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Stone Pillow: New and Collected Poems: “Apertures”

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

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

Apertures

I was just looking

through a photo album

one of those musty, three-tiered

prison blocks full of parents

slowly leaning away from each other

and children running at a standstill:

escaping more perfunctory poses.

There is one of you

just after I read you that poem

by another writer

about a woman

with your votive smile, inner nakedness

and a mid-afternoon firestorm in her hair

that he wished he had touched.

He told me once, his faced engraved

with regret, that he visits her often now,

though he didn’t attend the funeral.

When we first met

I heard

still hear your body

moving under your clothes:

the long felt silence of a temple bell.

Behind you, curtains were whispering

like nylons.

Why is it

that we capture ourselves

sometimes forever

in a flat semblance of the truth?

It is why

in pictures of me I am alone

standing outside my heart

with nothing for me to compare

until the day I’m holding you,

in a portrait with more

than a passion of intention,

and with a look as serious as a kiss.

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

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Futures: How to make a killing in Chinese seaweed..

I just met with several students from area colleges at my apartment. They are all volunteers at some level for various causes in China. They are an amazing group: smart, kind and honest, as my mother would have said, to a fault. They accept China on China’s terms and do their best to ethically orient themselves toward success in a society where the rules are not always as clear as we in the west would want them to be…

Today, one student innocently shared information about university sanctioned illegal video and audio downloads and another showed me study materials stolen from America’s Educational Testing Service (ETS) that were reprinted, and repackaged without identifying marks and then sold to him by New Oriental (NYSE: EDU) staff. Let me digress a bit before I explain more to you of what I learned during one of my most enlightening lessons on IP theft, Chinese Education and academic cheating….

ETS in China

Before I could become an instructor at the US Army’s Academy of Health Sciences, then one of the most modern teaching facilities in the US, I had to take a series of courses designed to make me a better educator. I was required to pass six graduate hours of training in lesson plan preparation, test item construction and item analysis. These courses were meant to insure that all classes taught by me would be measured against overt behavioral objectives. It’s intent was that students would be fairly graded and measurably educated. And for the record: there was still great creative latitude available to instructors about how to present a course, but the structure imposed on us guaranteed each student a fair chance at a good score. We also had teams of graphic artists, an enviable TV production station with closed circuit capability and virtually unlimited other resources to assist us and our personal classroom styles–one of the few positive benefits of the Vietnam draft was a wildly diverse and talented military whose skills the Army sometimes put to good use….

All of this was incredibly costly. I remember helping preparing the Army’s Behavioral Science Study Guide by authoring the Learning Theory and Behavior Modification chapters. It took thirty faculty members several months to create a comprehensive guide to social work/psychology theory and procedures that was used for years around the world as a promotions test preparation tool. I know the expense of creating quality tests and their power and validity when used correctly.

Tests are everything in China. Literally. The annual college boards here are similar to our GRE, SAT, ACT, GMAT, LSAT and numerous standardized tests. But, the main difference is: in China your future generally rests on your academic acumen as measured by one test taken on one day of your life– It is not unlike the last year’s Olympics in some ways. Socially and financially the waiting time between re-tests in China, easier in the US, can be devastating here: A single point can mean you that IF you get admitted to a Chinese “Ivy League” school,you might still be relegated to a less prestigious major that the administration will order you to study–and no, you cannot transfer easily to any other department. Can you imagine a student at Harvard being told they MUST take linguistics as a course of study?

So, many students head for cram schools to get a leg up on the competition. New Oriental, which went public 2 years ago for 100 million USD, was sued by ETS a few years ago, but continues to flaunt copyright laws in most of its centers. In 2001, Xu Xiaoping, vice-president of New Oriental, acknowledged their “mistake” in connection with the ETS copyright issue and went on to say said that his school had contacted ETS several times to buy the publishing rights for authorized GRE materials, but that they had been repeatedly rejected–Imagine that. Xu noted that New Oriental would have become the largest buyer of ETS materials in China if ETS had made authorized GRE materials available to them. So, since N.O. can’t get materials–on N.O’s terms–from ETS, they just steal them.

One student told me about professional test thieves who make a great deal of money by signing up for ETS and IELTS exams and either memorize questions (long a practice of law and insurance board schools in the US) or just replace paper tests with pre-fab fakes and then sell the originals to New Oriental’s publishing consorts. The books have no author, publisher or copyright listed, but they are sold by staff at N.O. schools. N.O. then packs 200-250 students in a cram class, hires cheap and marginally qualified teachers or $150 a month interns to preside over classes so they can pockets millions of RMB a week in profit. I am occasionally glancing at stolen test prep materials as I write. I have given it a lot of thought and ask myself: What student of any nationality, anxious to further a career, could resist getting actual exam questions and study hints for any U.S. or Commonwealth test for only $3.50 USD?

Students from middle class families live in dorms with enforced curfews and those that are lucky enough to have TV may have to share one with up to 150 classmates. Libraries are not current and most school intranets prevent access to thousands of western sites. For many students, even those in International Business, their only view of the west, prior to graduation, comes courtesy of a heavily censored CCTV or those shows and books filched from bit torrent locations. I blame part of China’s student suicide epidemic on the dearth of stimulation at many campuses and the singular dominance of exam dedicated teaching. Even during the most grueling courses at the Army’s Academy of Health Sciences we taught “toward” the test, but promoted social activities and encouraged “real life” interactions and learning beyond classroom walls.

Then, there is N.O., a multimillion dollar, “publicly held” corporation openly preying on the desperation of students hoping to break ranks and better themselves despite China’s lock-step educational boot camps and profiteering cadres. Test prep is a several billion dollar a year industry here and there is no excuse for N.O. not paying its dues to the overseas organizations that are investing huge amounts of money in research, development and ongoing statistical analysis to level the academic playing field for foreigners and native learners alike. Cram schools are cheating ETS and others of profits and displacing deserving students who have studied according to the rules.

Research has long borne out the fact that such a model of learning: a punitive and obsessive approach to winning at any cost, creates only aberrant behavior. When we unnaturally force youth to adopt our national or political aspirations we should count the loss of their ability to enjoy normal developmental stages, once known as childhood, as a death and one as as final and unnatural as the corporeal loss of a son or daughter.

I was leaving a lecture last year when I heard what I thought was a rehearsal for a drama contest: a native English speaking teacher, one of the retinue of a British educational group preparing students for study abroad, was shrieking at a student some 100 meters away. Through the dementia I heard the words, “Test”, “Late” and Stupid” several times; then a door slammed shut in a violent rebuke of all I have ever held dear in teaching.  A once reputable organization that recruited students for UK schools has lowered admission standards for high-paying International students and is a money making machine that pours cash from unprepared rich kids into British schools and leaves recruiters, students and weary teachers wealthier, albeit worse for the experience. And the teachers, worn frail by students feeling they are nothing more than a paycheck for schools/teachers keep a wheel of frustration turning.

Later in the same day one of my favorite students, a senior at one of China’s top schools, phoned me. After a long silence in which I am sure he was trying to properly conjugate his emotions he whispered that he had done poorly on his Graduate Record Exam and that everything he had trained for, all the lost days of adolescence spent in test preparation, had been incarcerated in a single test score. This is the same young man who told me about well-known teachers here in China who will sell a letter of recommendation and who showed me materials handed out by “tutors” at New Oriental the publicly held cram school that pays students to sign up for and then steal US and British standardized exams and republishes and sells the questions. Many of these “learners” are those being pushed by parents to spend graduate school abroad in, what is for the student, one of hell’s circles for the duration of a degree in a field they well may loathe.

The video below amused many, but now me and is a sad example of what teaching in the cram schools can devolve into when educational carpetbaggers from the US, UK and China prey on a one-child family’s aspirations by industrializing and monetizing their dreams:

Test-prep classes at the New Oriental School can drag on for a long, long time. To spice things up a bit, teachers were encouraged to do wake-up performances. Things started mildly enough—joke telling, maybe a rousing song—but now, we have this rather risqué dance routine, performed by a TOEFL teacher at one of New Oriental”s Beijing campuses.” (HT to Kaiser Kuo)

Yesterday, one of my students from the past, an ebullient, artistic and wonderfully complicated young woman, emailed me for a recommendation to college in America. She has been a dutiful student at a Chinese “Ivy League” school, in a major chosen for her by the administration, only to answer the callings of a typically demanding academic mother and father. There was an uncharacteristically uncombed sound to her words, clues I may not have been meant to follow, but I did anyway. One of the gentlest spirits I have ever know and really a favorite student leaped into an uncertain eternity last year because school authorities in Macau stifled her cries for help, so I am not about to let even the most obscure hints of trouble go unchallenged.

This year twice as many “sea turtles” or Chinese student/expat returnees will fold up their foreign aspirations and come back to China in search of work because plans in light of a the west’s scuttled economy. Those that wash ashore, having been socially or financially promoted to a degree abroad, are known to their peers as “sea weed.” And their paper-bound skills, might be mistaken as useful by businesses desperate for middle managers that can help them fight this financial tsunami with newly forged swords of knowledge.

Schools like Macau University of Science and Technology, degree mills, with 2+2 and 3+1 programs ( do 2 or 3 years in China/Macau and then finish in the US or UK) have arrangements with institutions like Seton Hall and Central and Eastern Michigan in the U.S. have nothing to lose save their reputations by pocketing the money ill-prepared students pay them for what should be an honorary, not earned diploma. Many 2+2 programs are reputable and provide students an incredible international experience, but Chinese students need to be guided by career counselors not paid by the schools. They should seek out those who charge operating fees that ensure the student gets in the best school-one that matches the student’s needs.

It is time for some real prep’ schools for authentic scholars who will benefit a world economy and not a few wealthy opportunists.

Addendum: The students mentioned above and others who came to me for guidance, which I gave freely, are now happily tudying abroad at schools they are happy about: Arizona, Columbia, Rutgers, University of Nebraska, CUHK, Carnegie Mellon, UCLA Berkeley and others….

Note: This is one of the reasons IELTS China was started. Read more about it here (in Chinese): IELTS GUANGZHOU

Asia,Beijing,China Business,China Economics,China Editorials,China Expat,China Expats,China Resources,Chinese Education,Education in China,Executive Training China,Expats,Guangzhou,Guangzhou China,Intercultural Issues,Macau,Macau University of Science and Technology,New Oriental,Teaching in China,UK,中国人口福利基金会,中文,澳门科技大学

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Charity does not translate well into Chinese Part I

The government announced this week that it was drafting a new government initiative to enable the public to see how their donations to charity are being used. This was brought on, in part, because donations to charity, meant to help Sichuan earthquake victims, are being questioned more frequently and with good reason: Only 12 of the 28 authorized recipients of aid funds have published how the donations received by their groups have been spent.
China rural poor

Part of the problem, according to one foreign based charity director is that when enormous sums of money pour into China’s poorest regions it is more a cause for alarm for local officials than jubilation. Local agencies are ill-equipped to handle hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and fearful of punishment when retrospectively analyzed for spending money, even on much needed sanitation, cooking and lodging. Beijing, prone to over-react and over-control  (find a way to add “euphemism” here), has effectively paralyzed local, regional and global support agencies.  One Chinese charity group to which I donate time spent a year obtaining tax exempt status in Hong Kong while negotiating with local Sichuan governments over the best way to supply volunteer teachers to handicapped survivors of the disaster. Functional assistance took months of red-tape and guanxi (relationship) building with officials before needy students actually received any help.

Another charity that I advise sought to build, with its own discretionary funds, community centers and dormitories in remote villages. The U.S. based organization was quickly asked to dole out a large sum in “deposit money” and commit to a healthy percentage of future monies raised (20%)  to even begin an authorized partnership with a local government. The contract  to be signed contained no real guarantee it could begin work on rebuilding small village infra-structure and contained a forfeiture clause if a specified sum was not routinely spent by the charity,

Fear and frustration have altered more than one organizational mandate in China and deterred companies and individuals from lending further help in devastated areas: According to a report last week, Beijing has started a inquiries into many foreign representative offices  for charities and nonprofit organizations doing business in China. Some of them are being scrutinized for infractions as picayune as failing to report a change of address.

It is felt by many that the recent censoring of Twitter, Facebook and internal social networking sites were in part effected because they provided a platform for easy communication between human rights activists, charities and other groups that could well give Beijing a black eye (insert “euphemism” again and add “platitude” somewhere) for its sloth in providing adequate help with now long dormant donations. An the recent detentions, and arrests of human rights lawyers, the forced closing of the Open Constitution Initiative that fought for citizens’ civil rights has not helped to quell fears by would-be humanitarians in impoverished areas that good deeds will not go unpunished.

Beijing was riding a wave of popularity and respect following the Olympics that even Obama could not match. Bureaucratic hurdles, information blocks (Dear Beijing:  Contrary to party opinion, people are not stupid and head straight for the Internet when a commercial abruptly replaces a report on TV: They know something is being hidden from them)  have all weakened the resolve of many who wanted to contribute to building a new international identity of which they can be proud.  Now, many young people, ones who became rabid nationalists during and after the Beijing Olympics, have retreated back into quiet desperation and seeming indifference because of  the recent crackdowns on expression. “Disappointment” occurs often in regular discourse about the government.

Add to all of this the generally accepted culture of corruption that pervades many business dealings in municipal governments–one charity was asked to build a free home for government officials as a part of a “partnership” deal to build homes for the elderly–a long-standing distrust of charity in general (see culture of corruption above) and a western media that has demonized China and made it appear to be much wealthier than 800 million of its poverty stricken can tell you with authority that it is not And this mix is a lethal one for the most needy of Chinese: Westerners somehow cannot separate the millions dead or left homeless because of floods, tsunamis, earthquakes and environmental poisoning with lost jobs, and factory closings.

Even on Twitter and Facebook re-postings/re-tweets of disasters, calls to action and news of tragedies like the arrest–after six months of detention–of a civil rights lawyer do not seem to move us. There is little chance that anything will change in China as long as the rest of the world remains idle and bound more to economic, rather than charitable/humanitarian concerns.

“Locked in, Locked out and Locked up” seems to be the current definition of charity in China….


Part II: Charities that are succeeding and why (the west) should help….

Earlier related articles on OMBW: INTERNING THE POOR , COMPASSION FATIGUE

Uncategorized

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IELTS GUANGZHOU

One of the projects I have worked for over a year to develop is an IELTS training program in Guangzhou in conjunction with Broadlearn and Queensland in Australia. Using Cambridge and Queensland University content (fully licensed) I am delighted to be part of this project.
Franchise opportunities and teaching opportunities are available for qualified individuals.

Click on the banner to review our services or leave a note in the comments block (will not be made public)….
雅思培训

American Professor in China,Teaching in China

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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

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Stone Pillow: New and Selected Poems

The only Photograph of Her Affair


Her husband believes it’s a mistake

Yet wonders why she holds on

To what appears to be nothing

More than a tree, small bit of sky

And a tangle of shadows below.

She tells him an unconscious bump

Must have snapped the shutter

On what could be

morning or evening anywhere

Women are vigilant

and men so quickly distracted

She believes he’ll never know

That her lover is near

And she sits, back against a plum tree

With a flower print skirt

Tucked between white thighs,

Soft blonde threads glistening

With dew, and a delirious heat rising

from the tender grass below

There were tiny birds above

Deep in an anarchy of leaves

And limbs. And hungry mouths

Made small cries. The unmistakable

Sounds of dawn or dusk.

–Lonnie Hodge

American Poet in China,Poetry,Stone Pillow,Uncategorized

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Stone Pillow (New and Collected Poems): The Clearing

The Clearing

–for EB (’94)

I wanted to turn your grief

to dew that deer carry

every morning from the safety

of thicket beds into sunrise

I would have gathered your face close to mine

and looked long into the deep worry

stones of your dark, well worn endurance

I could have embraced you

the way the deer seem to take turns

stepping ahead, watching

and browsing with cautious confidence

just ahead of sunrise

American Poet in China,American Professor in China,Poetry,Stone Pillow,Uncategorized

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Why I am quitting Apple

A friend of mine asserted yesterday that Michael Arrington’s decision to end his courtship with Apple was in part due to a negative mindset created by recent attacks on his journalistic and personal integrity (Twittergate, LeWeb), the stalking and threats he says cost thousands of dollars to counter and the huge bulls-eye that every bombastic public figure, from Perez to Loic  pins on every time they post an opinion. I thought it a bit too much info and a bit too personal a view from someone who has never met Arrington. I haven’t met him either, but, I digress….I am writing this post to agree, free of psychoanalysis, with Arrington, albeit for a few more reasons.

Most of us who have used Apple products since the days of Pong feel a special, though almost unnatural, attachment to our sleek, fashion conscious companions. But, of the four loves, romantic is the most fragile even though it has taken me months to decide to pack Apple’s bags. They are now filled with hundreds of adapters I can no longer match to the devices they were meant to support–and I’ll leave them on the curb for one of my Chinese neighbors who needs to replace some long, lost proprietary AC plug….  Yes, I have long wanted to break it off with the brand that, had I not allowed myself to be seduced by, could have spared me the dough for a new car or a down-payment on an apartment while leaving me plenty of cash for several Dell desk and laptops. Damn, it is like a relationship with a shoe crazed character in some sitcom, isn’t it?

All kidding aside (for now), my distrust of Apple after meeting an Asian Apple executive from Singapore who euphemistically asserted that Apple was “not a very CSR minded company,” but if I ever contacted him that he would “see to it personally” that three charities, for whom I serve as a board member. could buy from Apple at a discount as long as they did not publicize the good deed. I understand: A company like apple might well be inundated with requests from Slumdogs looking to better their lots and after all, that it what Foundation money is for:  Allowing cash-strapped NGOs and NPOs to feel better that they supported the world economy by purchasing their MACs at full price. Apple’s Asian office has returned neither my phone calls nor emails.

Then, I met the guys at a local Guangzhou authorized repair center who fixed a cracked screen with a used one and charged me retail, at the same time they installed a bogus Parallels and Windows platform in my Macbook Pro–also at cost.

Then after buying my iPhone I found I was locked out of buying music on iTunes (and a podcast I wanted to hear by Stephen Fry) because I now reside in China– heaven knows we cannot get pirated music anywhere except iTunes here.I cannot even buy a ringtone, or add video capability to my dismal excuse for a camera, without “cracking” my phone or buying the new and financially improved model with features my friends have had for months on their bootleg versions…

Dropping the Google Voice development (Arrington’s chief beef) did not bother me, other than to signal that if Apple will bend  to AT&T to save it a few bucks in VOIP losses they will certainly kiss the PRC’s asks for blocking and censorship demands in the Chinese market. I don’t need any more difficult a time accessing the net, thanks.

Fake iPhone

And now they have entered into the dark side of brand gaffe creations generally reserved for companies like Sony and have remained silent (the old maxim of the law was “Silence gives consent”) about important issues regarding the reported suicide of a worker at Foxconn, Apple’s manufacturing partner in China, who has been under investigation before for worker abuse. The worker claimed  he was beaten by security personnel after he reported that a prototype of a new generation iPhone had disappeared. Apple showed incredible insensitivity and arrogance by letting Foxconn pay a paltry sum in compensation for his death, and worse yet, gave an Apple computer as part of their sad mea culpa deal.

I am done with Apple and headed to any company that looks to be more socially aware and less like a well- traveled mistress of conceit, repression and greed.

Beijing,Censorship,China Business,China Economics,China Editorials,Human Rights,Human Rights China,In the news,Taiwan,Twitter

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Stone Pillow: New and Collected Poems 1994-2009

When poetry gets under your skin,even the breaking of daily bread becomes a nuisance until you get to paper and pen or a computer keyboard. To keep from going completely mad, I have decided to publish, between the usual stammering blog epistles from China, 70 of those nagging poems: some soaked in long shadows, a few needing work and hanging out in shivering constellations ahead of me, and a several new transcriptions of old voices that were drowned out by fear, silenced by critique (academics, out of habit can deconstruct an ego right along with a good piece of writing)  or those that I poorly deciphered  and committed to paper because I was an inexperienced translator of my own heart….

When I have them all placed here on OMBW, I will order them into as cohesive a collection as the myriad experiences of my life these past few years will allow and then offer them to you as a PDF. But, first things first: I just have to get them down on virtual paper. I hope you don’t mind.

I will start with one that some of you may have read before:  It is a poem that I first wrote to explain how I feel about a profession that has nourished me for three decades and was inspired in part by a visit to the Appalachian Mountains with three writing teachers on a retreat where where I finally really understood the quote by Jacques Barzu:In teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day’s work.  It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years.” He was talking about students and teachers…

Teaching

I want to be witches knees and elbows:
roots just barely visible enough above the ground
to stumble into a child’s imagination forever.

I want to be a breeze blowing through
a community of Aspen trees–barely forceful enough
to waken leaves, while not quieting the birds

I want to be the loneliness in the center of a Chinese Fiscus seed
dropped from some kid’s pocket at the Colorado Sand Dunes,
and everyone guessing how it is I came to be there.

American Poet in China,Poetry,Stone Pillow

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An Open Letter to the #140conf

Jeff,

I hope this finds you well and not too overwhelmed by the hundreds of nominations folks have sent in for the #140conf –especially after your carb-laden drive back from IHOP today and what was surely a stimulating  visit with one of my favorite online connections, @geogeller.

With Twitter censored/blocked/banned/muted here in the Middle Kingdom and my VPN suffering some neural disorder of late I apologize that I didn’t catch the call for attendees nor did I make the deadline for nominations. Here below the far side of the Great Firewall we have to make-do with state run papers, tunnel networks, and year old broadcasts from Hong Kong of American Idol’s Got Talent in Funny Home Videos to keep us acculturated until we return to the land of round doorknobs, boneless chicken and (insert envy here) IHOP.

I am writing in hopes that you were given leads for a few China-centric microbloggers. No, not the ones who live within arms reach of San Francisco and its technocentric, wash-my-back-and-I-will introduce-you-to-my-VC and his friend who lived once in Shanghai–the financial Haight-Ashbury of China where all the pretty people go to gamble on the Chinese version of the American Dream–who knows a lot of peeps. The real China Twitterati. And please don’t get me wrong: I cherish my association with many bright successful entrepreneurs and old China hands in Shanghai and SF, but, I digress….

Here is what I mean to ask of you:

A military medial supervisor of mine, years ago in Germany, was giving a lecture on psychopathology and said that the real definition of “crazy” was fighting someone twice your size. During my tenure in China, I have come to call such actions “bravery” and am glad that there are those crazy enough to wade in treacherous digital waters to lead others through China’s information Killing Fields…

Too often U.S. and world conferences ignore Asia and the folks who will make up–according to Forrester–almost 50% of the world’s Internet traffic. While @Loic lamented, at France’s LeWeb, America’s narcissism and self-centered deprecation of anything not engineered in Silicon Valley, there was little Asian representation at that event–and this after Loic had been an invited guest at Open Web Asia. And Blog World Expo has routinely ignored a demographic with more users now than America has citizens. Those wanting to Digg their way to China (sorry) simply don’t have the tools to do it nor a craftsman to show them how to use them if they did.

140 conference

Apart from the human rights imperative that the government here has created with censorship and dis-information, there are hundreds of millions of Japanese, Chinese, Indians, Vietnamese and other APAC Netzens that would love to be part of the global conversation and could teach us all a great deal about business and cultural opportunities beyond our borders.

And while I seriously feel that there are extraordinary China savvy expats both here and abroad, I advocate for native voices who are part and parcel of the social networks here: Dr.@ganglu the founder of Open Web Asia;  @Isaac the first blogger in China, Harvard Fellow and founder of CNBloggercon; @zola, China’s first guerella blogger and citizen reporter; and dozens of others…

Your last conference should be applauded if only for drawing Al Jazeera and the Israeli Consulate to the same event. Here’s hoping you continue setting global conference precedents at your next 140 character conference.

Wishing you much success,

OMBW

China Business,China Editorials,china internet,Chinese Internet,In the news,Intercultural Issues,Online Digital Marketing China,social media,Twitter

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A day in the life

“Creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvelous.”

-Bill Moyers

I am glad to be back writing again after a long hiatus….This is not a regular fare for those of you who have read me in the past…It is simply a laundry list, a sorry set of excuses explaining my absence, and one way to personally reflect on “mundane” events from the last couple of months. I track below one “normal” day’s activities:

–Read RSS, Twitter, NY Times, Facebook updates with coffee–1.0 hours

–Forget to eat breakfast–0 hrs

–Check in on Ms Yue and practice my Yueyinglish–30 min.

Prepare lecture materials for the week on Culture, Writing, Social Media…–1.0 hours

Tweet and Re-Tweet interesting articles about China, Charity, Humor, Inspiration, Good Music and post pics from my i-Phone and relate drivel about what I am up to for the day (zzzzzzzz)….. –1.0 hours

Order in late lunch that I eat cold later while I am working–2 min.

Read and answer all @ and DM Tweets, Email, and FB messages sent my way; try to delete most of the 120 spam mails received overnight–1.0 hours

Speculate on the actual number of Viagara users who buy online–10 sec.

Online meetings with amazing charities to whom I donate time, web work and support–1.5-2.0 hrs

Training and consultation with digital interns in SEO, SEM, PR 2.0, online digital marketing; prepare business proposal for an expat business that will either not pay for, or steal and then outsource to a “good friend who is an SEO expert” –2.0 hrs

Clean my world-view glasses and remember all the good folks; chant “the future is all you can hope to control”–10 min.

Buy some clever domain name (Straight-eye-for-the queer-guy.com) that I will park with the 185 others I own and never use–5 min.

Catch-up on Skype with close friends and collegues–1.0 hours

Lecture on nothing I was prepared to speak about–2.0 hrs

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Laugh and walk away when students or colleagues ask the meaning of “multitasking”–0 min

Business Planning, delegation of work with PA and team–1-hrs

Re-explain business planning to the interns who pretended they understood my colloquial English the first time thru–30 min.

Do a BBC Radio Interview on Censorship–45 min.

Wonder if that sound at the door is the Net Nanny–10 sec.

Write 3 letters of recommendation for students past and present–45 min.

Give pep talk to the students for whom I wrote recommendations and tell them it is not necessary to send applications to 65 U.S. colleges for safety–1 min.

Help brainstorm three separate creative projects (non-profit) with artist friends in Washington, SG and Shanghai on Skype and by telephone– 1 hr.

Do Guardian newspaper interview about China Internet/Social Media/Censorship–45 min.

Wonder if I have seen that car outside my house before–10 sec.

Hand code/write SEO/SEM work I am “donating” to a $1,000,000 online company that pays a friend instead of me (he is in danger of losing his house due to a layoff)–30 min.

Media Magazine Interview (sound bite) about Baidu/social media in China–20 min.

Drink 3-5 canned drinks (tea, fruit juice, diet Coke…)–Ongoing

Make organizational plans for free networking event I sponsor in Guangzhou –15 min.

Skim a poetry book while in the, um, library (do not visualize)–confidential 😉

Power nap/meditate–20 min.

Catch fast dinner at a local cafe; watch TED video on i-Phone enroute–45 min.

Openly stare at the 60 year old expat and his 25 year old Chinese mate without a rational thought in my head–seems like days

Watch a re-run and then the news (also a ongoing re-run) while surfing the web for new ideas–hard to do as I have had hearing loss since my twenties (THE MILITARY FRANK, THE MILITARY) and often need closed captions or subtitles (yep, really)–1.5 hrs

Try to reconstruct the plot line of the show I watched (’cause I was surfing at the time) and Google/Yahoo TV news stories that the Chinese censors tried to hide by cutting away to commercials–20 min.

Curse the Great Firewall, Twitter’s Fail whale and the sluggishness of my computer on VPN–Afraid to quantify

Make plans (hotel reservations or prep my spare room) for out of town first and second life  guests who graciously drop by and rescue me from myself at least one day a week–10 min.

Scan and answer tweets and retweet valuable or fun information; blow soda thru my nose at great tweets by @frankyu, @garysoup, @sioksiok and others; marvel at the kindness and wisdom of folks like @sashakane, @meryl333, @billglover, @bestsydrager, @davidfeng, @barbatsea, @dougwhite, @lindasmith247, @weirdchina, @sdweathers, leonacraig, chicagodiane,@rolandinchina, @neilspeen @inkophile, @deswalsh @joeleisen and scores of online buds–30-40 min.

Plan on how to politely turn down a chance to write chapters for 3 books on China SEO, Internet and Business; write three blog articles in my head and “vow” to put them online; “swear” to begin learning more Chinese; think of guests for radio show (soon to return) with Des Walsh and for Web Wednesday Guangzhou; lament that I have not read a whole book straight thru in 2 years; get back up to take medicine for autoimmune condition that keeps me awake and in pain most nights; create 20 new business ideas I will be able to say in 10 years I thought of first–45 min. (while trying to get to sleep)

Be thankful, really–24/7

I will be rotating the posts I swore I would write 😉 with poetry from my new book: Stone Pillow: New and Collected 1994-2009. The first poetry post will go up tomorrow!

American Poet in China,American Professor in China,China Business Consultant,China Editorials,China Expat,China Expats,China Humor,china internet,China SEO,China web 2.0,Chinese Internet,Humor,Intercultural Issues,Uncategorized

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The Rape of the Nanjing Memorial

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“The ancient commission of the writer has not changed. He is charged with exposing our many grievous faults and failures, with dredging up to the light our dark and dangerous dreams for the purpose of improvement.”

John Steinbeck

Rape, torture, and war crimes are the twisted common tongue spoken by those falsely entrusted with humanely executing and conjugating wars humanely–if such a a mournful ideal is even possible.

I spent a week up north recently, most of the time in bed ragged from battling a relentless fever, and would have recovered sooner if not for my long climbs out of exhaustion to explore China’s City of Ghosts, Nanjing. I had studied diligently for decades the massacre branded incident by revisionist Japanese historians. I had to see the unresolved grief of a nation now shaped into a memorial and on display so the world will not forget the Asian holocaust and the 20,000,000 lives surrendered in Korea,  Burma, Taiwan, The Philippines, Thailand and the whole of the Pacific Rim enslaved by Japanese, greed, lust and an imperial megalomania.

The memorial hall, a coffin-like structure near the burial site of murdered Chinese (“Wan Ren Keng” or Pit of Ten Thousand Corpses) was built ostensibly to honor the memory the 20,000 women raped and some 300,000 citizens slaughtered in fewer than eight weeks of Japanese occupation. Some Japanese “negationists” dispute the number and others even label the talk of massacre a mere act of Chinese propaganda.

What is known, from diaries and collected records from such groups as the Red Swastika and ten other international aid groups, documented the burial of more than 150,000 remains in Nanjing. And I had expected the memorial to make heard the collective wail of a lost souls and a people humiliated beyond the darkest, most appalling horrors your imagination can conjure.

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I braced myself going in for a repeat of the suffocating, intense pain I felt when visiting the concentration camp at Dachau, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC or the Vietnam Memorial at Angel Fire New Mexico. These feelings never came. Maybe it was because I was unable to separate myself for any reflection from the constant ring of cellphones, or the it could have been the relentless manifestations of the number “300,000” that seemed there more as a rebuke than a eulogy, or perhaps it was the theme park feel of the exhibits, the horrific English translations at each station. Too, I nearly drowned in rhetoric about the glorious defeat and surrender of the Japanese to the Chinese forces. The sprinkling of mentions of the Allied sacrifices in support of China were disappointing and infuriating. There was a single picture and only a brief mention of  fearless men, like Doolittle’s Raiders or the Flying Tigers, who were pivotal in Japan’s defeat. If China hopes to extract honesty and contrition out of Japan and an amendment of inaccurate history books it should clean the window displays at the memorial and allow a bit more transparency…

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I was stuck by the tributes to some of the heroes who created a diplomatic safe zone that fended off the Japanese and saved some 200,000 lives at risk of their own:

When the Japanese invaded China in 1937 the world chose not to respond to reports of atrocities that were themselves biblical in magnitude. In one of the most perfect examples of repeated cosmic irony, John Rabe, a member of Germany’s Nazi party became the “Angel” or “Living Buddha of Nanjing” alongside its “goddess” an American Christian missionary by the name of Minnie Vautrin. After being rebuffed by their respective diplomatic liaisons they established the “safe zone” that saved people from being tortured, burned alive, buried alive, decapitated, bayoneted raped or shot for sport. They acted for God, or in God’s stead, as the behavioral contagion of evil spread throughout the occupying Japanese Army.  Further sad irony is the later suicide of Vautrin, attributed to Post Traumatic Stress, and the death of an impoverished and sick Rabe.  Rabe was arrested by his own party for his involvement in Nanjing, and then tried after the war for his earlier Nazi affiliation depleting his resources, devastating his health and forcing him to live in poverty.

Too, there was a small tribute to Iris Chang the author of the book The Rape of Nanking. She, to paraphrase Steinbeck, dredged into the light the horrors of Nanjing so thoroughly and unashamedly that the Japanese banned her book citing minor factual discrepancies with their own records. Chang’s death by suicide in 2004 is a lightning rod for controversy: despite psychological treatment for depression and three separate suicide notes, it was thought by many conspiracy theorists that Chang was murdered for endlessly embarrassing the Japanese such as she did by advocating congressional demands for Japanese apologies and confrontations on national TV with the Japanese ambassador. The documentary based on her book and released in 2007 was dedicated to Chang and can be viewed at the memorial.

From an earlier treatise on Nanjing:

Several years ago Rabbi Harold Kushner made popular a treatise on the Old Testament Book of Job. When Good Things Happen to Bad People took on the daunting task of explaining why God, in the allegorical text, might have subjected his dutiful servant Job to all manner of physical and emotional trauma while expecting him to be obedient and adoring. The book purportedly meant to give us comfort by explaining what laymen already had resigned themselves to knowing about Job: adversity just happens and we need to content ourselves with the knowledge that God has a greater plan to which we are not yet privy.

I never accepted Kushner’s easy out; so when tasked with teaching the Bible as Literature to Chinese students this year, I studied Job knowing the first question my young scholars would ask was identical to my own: why would man’s creator willingly torture a loving being, cast in his own image, for the sake of a cosmic bet with the devil? I found the answer in the actions of Job’s friends, not those of God as he was portrayed by the allegory’s author: Job’s friends willingly abandoned him. It was with that realization that Job became, for me, less of a lesson about obedience and worship and clearly a moral guide to my responsibilities to my fellow man.

Rape of Nanjing

If it is the duty of the artist to expose the truth to the light, it is the job of the historian to frame and disseminate the events that can re-shape our souls whether we think them to be temporal or divine.

Rabe and Vautrin did not leave the Jobs of Nanjing to suffer the mysteries of fate: They were courageous against uncertainty, raised rational voices amidst the absurdity of war, and thankfully were more committed than the closest of personal friends during a time of horror and anguish.

I read last year where 46% of people answering a poll on the social networking site Facebook said they had no desire to see the  documentary Nanking. It is likely the emotional cost, not the price of a ticket keeping them away from the film. Some, like Job’s fair weather friends, do not feel the need for humanitarian counsel. It seems some things are slow to change, but that should not stop anyone, artist advocate or historian, from authenticating the past by giving voice to those are not heard even in the terrible silence of indifference. Carolyn Forche, in her award winning book, The Country Between Us writes: “There is nothing one man will not do to another.” Steinbeck was right: we have usurped the authority and have supposed ourselves to carry the omniscience once ascribed to God.

While I agree with Steinbeck, Kushner and I diverge: I don’t think God, in any any of the earthly renditions we have supposed for his form or character, plays cosmic dice at our expense. And while I know first-hand the pain man is capable of inflicting, I choose to include charity among the many intentional acts that we might choose to commit.

The memorial, in all of its 300,000 (300,000) square feet of glorious anguish is overdone, smacks of a governmental, not humanitarian, agenda. I say, go see it, but view it as much as a metaphor for China’s lingering national insecurities and continued shame over its inability to end the Japanese occupation alone.

May the digital temple bell that rings every ten seconds carry some semblance of the truth of man’s inhumanity to man beyond the boundaries of any heartless ideologies.

P.S.  Special Thanks to my open minded, well informed and linguistically gifted guide and interpreter for the week Chen Chan and his teacher Betsy

Asia,China Editorials,Chinese Education,Human Rights,Human Rights China,Intercultural Issues,Japan,Uncategorized,中国

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You Must Go Home Again II

That I have withdrawn from the abuses of time means little or nothing. I am a place, a place where things come together, then fly apart. Look at the fields disappearing, look at the distant hills, look at the night, the velvety fragrant night, which has already come, though the sun continues to stand at my door.

Mark Strand

I have always thought suicide to be the ultimate act of violence: the explosion that results from a critical mass of shivers, splinters and agonizing open conflicts. And while psychologists assert that depression is anger turned inward, I view it as the long restrained blow in a battle won only by lashing out and retreating across waters into which enemies won’t ford. As I said in a post many months ago:

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

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

It is suicide season here and it makes it all the harder to hear student voice fears and lamentations about the future. They expect that their jobs upon graduation, if they are lucky enough to win any in an economy hit harder than than the government lets on, may well be menial and unrewarding. They expressed an awareness that because they are students who will graduate from a provincial college rather than a country funded key university the likelihood that they would join the ranks of millions of the educated unemployed in now greater than ever in recent years. Many of them spoke of their vocational “choices” as inevitable: preparations foisted upon them by parents, poor entrance scores, or a lack of financial resources needed to pursue their true calling.

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

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

I now know of ten student and Chinese teacher deaths in the last three years and all ended their lives by jumping from rooftops–an ending ripe for horrific metaphor.  Expats are far more creative in their self destruction as being an expat has its own set of invited and uninvited emotional contradictions: a feast of anxiety and mourning in he midst of the unfamiliar. I have watched expats lash out at their hosts for the very differences that compelled them to travel abroad. When our minds become cluttered with emotional matter we either reassemble and adapt, run toward more familiar surroundings, narcotize, lose our minds or lash out. Two of my friends have chosen, since since recently losing their businesses, to surrender to depression and deceit and I hope they come to some mental clearing where they can remove burdens of doubt, and rest and recover enough to negotiate a lasting truce with themselves…

In times of trouble I  stay up much too late to watch the box scores when Tiger Woods is playing, I watch endless hours of TV re-runs from the States, eat far too much toxic fast food, and worse…I have come close to wandering off the edge of the abyss, but have many good friends who know that sudden and prolonged silence from this outspoken teacher is a danger signal and I need to be called home if only via a message filled with a written or visual memory of the past…

My Chinese students are not always so lucky. Taught to wear discomfort fashionably they rarely give clues as to the depth of their despair or the strength of the opponents they are fighting. And even if they did, their polite contemporaries, also not eager to take on added responsibility, might ignore suffering in order to save their friend’s”face,” allowing them the illusion of strength.

It was a year ago last month that Chennie fought her last battle. She was an exceptional student who changed dozens of lives for the better. She was a favorite, she was gifted and not in retrospect: she earned the respect, love and admiration of students and classmates long before she died.  There was never a glister of sadness or anger in her eyes. I have stared for hours at the pictures that will keep her eternally young on Facebook and while I know some of the details preceding her death, I doubt I will ever arrive at an acceptable understanding of the hopelessness that drove her to take her own life.

I chose not to to give credence to the criticism of those who find my concern too saccharine or ignoble a task on which to to waste their conceit–like the administrators at Chennie’s school to whom she called out to in vain for help.

Chennie left me with a gift, of course, I wish I could return in person: I attend as best I can to those unable to sleep, I try to give voice to slight gestures of supplication I catch made in solitary anguish and I write in hopes you will do the same for the emotional or physical travelers in your life.

June 1988-March 2008

American Professor in China,Asia,Asian Women,Chinese Education,Counseling Services China,Education in China,Macau,Macau University of Science and Technology,Macau University of Science and Technology,Student Suicides China,Uncategorized

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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

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Singapore Colleges: Mandatory Pole Dancing in Curriculum Angers Feminists

Frustrated officials in the Singaporean government, still scratching their heads over the failure of their Social Development Unit’s (SDU) many bumps (and grinds) on the road to populating an island that might well need Viagara in the water, has lost its collective mind and ordered pole dancing to be taught in its elite schools.

Singapore’s SDU (critics call it “Single, Deperate Ugly”) dating site called i-Pal only drew in about 4,000 users and all a flagging flop was the creating of designated areas on the normally prudish island where couples could engage in public displays of affection which before would’ve earned you a caning (maybe THAT would be an enticement for more Gothic tourists to procreate)….When HIV hit record numbers in Singapore most couples put their rubber gloves and face masks back on and opted for making money over babies.

When a young couple was recently interviewed on China Conversations young newlyweds Noitwonfitcya and Elnoucanthavitennytwodey they said the idea of sex troubled them: “Why have babies? We need two incomes in expensive Singapore. i-tunes is upping its rates for applications and besides sex just meeses up the sheets and interrupts our social networking time. Nowhere in Singapore’s list of hobbies do you find sex!”

The SDU’s latest failure to gain support for ideas they hope to propogate came in the form of mandatory pole dancing dances for undergrads at Singapore Universities. Hoping to raise the interest of males (pun intended) they have inserted the 3-hour course into every under graduate course of study. And this has angered feminists groups on the island. Dikasonzabikzas said they didn’t understand why they just could not outsource the whole process to China as Singapore or even Japan who might make it into a video.

Happy April 1st

Related Posts: Chinese Herbal Cure for Shortness

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You must go home again…

“Loneliness is and always has been the central and inevitable experience of every man.”

Thomas Wolfe


I generally solicit views on current events from my students during the first few minutes of a class. It allows them to decompress from submersion in previous courses, informs me about what is current in Chinese student circles and points up, by their unintended omissions, what news as been missed by them via censorship or time constraints. During “current events” this week we reviewed, the “Great Spoon Heist” on campus: It seems that 500 stainless steel spoons had vanished and now the students are forced to eat from utensils with holes drilled in their bellies–which is now kinda tough on the soup lovers I am guessing. And students also told me of the Sakura scandal at Wuhan University–nationally revered for its lush greenery and traditional architecture– in the north of China. Last week a mother and her daughter were run off of campus and vilified on the Internet for taking pictures while dressed in Japanese Kimonos in front of the famed Sakura trees. They were the on the receiving end of local wrath for ignorance regarding the history of the blossoms.

Sakura were first planted by the Imperial Japanese Army occupying the campus during the war years because they were homesick (Thankfully, instead of acts of rape, pillage and plunder they planted flowers and I am guessing did not wear Kimonos to do it…), but those particular Cherry Blossoms died some time later and the Japanese government, so I am told, sent more later as a gift and the remaining 60 or so trees now attract tens of thousands of visitors annually who admire their beauty–and manage to stay a sight more sober in the process than do the Japanese during their viewings in Japan…**

After current events I then told classes about my recent flight into Bangkok, where I was headed for medical treatment, during which time I noticed that the man in the seat next to me reading a Japanese newspaper. Since I am accosted 2-3 times a week for impromptu English practice– and end up feeling more like a parrot than a professor–I thought I’d mediate my 40-year old discomfort with flying and get in some language practice by chatting him up. He surprised me: quickly after he recovered from the shock of a white male on a flight to Thailand from China speaking Japanese he used my earnest attention to tell me of the woes of a Japanese expat living in China. He missed his family, still in Tokyo, had trouble making friends with Chinese nationals (imagine that) and told me how weary he had become of frequent trips to Thailand required by his position. He would never have shared his grief, for sake of losing face or not appearing strong, with a native Japanese, and seemed increasingly happy as he spoke. After his confessional experience he left the plane devoid of the sullen look he had carried on as baggage.

I recognized the look on his face: He was in the midst of haggling with what I have come to call Expats Syndrome. It is depression brought on via cultural disconnection. We all go through it at one time or another and it can steel our resolve or send us headlong into the cultural abyss. It is a a lack of grounding that finds us grasping for tethers–some healthy and some not.

Gestalt Therapist and Holocaust survivor Fritz Perls once observed several children on a beach each react differently to an incoming wave (glee, flight, terrified incapacitation…) and theorized that we are all genetically predisposed to react differently to stressors.  In addition to the excitement and challenge of living abroad, expatriate adventures can be a bit fugitive, solitary and hence stressful regardless of whether you are visiting a far shore to spiritually conquer, study, invade, visit or do business with the natives who reside there.  In recent weeks I have watched expats cope with waking up in a darkening economic environment by engaging in extramarital dalliances with alcohol or women, depression that has functionally paralyzed them or through fleeing homeward toward Europe Canada or America…. Conversely, One British friend in Hong Kong who recently has lost a substantial portion of his business to a partner company’s reorganization took the loss like a true entrepreneur and announced to me: “We have had a bit of a set-back.”  It was not British stoicism or stiff-upper-lip behavior, but rather a declaration of war by an emotionally well outfitted businessman who will certainly outlast any opponent.

Once outside of themselves again and the country they adopted or were sent to explore, many of my friends find themselves more disoriented than ever before. Being disconnected, even for a few months, from the indeterminate and comforting familiarity of the constellations of their youth or most recent native home can render the sights and sounds there unrecognizable. TV shows have gone off the air ( I have been gone so long I am still mourning the loss of Cheers and MASH), schools have closed, businesses have shuttered and friends moved on or passed away. As an aside: during my first trip back to America in three years recently passed by Ft. Ord, where I did military basic training, and saw that a school had replaced the wooden barracks and later learned that there was little left of the the 1/2 billion dollar Mississippi ammunition plant where I had served as XO in the late 70’s–it’s been in mothballs for more than a decade. It is hard to describe the waves of mortality that vibrate their way through every wrinkle and scar you have earned in the years since those times and harder to explain how foreign you can suddenly feel in your own country.

When I reached my hotel room in Thailand I discovered an article in the International Herald Tribune about foreigners who, because of the cost of overseas postings, had been called home early by cost conscious companies, and were wearied and disoriented upon their return even though their assignments had been short. The story was fundamentally a critique of businesses who do not prepare expats for re-entry….

Several years ago I visited Angel Fire New Mexico and the Disabled American Veterans Vietnam Memorial there. It is built on land considered sacred to Indians and the spot where a ceremonial march for Vietnam returnees was held and at its conclusion veterans were initiated into traditional tribal rituals normally reserved for Indian warriors returning from battle. “Native Americans” were wise enough to know that transitioning back to society required care, diligence and ceremonial reintroductions what for others might be seen as mundane. I think the huge number of homeless and jailed veterans is due in large part to our neglect of returnees and a misguided belief that they can safely reintegrate after experiencing months or years of traumatic events. The veterans who took part in that long march still talk of its healing virtues.

As more warriors return from battle, more economic refugees land on Chinese shores and more western sea turtles head back to their nesting grounds there will be problems. And while the Chinese use an idiom that admonishes us against the danger of having a foot in two boats, I argue that we must stay grounded in our home culture via news, music, movies, art, conversation, books, or blogs while slowly immersing ourselves in a new one. We all cannot be as strong as my friend in Hong Kong and while we well may be hard-wired as to how we’ll respond to stress, but we can mediate the magnitude of our reactions by keeping tethered somehow to home. I just came out of a numb sleep brought on by being ill and having little to grasp onto for comfort, but I am a very lucky veteran traveler who has amazing, loving, keen observers as friends. They threw a line into the abyss. I wish this kind of good fortune on others.

We must go home again, if only virtually, from time to time…

More in a part II

**related Cherry Blossom stories: CHINA SMACK (with hilarious comments by readers below the story) and the

East South North West Blog

Uncategorized

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The only man in China who likes Australia…

…the movie.

And I am glad I saw it.

australia

I had some time in Beijing, between the blizzard of social connects and meetings that are part of any trip I take outside of Guangzhou, to see the movie Australia. I don’t make it up north very much anymore so I  try to maximize my time while still managing to squeeze in a little enjoyment: seeing a movie, bravely foolishly curiously trying some new local dish, making new friends, enjoying a movie or cherishing a few moments with old acquaintances. I did all of that over two snow scattered days in the capital city.

The only movie showing at a time that would fit into my schedule was the aforementioned blunder from down under. Australia is a cinematic muddle of  magic, mystery, murder, military, melodrama megalomania, and memoirs from a bigot ridden outback….It is so bad that it is a sure bet we will see it again on Hong Kong’s ATV or CCTV here in mainland China.

But, I am glad I saw it.

The movie wandered the bush in search of a theme and stumbled over romance, history, allegory, and object lesson before falling down on a soft core adult tenor via a buffed up Wolverine bathing out of a bucket (and no, the consonance decided on itself…) in front of a barren, befuddled and buffoonish Nicole Kidman.

But I am glad I saw it.

All kidding aside, and man is that a Crocodile Dundelean feat, I learned a lot:

The Japanese rained down more bombs on the port at Darwin than it did two months earlier at Pearl Harbor in the 40’s. And they attacked another 63 times over the next two years to bring Australia as close as it has ever been to war on its own soil. That one reviewer of the film, and one Wiki entry, calls the assaults on Darwin “Australia’s Pearl Harbor” is exactly why I am glad I watched the movie….

A few days ago, if you will permit me a rare digression, I read a viral email sent to me by a “conservative” friend ( conservative is a euphemism, but as close as I can come without risking war on my own turf) who lives in America (the part with 50 states)… He and the email author somehow did not know that Australia had elected a new Prime Minister nor that the alleged PM had not boldly declared that Muslims should denounce their heretical ways and swim off to calmer spiritual waters–while hopefully meeting and greeting several sharks along the way–in an effort to ethnically cleanse Australia….The email was likely designed by an American and meant to give credence to some nationalist notions that U.S. borders should be closed, job stealing wet-backs flung back into the Rio Grande in order that we might realize a new prosperity: thousands of t-shirt assembly-line jobs, radish picking tasks and domestic helper slots that will vault us out of our recession far better than any stimulus package.

When did we become an ethnocentric melting pot? (That is only an oxymoron if you don’t believe that the National and American Leagues can collide at the end of the year and actually play a “World” Series in baseball.) And just so you know, I am guilty too of narrow thinking despite three decades abroad: You mean WWII was not just the U.S. against the forces of evil? The Allies (a close knit group of American G.I.s) didn’t single-handedly saved the world from the dreadful grammar of the Germans and the limited syllabary and endless bowing of the Japanese? I confess to never knowing before this movie that the country, who has battled and died alongside America in every major war and conflict in the last 70 years, suffered the loss of so many lives in Darwin.

Oh, and just for the record I learned from my good friend Des that “Waltzing Matilda” is no more the National Anthem of Australia anymore than “Danny Boy” is the musical representative of Ireland…;-)

We all need a culural wake up once in a while. I thank the the director of Australia–wherever he is in hiding–for mine…

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Twenty-Five Things….

Since I have been tagged numerous times on Facebook with this Meme I thought I would do a serious version in answer-though don’t expect a totally straight face. The beauty of a meme like this is its ability to tilt you away from the events of the day and give you a reason to take a meta-view, as unobstructed as memory will allow, of paths in shadows and ahead, in the gathering light.

olgacornucopia400w

25 Things about me….

  1. I see myself as a combination of two Jungian Archetypes: The Lover and the Magician. The lover in me is the guiding force in my poetry: dialectical and unquenchable desire, immediate sorrow and regret, and a notebook full of “portable kisses.” The Magician in me looks for ways to explain, guide and tempt people into learning and to give voice through art to the good in Kings, Magicians, Warriors and Lovers so people might cherish both calloused hands and  unprotected hearts; to seek the laws that make me, the lover, so sensitive that there are days I feel like lying down because I am dizzied by an earth I can feel rotating on its axis.
  2. I have been physically tortured with the consent of friends–ones  I belayed to safety, but who left me un-anchored and unprotected.  But, despite that my world view still pardons the days for ending too soon and pities the men who never turned to see their shadows disappear; hence, I am quicker to forgive a murdering stranger than a disloyal friend.
  3. I should have left her sooner.
  4. I should have married her when I had the chance.
  5. I love the outdoors. I never want to draw a bowstring or pull a trigger ever again but I want to always see bright stars, even in the dark pools of evening waters. I secretly want an hermitage on a mountain, but with plenty of guest rooms for the people I love.
  6. I almost died of a ruptured gall bladder so I long ago said my goodbyes. I have had a perfect daydream (and occasional nightmare) of a life: archer, writer, actor, father, soldier, businessman, teacher, healer….My life is a billfold of foreign currency spent wisely as well as in proportion to my foolishness…
  7. I never opened a book during school. I couldn’t afford one.
  8. I talk too much, I praise too little, and I am as forgetful as the tide: sometimes leaving without thanks…
  9. I could live on fried chicken, boiled shrimp and garlic-buttered broccoli in perpetuity.
  10. I wish the kisses given by adoring students to  philandering colleagues, priests and teachers in my life would re-appear and show themselves like cancer.
  11. I miss my mother.
  12. I have lost or broken every watch I have ever owned: It is a metaphor for my disdain for time.
  13. I am spiritual, but have grown weary of the religious calisthenics of the west and am too attached to beauty to imagine a bowl to be broken in advance of its demise to be a devotee of eastern thought….
  14. I have a secret crush on Yang, Li Ping that is now not a secret anymore.
  15. I believe that vengeance is in reality an act of regret.
  16. I forget #15 to be a truth too often and fail to forgive myself in time enough to spare an ambush.
  17. I teach in the same voice that speaks from my poetry. It is fearlessly loud enough to carry past 10,000 ears, but I am shy and at parties I end up making make sounds resembling uncomfortable wings below tattered eaves.
  18. I think I have was passed some secret gay fashion gene meant for critique, but not personal styling.
  19. I cry every time I attend the theater because it is where I wish I could have spent more of my adult life.
  20. I believe that too many policeman and statesman are costumed, gutless criminals.
  21. I once believed that if I could write just one poem, like a Mark Doty or a Robert Bly, that could empty you of sorrow or turn into itself into a shutter that could bang life through an abandoned memory that I could die happy. Now that I am older I have amended that to two, or three or….
  22. I think most artists, like myself, are afraid of going mad; great artists revel in their lunacy.
  23. I believe we should restore the draft, but only to put teens to work in charities not war zones. Station them with NGOs or in citizen media training, as bloggers/micro-bloggers while living in homeless shelters or prisons.
  24. I blame religion and government for imprisoning, with laws and rituals, the spiritual gifts that built the great cathedrals and carved gentle, giant Buddhas out of rock.
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Ghost Whisperer

When WordPress suffered a security exploit last year several of my blogs were affected. Thanks to the Internet Wayback Machine I recovered many lost ones. This is one I am glad to have found again.

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….

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Blue Feather Tweeters

flip the bird

Forget all the incestuous top Tweeter lists, the rankings of the most re-tweeted, the scores for the most influential, the “find a MLM spammer to add to your follower cool twitter application” lists and the “Twitterati” glamour gurus vying for rights to the title of most vapid… So, I thought “How about a list of the top 20-30 nicest people to meet and tweet on Twitter? ” Here are my first picks for Blue Feather Friends–who actually talk to you….

I follow a lot of folks because I am a student of anything and everything on the net. I have used hundreds of Facebook and Twitter Applications, joined  (and un-joined) groups with great names like “Ban the Racist Bicycle Bells,” My life is a musical” and I’ve been bought and sold hundreds of my friends in and out of slavery and then raced them in cars that don’t move. I have crashed my site dozens of times with new WordPress plug-ins and I have tried virtually  (and to the lament of my twitter stream) every mobile and fixed Twitter client around. And aside from the auto-generated DM’s that say “Thanks for the follow <<insert first name here>>”  via folks in a race to catch Obama in the followers count, and that big breasted bot with 450 different profiles, I have become grateful for the many people who have enriched my life and replaced my blogging, RSS reading and shower time (phew) with interesting stories that I will no doubt re-tweet one day to my grandchildren.

Following are a few of the nicest people you’ll ever tweet. I don’t know how many followers they have, whether they won shorties or longies or what their Hub score is… And this is not a list of my favorite charities, business folks, incredible journalists or people you need to suck up to to get them to add you (Brian Solis, Mashable, Winer…)…I will do those lists one day as well…

These are just  people who aren’t so impotent (sp?) they only follow and/or talk to themselves…

Maybe in a day or two I will post my top financially useless, but great smile-making Twitter applications and add a few more suggestions for people to chirp with…. Feel free to add your own BCTs in the comments section…..

  • http://twitter.com/shelisrael is from California. He is writing a book on Twitterville and is a bit of a celebrity, but his bio’ is right: he is a nice guy who actually talks TO, not at, you. And he is his own virtual assistant 😉
  • http://twitter.com/danharris He is a lawyer but don’t let that put you off. This is the most tireless guy on the net. He actually reads and comments on dozens of blogs, runs the best law blawg on the planet ( http://chinalawblog.com ) and still has time to go to his family’s sporting events in Washington, root for the Cubs and then Tweet about it! Caution: Do not try to sneak a knuckle ball by him–he will hit it out of the park.
  • http://twitter.com/gyspsydust A world-class Chinese medicine expert from Illinois and one of the nicest people on the net. We met on Facebook when she suggested pointed me toward W.H.O research on a medicine that cured a recurrence of malaria that had hit a visiting guest–and it cost us less than a buck.
  • http://twitter.com/sdweathers A growing celeb’ on the small screen here in China. He posts great culturally entertaining pics, fun and informative links and actually takes the time to answer his tweets.
  • http://twitter.com/deswalsh An Aussie coach and consultant who has forgotten more about social media, blogging than I will ever know. He and his “girlfriend” (sorry, inside joke) artist  http://twitter.com/suziecheel  are an endangered species: kindness, wisdom and humility abound…
  • http://twitter.com/taweili Did you ever get a growing gift on Facebook? This is one of the team that built that application. He is a cross-cultural commentator and shouts out some very sensible answers about life and tech from farther inside the matrix than I have ever traveled….
  • http://twitter.com/grahamdbrown from London he runs one of the coolest and most purposeful blogs around and remains as authentic and likable a personality as you can find in the Twittersphere….
  • http://twitter.com/davidfeng when you think David Feng you think War and Peace, Ulysses, Everything You Wanted to Know About Beijing Subways Even if You Didn’t Think to Ask…The only guy on Twitter who HAS to have a David Feng Lite stream…I met this Swiss master at the first Beijing Tweet-up–there were three people and 10 electronic devices present….
  • http://twitter.com/JeffreyJDavis from Charlotte. Personable, but not afraid to call out the thought leaders. His profile says it best: “Innovator, Leader, Strategist, Executor, Mentor, Smartass, Kiteboarder, Dad, Husband”
  • http://twitter.com/thomascrampton An American gone Hongkese whose blog features impromptu camera phone interviews with the likes of Oliver Stone….He is an old-school journalist (small stuff like the NYT and IHT) who, despite his celebrity, is engaging social media with the heart and curiosity of a child combined with the shrewd thoroughness of a trained  reporter–No small feat, that…
  • http://twitter.com/winserzhao A die-hard social media fan with his own travel company. The ONLY one of the 8,000 Tweeple I reached out to for help  that answered the call to rescue a newlywed–stranded in China– who had all his money and documents stolen just after his wedding.
  • http://twitter.com/johningz I think Foreigner did a song about him once….He lives in GZ where I do…The whole city keeps getting younger around us….He can Tweet and eat Pizza at the same time…and does….most days….every day….
  • http://twitter.com/casperodj A Dutchman studying in Britain now. He made history by beating the news wires with tweets from the earthquake zone in Sichuan China…A former Olympic caliber archer, he made watching the shooting events from Beijing a blast by live-tweeting the events…
  • http://twitter.com/Meryl333 Delightful, spiritual ex-lawyer and biz strategist from Chicago now in San Francisco….She sometimes beats me at online Scrabble….

This is by no means an exhaustive personal list and it augments posts where I have mentioned others…And I do mean to add more later…

I am http://twitter.com/lonniehodge I am a Twitterholic….

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