and poverty.

During the day, the sky, a gray cataract,

will ignore the whore whose name

no one speaks with longing in their voice

The water was unlined:

a corpse without worry as I prepared

a place in my memory

for what I would destroy perhaps forever:

The hair, the forty-five years

of silk still glistening with the kisses

of an adoring mother and vigilant father

She asked to me conceal the evidence

of the waning of the infinite. I was told to cut

and shave the perfect blackness, the magnificent

mystery of the history of moonlight, fires,

and the wind that has run fingers

through the remembered and the forgotten.

“Love is so short, forgetting so long”

when it is a name like hers that you clutch

deep in your throat. As strong as she

will be, and as proudly high as she has always

held her head, the quarrel with her body

will not always look this well.

I addressed sorrow in suffocated sobs

and the still water confirmed my questions with silence

Cartoon, copyright Cagle.com

American Poet in China,Asia,China Cartoons,Chinese Poetry,Personal Notes,Poetry,中国

13 responses so far

Social Media Leadership: It profits a man nothing….

They opened a pawnshop near my apartment building this week. I had an immediate visceral reaction to the sign that gives them what I think to be only the illusion of mercantile legitimacy. I have always found them to be sad repositories, museums of familial totems earned, won, or created by previous owners and then sacrificed. In this weakening world economy pawnshops are themselves heraldic emblems of societal failure and loss.

Having come from a poor military family (many of us lived far below the poverty line in the 60’s and 70’s) I know well what it is to watch your father sell a year’s worth of $25 dollar savings bonds, for pennies on the dollar, to pay off a gambling debt so there would be food to eat. I can still feel the anguish my mother’s face refused to show when we had to hawk what few heirlooms we had left—the few that survived an earlier tidal wave in Hawaii—to a cagey German national who had set up shop near our housing complex in Frankfurt to prey on enlisted men and their families. I witnessed many of my friends surrender personal property and pride for all manner of reasons.

Yesterday, on the micro-blogging site Twitter, Jeremiah Owyang wrote something to the effect that those who need to tout their importance on the Internet may not be nearly as powerful as they purport to be…. Now that there are new online measurement tools that can allegedly rank an individual’s influence within a particular social network and give credence to new status many proudly advertise their standing, The developers use varied formulas, but all give a great deal of weight to the number of followers a person has and how much “reach” their down-line possesses; hence, many members of communities spent countless hours collecting new ‘friends”, employing automated recruitment software, and verbally cuddling, poking, hugging or prodding others to include them in perceived circles of influence. Users pawn their time and, in some cases, their true persona, in an attempt to gain some measure of virtual worth in the form of a numerical representation or a percentile ranking. I am competitive and love nothing more than a good fight and, better yet, a win. But, I don’t consider social networks a sport. They are weapons of mass construction (sorry) in the hands of capable leaders and pawn shops for one’s humility and integrity in the worst of cases.

In the military, where I spent eight years of my early adulthood, we often said: Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way! Seth Godin in his well-written new book Tribes more politely calls on those in conversational communities to lead their followers toward their passion for connection, education, causes, business, politics, social good and other common interests. He sees the immense potential for change in networks like Facebook, Friendfeed, Xing, Twitter and the like and has penned a structurally sound and reasonably idealistic (they are not contradictory terms) blueprint for leadership.

I am a teacher; that makes me, not so much a leader as it does a conduit, through which leaders can speak, albeit with my voice. The real value for anyone choosing to follow me is that I try to pass on the best of what I read and learned from the many thought leaders I am privileged to know or have met during my 30 years of encounters with social media. Don’t get me wrong: It is also a place of instant feedback and communication and often great fun I think the Twitter commentary on the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics, written by a number of quick-witted and well-seasoned China Hands were as enjoyable as the event itself.

Most of my personal tweets or comments, ones that add little to public dialogue, are sent back to recognizable digerati/Twitterati in private. Many vapid tweets I see are saccharine and paw at community leaders in an attempt to gain favor. And the stars are not immune to a glamor shot and a few well-placed compliments it seems. But, of what community value is there in narcissistic displays of public affection?

I have spent the better part of the last five months paying back debts, monetary and relational, accrued after losing my way because I chose to take directions from people who mimicked (and continue to mimic) leadership well enough on the net that even I actually thought they knew the way out of the virtual forest. They were folks are who must imagine they will gather a crowd at their virtual funerals and be buried beneath a score of “growing gifts” spread on the casket. It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world, but for Twitter?

Post Script:

I admit that Twitter has now practically replaced my RSS reader: I find more relevant, up to date news being sent by trusted sources there than anywhere else. I track multiple conversations on everything from education and the arts to Creative Commons and censorship. I pay close attention to the sage wisdom of the leaders of my tribes: @shelisrael the online professor of social media or his Aussie counterpart @deswalsh; the forward thinking enthusiasm of @pitchengine and Jason Kintzler’s new social media pr tool; the strong prolific online working man’s writing from @chrisbrogan;
the intelligent world meta-view of @rmack; the important grassroots realities of @globalvoices;
the enjoyable, raw energy and inexhaustible commitment to the web community of @loiclemeur; the heart-songs and charity of the Library Project’s @tomstader; the spiritual thoughtfulness of @Meryl333; the cutting edge insights of @jowyang, @oliverdombey, @techcrunch, @dannysullivan, @brainsolis, @scobleizer, @danharris, @sioksiok, @wolfgroupasia, @kaiserkuo, @pdenlinger, @ganglu, @nuibi, @chinaherald, @gswafford, @pacificit, @igorthetroll, @flypig, @the busybrain and
dozens of others to whom I apologize for not them listing here….

China Humor,China SEO,China web 2.0,Chinese Internet,Personal Notes,中国

4 responses so far

Twitteronandonandon: A Twelve Step Program for Compulsive Micro-Bloggers

I happened to see a note twish by me the other day by one of the new young guns in the China Blogosphere. He expressed concern that if he engaged in a ridiculously fun and multicultural exchange about ethnic differences in emoticons that it might affect his image. He had to be, as a budding new ad exec’, cognizant of his “personal branding.” Imagine that: using social media to actually socialize or have fun–the nerve!   ( ̄ー ̄)   I do apologize if they offended anyone

m(_ _)m

I have watched the micro-musings of the people our vigilant young executive follows and subsequently “twits up to”: they are primarily people known to others obsessed by new social media tools by as the “Twitterati” or the elite and best informed new media types on the net. Poo.

Guys like Owyang and Kawasaki are pushers!!! (check out Guy’s pic on Twitter for a look at his 70’s pimp/dealer boa if you don’t believe me!) and they both pay a million virtual monkeys using a million computers to pound out a million tweets in hopes of a single retweet in the NYT. As an aside: Owyang has become a pro at slipping in tweetle doses of infomercials that lull you right into thinking you should go back to that site he mentioned and pay money to criminally investigate that anorexic retired mailman next door whose name may very well have showed up on some perv’ list–while you are in your boxers (or worse), jazzed on coffee, listening to a podcast, twittering, skyping and stalking him through the kitchen window all at once…

Now, I have a lot of respect for guys like Chris Brogan who can tweet an Irishman under the keyboard. This guy can handle his social media! And I am a huge fan of the naked conversations of Shel Israel who has the chutzpah to actually talk about enjoying a date with, brace yourself, his wife. To Jim Turner: You gotta quit writing stuff people can actually use. Someone may think you take this seriously! And ya gotta love tweets in a French accent by Loic…and it is like waiting for fake fireworks at the opening ceremonies when Captains Scoble or Arrington go in search of the Great Fail Whale…

Once, long ago, I remember wishing I was a florid alcoholic (and don’t think I did not try!) so I’d have a group I could share my joys and sorrows with…And when I got sucked into a conference net in 1978 I thought I had found a virtual home. And then Twitter–and its sophisticated and server friendly interface–came along and all five of us using it got along great! Now, with 3 million people shooting 140 intercontinental ballistic characters across borders daily its a little noisy and not a little dangerous sometimes in there…Still, as an expat it is the closest I can get to an English speaking coffee clatch, but I digress…

We need a flesh and blood group!–a tweet-up without computers!–where we can actually press the flesh (I heard that Bloggess!) and  sǝʌlǝsɹno ʇɥƃıɹ. I propose this for my advertising “friend” and others:

TWITTERONANDONANDON!

BLOGONANDONANDON
If you answer yes to three of any of the questions below you just MIGHT be a compulsive blogger and a candidate for twitterononanonandon (IF you take this post seriously, I have another group for you…):

  • Do you lose time from work due to your tweeting?
  • Is tweeting making your home life unhappy?
  • Do you tweet because you are shy with other people?
  • Is tweeting affecting your reputation
  • Do you tweet and re-tweet for fear being left out?
  • Have you ever felt remorse after a tweet?
  • Have you gotten into financial difficulties as a result of your tweeting?
  • Do you turn to lower companions and an inferior environment when tweeting?
  • Does your tweeting make you careless of your family’s welfare?
  • Has your ambition decreased since tweeting?
  • Do you crave a tweet at a definite time daily?
  • Do you want to tweet the next morning?
  • Does tweeting cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
  • Has your efficiency decreased since tweeting?
  • Is tweeting jeopardizing your job or business?
  • Do you tweet to escape from worries or troubles?
  • Do you tweet alone?
  • Do you claim to be a “Social Media Evangelist” when you were just converted from selling adwords to dentists only a year ago?
  • Have you ever had a complete loss of memory as a result of your tweeting?
  • Has your physician ever treated you for tweeting?
  • Do you tweet to build up your self-confidence?
  • Have you ever been in a hospital or institution on account of tweeting?
  • do you need just one more little tweet even when your friends say they have had enough?

I am headed to the States soon and wil be happy to meet with you about starting a group. Drop a note here or better yet:

tweet me @lonniehodge

E-DIOT

With apologies to my good friends at AA, NA, CA, ACA, ALANON…

ONE TOO MANY BATTLES OF THE BLOG

This was a slight re-hash of an old post on blogging–for those of you new to the net blogging was a phenomenon from the days of Dinosaurs and Celine Dion–those of you who recognize it, thanks for bearing with me….

Humor,Just Plain Strange,Personal Notes

7 responses so far

The Monk in the Sycamore Tree

Shanghai and Beijing have enviable expatriate communities; many long term residents of China from other countries live, and foster social connections across cultural boundaries. Unless you are an young, resilient, party animal or a consular type, Guangzhou, with a few exceptions, can feel  uncomfortably transient and fragmented. That is why many have told me they hope for Web Wednesday to build on its first successful meeting of Chinese and Foreign Internet professionals.

That is all to say that a visit from an old friend, especially a gentle , deep-thinking one who always breaks up the unceasing rhythms of this hurried, harried immigrant workshop town for me. when he is around I happily feel cobwebs clearing on internal scaffolds of old dreams and aspirations.

He he is a Buddhist monk, 小双 (Xiao Shuang) who goes by the English name of Zachias. Zachias was the Tax Collector described in Christian literature as the man who climbed a sycamore tree in order to get a better view of Jesus Christ. 小双 actually chose his name after hearing a lecture of mine on Trappist/Benedictine monk and prolific writer Thomas Merton. I was talking about Merton’s last journey  before his death. He traveled to Tibet to meet the Dalai Lama in his quest to discover the true waters of religious thought he believed flowed from mainsprings the east. Merton had given his lifer to solitude believing that the distractions of the secular prevented a clear view of the spiritual. But, at that point in his life he also thought that the notion of complete segregation as practiced in his monastery created an illusion of holiness. Holiness is something in the distance and one rises above the crowd to witness it, to be guided by it, not to achieve it.

Writer Edward Rice would later call Merton, in a book by the same name, The Man in the Sycamore Tree.  Xiao Shuang aspires to be like Merton who is thought to have been a reincarnation of the Buddha by many Tibetan and Indian practitioners: He aspires to be a seeker of truth, not a symbol of reverence. And I aspire to adequately chronicle our talks of 25 years just as Rice did with his beloved friend Merton. In our two and a half decades of campanionship and cooperative learning we have never once argued. We have talked about everything from existential phenomenology to our mutual love for the Chicago Cubs.

Today we spoke of the Russian decision to commit troops to combat during the Olympics and actions of an American zealot in China for what has been called a “pseudo-guerrilla protest” on behalf of Tibetan Independence.

On both the conflict in Georgia and the missionary known as “iamgadfly”  he quoted Merton:

“While non-violence is regarded as somehow sinister, vicious, and evil, violence has manifold acceptable forms in which it is not only tolerated, but approved by American society.”

He viewed, as do I, both acts as unacceptable and violent: Russia violated a long-held moratorium against violence during the games; imagadfly purportedly was “giving a voice to the voiceless” when he vandalized upscale hotel rooms in Beijing, covered the walls in pro-independence slogans.

Zachias holds that a few obscure slogans in a hotel room, even broadcast on Youtube, could do nothing more than raise some angry voices in a country that recently received hundreds of hours of approved television instruction in Tibetan culture following the recent riots.  Ifimagadfly thought the Tibetans could not be heard before, he should imagine the din and roar resulting from his actions. Merton believed that the prayers issuing from his Abbey were powerful enough to effect world change. Zachias and I tend to believe, like CS Lewis, that prayer has more influence over the petitioner than the petitioned. At the risk of sounding opposed to human rights protests, we are both sure, and think Merton would agree, that delivering supplications to a deity as you commit a crime in a foreign country is unlikely to create a spiritual  butterfly effect for Tibet.

Beijing,Beijing Olympics,Censorship,China Cartoons,China Editorials,China Expat,China Law,China Olympics,China web 2.0,Chinese Internet,Chinese Media,Chinese Monks,Confucius Slept Here,Global Voices Online,Human Rights,Human Rights China,Intercultural Issues,Personal Notes,The Internet,Tibet,Twitter,Uncategorized,Videos,Violence,War,中国,中文,小双

4 responses so far

Chinese Twitter and the #080808 Twolympics

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

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

Twitter Olympics

Twitter + Olympics

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

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

Twolympics

Twolympics

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

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

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

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

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

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Ghost Whispers

death catcher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————————————————

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

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The Perils of Prosperity in China: New Grapes of Wrath

Poverty in China

The number of middle class and wealthy Chinese is growing in China, but the distribution of wealth is increasingly disproportionate. And the situation is worsening with the nouveau riche paying the government the fines required ( Fines range from under 5,000 yuan ($646) to 200,000 yuan ($25,800) depending on the violators location and income) to raise more than one child. Rural poor, in contrast, are increasingly worried more about basic health care and housing and cannot afford to consider a larger family. According to The Guardian, “…growing numbers of pregnant women are risking their own lives and those of their children by seeking back-alley deliveries to avoid fines for having more than one child, Xinhua quoted Deputy Minister of Health Jiang Zuojun as saying.” A Chinese news source stated that more than half of the maternal deaths in one province were due to illegal abortions.

Several papers reported this week that a new baby boom is likely on the way in China, but will be comprised of well-heeled children. Under current laws the offspring of one-child families can now raise two children of their own. In my last school, made up primarily of rural students, most of them had brothers and sisters. The school where I teach now is populated by the only-children (those born with a “golden” spoon in their mouths) of industry owners and government officials: the Little Emperors often spoken of in Industrialized China.

The consequences of the growing disparities in a country still defining the boundaries of a new social structure are vast and varied, some with devastating outcomes: China Digital Times recently reprinted a story about a farmer in China’s beautiful Yunnan Province. The land owner’s crop of sweet potatoes was destroyed as local leaders, empowered to make decisions about private land holdings, sought to force him to grow tobacco. Rather than yield, Yue Xiaobao detonated explosives strapped to his body as he approached officials from his village of Lishan. He killed himself and Lishan village leader Ren Xuecai. Nine others, mostly village cadre, were hospitalized and many were expected to lose their eyesight.

Increasing poverty, lack of health care, greed and the unchecked authority of local government officials has led to more violence and suicide countrywide. There are recurring reports of uninsured rural villagers killing themselves to save their families from the financial burden of a needed medical treatment or hospitalization. Like Liu Xiaobao many have injured or murdered government officials or health care professionals before taking their own lives.

The cultural divide is no longer an issue between western nations and China, but an internal and burgeoning one between classes in a country new to the perils of prosperity. I remember well the stories of civil and criminal disobedience my parents told of life during the Great Depression. It is now China’s turn to grapple with industrialization; there could well (I hope) a Chinese Steinbeck or citizen journalist that chronicles the changes brought on by the nearly twenty thousand concerted annual protests in China and the individual citizen voices now making themselves heard.

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Transcending Dental Medication in China

A few weeks ago I was in magical Guanxi province to visit with the the unbreakable Chun Li. During my visit I had, not one, but two fillings, put in during my time in the military, decide to abandon their posts–one on either side of my mouth. I went on a sudden food fast because it was impossible to eat. With several days left before I could leave Yangshuo for Guangzhou I headed straight to the local hospital. Everyone there was friendly enough. The dentist had her grandson assisting.

China Dentist

The Dental Clinic was on the second floor and all you had to do to find it was follow the smell of the bathroom, sans doors, next to my treatment room.

Dental Tools

The franken-lab tools and mixtures did not bother me nearly as much as having to rinse and then spit into a tiny trash can. I am not nearly as accurate at expectorating as the average Chinese, so I ended the session looking as though my sleeves had been been mauled by a St. Bernard.

So, the old joke goes:

Q: Why did the guru refuse Novacaine when he went to his dentist?

A: He wanted to transcend dental medication.

Sorry…

Well, I did not get the option of Novacaine. For the 70 Yuan ( $8.40) the visit cost me I had to make due with clove oil built into the filling material.

I still have horribly minty fresh breath and everything tastes like an Easter ham.

And no, I don’t know the onlooker here:

Chinese Dentist

And yes, I am feeling much better now:

Toothless Chinese man

Photos by Ms Bolly

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It is OMBW’s Free Degree Day!

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

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

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

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

Harvard Faculty

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

Now the tough one:

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

Fake harvard diploma

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

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

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

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

*Harry?

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

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Things to do in China when you are dying….

Don Quixote

I am a believer in synchronicity. I am convinced that external events happen in concert with internal “business” that begs attention. And, I believe, that these seemingly random, unplanned instructional happenings occur with an intuitive precision that defies the laws of chance.

I had been struggling with the writing of this this post for weeks; and then, two nights ago I watched Elizabeth Edwards on 60 Minutes, talk about terminal illness and I knew it was time, ready or not, to type you this confession. First, I will digress a bit (imagine that)….

In high school I remember reading Carlos Castenada’s tales of enlightenment via teachings imparted by a Mexican Socerer named Don Juan. Castenda learned from his teacher, among other things, to live with death over his left shoulder and then passed on the message to us to “live life to its fullest” from one moment to the next. This thinking has helped drive me through enchanted landscapes on an amazing dialectical journey.

Anais Nin said, “People living deeply have no fear of death.” and Issac Asimov made it delightfully simple with: “If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster.” Ms Edwards, like the Unsinkable Ms Yue, has made a similar decision: she will get on with life. The choice for any of us is the same as hers as we don’t know what will befall us. We celebrate life or accede to dying. She has made the only reasonable decision there is to make. Ms Yue has done the same: Fund raising efforts for her have failed and business associates have stolen money and merchandise that were meant to aid her, but she remains un-embittered. She has days of doubt, but seems well equipped to cast a cold eye on death. She still laughs with perfect abandon.

I have to be honest: It hasn’t always been as easy for me. Last week one of Ms Yue’s relatives, a successful web designer in Hong Kong, died of cancer. He was in his thirties. In the days before his passing the stomach cancer made him so thin that his spirit was kept earthbound only by the weight of his family’s love. This event and contact with five of my students, all in their twenties, diagnosed with various cancers, Ms Yue’s ongoing battle and I often find myself in need of emotional waders. And that is why I have not posted about my battle, until now.

My body’s immune system is too vigilant. My natural defenses have enlisted in a war against healthy tissue and I am an uninvited host of the conflict. Treatments to date have not been effective and it is likely that I will die, and much sooner than I had hoped, from autoimmune disease. It has already claimed a gall bladder, nearly killing me in the process, and is now in the late phases of damage to my liver.

Some of you who know me well are aware that I taught Mind-Body Medicine long before it was fashionable. So, yes, I have been doing those things I should be doing to bring back health and homeostasis. But, sometimes a vessel is just flawed. Jim Fixx a celebrated runner/author died in mid-life of a heart attack owing to his genetic make-up. Many people wrongly viewed his passing as a case against the benefits of jogging. The opposite was true. And I am sure that, like his, my life has, and will be, prolonged by exercise, prayer, meditation and other interventions. But, the inevitable it is just that….

Not long before his death John Steinbeck drove his camper, Rocinante (named for Don Quixote’s horse), across America with his poodle Charley as his companion and penned a wonderful journal during the trip. I have longed to for such a land voyage ever since…

So, rather than lament my fate I have decided to take on a new project: I will be traveling next year to all 22 provinces in mainland China. I will end my trip in Beijing in time for a climb up the Great Wall before the Olympics. I have a fellow writer (he looks nothing like Charley or Sancho…) who will be joining me and we look to do some pretty ambitious things (videos, photo logs, the completion of Confucius Slept Here….) during our travels.

So, there will be soon another blog that will chronicle the adventure and it will be structured it so it can raise funds, via ads, for various causes while raising global awareness about a China not often presented to you by Western media. Andrew Young said, “It’s a blessing to die for a cause, because you can so easily die for nothing.” And while I am not so grandiose that I think I am creating a noble exit for myself, I do want this time to count for something more than a grand tour of the Middle Kingdom. Like Elizabeth and John Edwards I hope to be of service in the process of fulfilling a dream.

Today I was reminded of Somerset Maugham who thought death to be a dull and dreary affair and I advise you, as Maugham did, to have little to do with it. The new blog will be about China life on life’s terms and about those who choose to live it well.

I will tell you more in weeks to come. Onemanbandwidth will still be here during the trip and I hope you will be as well. For the record: I am in China for the duration and in the interim: I am typing as fast as I can…

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Cinderella Teaching in the Greatest Monkey Show on Earth

China economy

An open letter to my students:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some of the things I learned:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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