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New and Selected Poems “The Strike”

The Strike

(work in progress: for CD)

At bat is the son of a pro

who looks as though he never leaves

the batter’s box without a hit

Cody is pitching his first inning:

a long shadow of an arm

opens its small hand

and sends a dark disc speeding

over the flat stretch toward home

“Strike One”

Only the next fastball breathes

in the agonizing heat

and fathers close their eyes

conferring with fragments of the future

in the only game that will somehow ever matter

“Strike Two”

There are three sounds you can hear

if you listen closely–It’s never

that  restrained at a Cubs game

It is the sound of a perfect fastball

released across the long barrier

of years from mound to plate

and the impossible difference

between the home run clap of a bat

and the sting and leather slap of an out

It’s the umpire waiting

on the one authoritative second

when he’ll shout as witness and judge

a life-changing verdict

American Poet in China

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Whose Enemies Are They? Part II

I recently spent three days and two night with 85 native Chinese English Professors and school administrators. It was a pleasure trip that Expats in China who suffer from conversational anemia would have loved. This journey was rich in cultural and intellectual nutrients. Since most of the scholars there were educated in both China and the west, it made for great interactive subtleties, and an occasional journey into densely forested woods of dark humor…

At one point during our travels I was verbally recalling a story about four Chinese exchange students who, after 9 months of absence from their classes were reported missing and subsequently found dead in their Australian flat.  Without hesitation one professor wryly queried, “were they allowed to graduate?”

mao_leading_peasants

The professor who spoke is a bit of living history: his first job paid about 20RMB per day ($.15 cents then. By contrast an enlisted man in the US Army made $3.00 then) and his driving ambition was to save enough to be able to buy a bicycle. Bikes sold for 100 RMB at the time, but only if you had a voucher permitting you to to own one. And even with a voucher there was a bribe that often had to be paid locally that tacked an extra 100 RMB on to the final price. He was one of many intellectuals driven to the countryside during the cultural revolution in an attempt to teach them humility and put those like him more in touch with the proleteriat–the working class. He knows, as shown by his retort, that China has sadly followed the west into areas of industrialized education and that those with money or power need not study nor even attend class to attain a sheepskin in China or America.

Another professor then shared with me a game started in the 80’s in Wuhan (one of four directly controlled municipalities), but is reflective of the time in which he grew up, a time when “authority figures—teachers, landlords, monks and nuns, bosses, intellectuals, doctors, Party leaders—were ‘struggled against’ by gangs of teenage revolutionaries called Red Guards.” The card game, called Beat the Landlord–Dou Di Zhu– (literally fight the landlord) is now wildly popular on the Internet here and has some 20 million players on “QQ” (the most popular of messenger services here in China), allows two “bandits” to gang up on the “landlord” in order to allow one of them to divest himself of all cards and win. The social ramifications are now gone and the meaning all but lost on one of the younger teachers who was listening to music on his Mp4s and feigning interest as would American youth over talk of days of black and white TV or civil rights marches. He attained his diploma the old fashioned way: he earned it albeit with a bit less sacrifice. But, having heard such stories many times before he lacked interest in the topic.

cultural revolution

Also at the gathering were members of a few of the reviled groups labeled as such during the Cultural Revolution: The “Nine Black Categories”: 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 (ninth) in that caste order where beggars were tenth. Present too were past members of the Hong Wei Bing (Red Guard) the more violent of whom persecuted scholars, committed acts of violence against landlords and others (even Deng Xio Ping), famous temples, shrines, and other heritage sites (4,922 out of 6,843 were destroyed). Now all of us, including two Gweilo (“ghost men”) were sharing rice at the same table…

On day two, one of the four “Waijiao” (literally outside teacher, but used to denote any foreign lecturer), having not heard the instructions (in Chinese)  early on in our adventure, boarded the wrong bus; hence, we were one person short in our count overall. Speaking in Chinese some of the teachers near me began grousing that it was, of course, a foreigner holding up what was to be called later a “long march” though an area cave. In fact what had happened was that a couple of other native “bad influences” were late due to having gone one Baijiu ( legal Chinese moonshine) over the line the night before. The Chinese teachers, accustomed, but resentful of the leeway given to foreign teachers, were unified in their belief that an outsider was the cause for delay.

I spent a lot of my trip directly and obliquely querying teachers and staff regarding their attitudes toward visiting teachers all of whom are accorded the title of “Foreign Expert” by the provincial education office even when only qualified to teach English by virtue of their country or skin color of birth–credentialed and talented Waijiao are hard to come by here.

Later when at a table with graduates of top schools domestically and abroad it came as no surprise to me that when introducing members of the group seated together a young lecturer referred only to his colleagues as “professors” and ignored giving titles to the two foreigners present; so, later that night during a karaoke break I did not even flinch when another junior faculty member angrily asked friends in Chinese, “Who invited the Waijiao?” They are weary of the unacculturated backpackers who pass though schools with far more in the way of critical opinions than useful skill sets to share….

After twelve years of post secondary education and three decades in the classroom, mostly overseas, I am secure in my scholarship, attempts at cultural sensitivity and pedagogical abilities. And while hurt and, yes miffed too, I try to understand the frustrations of the younger, poorly paid intelligentsia who react more negatively with more vigor as the west fails to recognize the monumental changes in China of the past 15  or so years thus putting these savvy scholars on the same cultural bus as some of their revolutionary predecessors or corrupt present day business and political leaders. The world media has most of the west still reveling in anything draconian while failing to give credence or applause to any positive steps toward becoming responsible global leaders and resentment runs high here.

The west is engaged in a newly branded western game of  Beat the Landlord as China begins to dominate certain world economic sectors. And our failure to engage them and recognize and encourage  accomplishments, a punishment model approach to change, is fueling a long held distrust of those on the far side of the wall. One academic told me that it will take time for the people of China to manifest a viable bill of rights, “perhaps more time” he told me, “than it has taken your country to deconstruct yours into a bill of rights and wrongs.”

It is a dangerous, knee-jerk nationalism that we foster in both east and west when we don’t acknowledge that most Chinese people still long, and are willing to struggle for, the present day equivalent of a revolutionary’s bicycle…

More in Part III

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Trans-America II: Heartsongs

Shortly after my70’s military stint I did a home-stay with a Mennonite family, headed by a businessman who felt called out from society to a quite farm in Pennsylvania. Despite no TV or newspaper he was remarkably on the cutting edge of social responsibility and had more cultural savvy than daily news subscribers. And via his knowledge of the great books he more than hold is own in debates on topical as well as philosophical issues: his home went solar in the 70’s and he and his beautiful family lovingly maintained what industrialized societies slowly lose or alter: core values and sacrosanct time, conversation, and meaningful rituals: things that that Chinese families are losing. The Mennonites held hands and sang songs of thanks before every meal and during my stay, when community members called, they didn’t pause to ask why, how or when they could help a neighbor who was in trouble: they just helped without hesitation or reservation.  Though I could never live as austerely or as committed to a religion, I admired them as people, not imprisoned by their faith, but true celebrants of its simple focused lifestyle. They steered away from politics and involvement in affairs outside of their circle of faithful unless it was to involve themselves in pre-mediated acts of charity and kindness.

All of that was preface to my most moving and clarifying moment with them: They had had been involved a few years earlier in hurricane relief in the southern U.S.: They built, with donated supplies, homes for those who had lost everything in a vicious storm. The Mennonite crews who traveled to Mississippi built sturdy structures with 2-3 rooms with amazing skill and speed and shortly afterward would bring survivors to the site before completion so the new owners could decide where their kitchen and living room should be placed on the right, or on the left. It was designed to make the new inhabitants feel part of the process of erecting their new homes. One woman, who had lost her children in the hurricane and surgically needed both legs amputated due to injury, was carried in on a kitchen chair to inspect her coming surroundings. She immediately began to cry and aid workers quickly moved her back out the front door, fearful they had further upset someone already deeply traumatized. She stopped them and asked to stay, reassuring them that she was crying out of joy for what had been given to her, not what had been lost. She lives there today, visited occasionally by the Mennonites, who cherish the tenacity and courage of this modern day Job.

During my trip, my time with the Mennonites was one of many stories from my life in America of which I was reminded. Songs, movies, television shows, radio and the like reside in our collective conscientiousness: they invoke emotional states and resurrect global and individual memories of what was happening to us at a given moments in history. So, imagine what XM satellite radio (what am amazing service), a score of contemporary and classic television channels playing in my motel room and visits to emotionally charged locations I have not seen since the Vietnam era conjured for me who had not been back to American for many years.  I tried to pull the many disparate images and recollections into context and apply them to my understanding of America and its differences to China.

As an example: I relived the first election in which I could vote—something even Hong Kong citizens may not live to experience: I cast my ballot, with millions of other idealistic and hopeful young people, in favor of the gentle intellectual statesman and political dove Eugene McCarthy. My youthful enthusiasm for the American electoral process was buried for a few years in the following avalanche of hawkish conservatism, votes that hastened the deaths of 58,000 soldiers, my father among them, and millions of Vietnamese. I was present for Obama’s victory arguably less volatile: moderate in nature and less dramatic in its public manifestations—there were no “flower children trying to levitate the Pentagon through meditation, and no National Guardsmen gunning down the students protesting our involvement in war—but, no less a salute to idealism and change. It brought me to joyful tears as hope once again permeated a participatory politics I had thought was gunned down with Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and the Kent State Four.

All week I enjoyed music that drew me back to school days and my first job: selling Grit Newspapers door-to-door in Pueblo, Colorado. Grit was a weekly read of good news and human-interest articles that made you feel hopeful and proud of your neighbors and countrymen. It was filled with the kind of articles a journalist in Shanghai told me was no longer in demand in 2008—even if I were to offer to write them for free. If you were to subscribe to her world-view, shaped by her time as a war correspondent, it would be one of a planet of violent, untrustworthy, primitive, easily manipulated, and dangerously selfish people devoid of goodwill.

Though my early world-view—one that has skinned its knees after repeatedly being shoved to the ground of late—remained positive, even though the stories called back to me this week were not all created with sunshine and granola: I re-lived the trauma of a father lost to war wounds and a mother subsequently lost to that grief; the pedophile sickness of Father Dan Maio, Pueblo’s youth ministry leader. But, more often than not, I retreated to the reverie of good memories, and the solace of long-time friends.

I met a lot of good people on this trip: people who reaffirmed my faith in simple charity and goodness without agenda. It is rare in China: people are loathe to care for each other for many reasons: their own poverty and inability to assist, their instinctive distrust of all-too-common officials who extract their pound of flesh from the leanest cuts of positive social deeds, their belief that public displays of charity are nothing more than a form of brand building and self-marketing and more…. And when luminaries and people who could save a great many lives refuse their time and talent because of nationalist agendas. I have been told that a charity for China has little hope of success with westerners because of America’s growing ethnocentrism, a lack of emotional connection to the millions still suffering form the effects of devastation this year and America’s own needs following tragedies in Texas and Louisiana.

But, thankfully my time in America began with the comforting company of Meryl in San Francisco, moved to the beautiful and gracious family inclusion of Cal Poly’s Associate Dean of Business Chris and then days of travel with Roland Catellier, the founder of a Disaster Relief Shelters organization that will begin its work by building 100 new dwellings for Sichuan quake victims during the next year.

Roland returned during to America in the 70s after 17 years of volunteer work in India, the Bahamas and Puerto Rico only to lose his wife within months to cancer. He then raised 7 children aged 2-14, alone, while establishing construction and real estate businesses along the way. Retired now, he looks to return to the missionary zeal of his roots and simply do good for those who have not fared as well as he has in life. He spent most of the time while traveling with me (when not smoking cigars) on the phone with companies who will build the first units to be placed in the hardest hit counties in Sichuan. Happily (the glass is half-full), he found the prices in the U.S. to be 40% less than that of Chinese companies in Dalian purporting to be subsidizing building needs. It called to mind a book I read years ago: How to Profit in the Coming Kansai Earthquake written by a man teaching you how to invest in disaster coming from a long overdue quake in the Tokyo region (sorry Rick it is overdue) with a business is business approach to human suffering.

And today on the airplane ride to JFK airport I spoke to a young man, aged 27 who told Roland that although he admired what he was doing though he could never see himself as a volunteer as he could not afford to donate his time, talent or money.  He went on to say that he was saving for the future and putting aside $1,000 US dollars a week—more than a farmer in Gansu, China might earn through four years of back-breaking labor—and his congenitally bad heart did not help matters—nor did it stop him from bow-hunting with ridiculously hi-tech aides for his primitive endeavor (laser range finders…) or from hiring guides charging thousands for a hunt on land plentiful with game to help him bag a trophy. It points up that charity in an ever challenging environment will have to offer value—trophies of profit or image– to both individuals and corporations in order to reach both sides of the compassion continuum.

I changed during this trip. Though sick and fatigued I re-learned (a work in progress) how to read the metaphors around me and how to interpret the lyrics and plot lines of the past. And now I own again some small ability to take a meta-view of the symbols around me. I don’t think the world has changed a great deal since I went to my first concert (Fleetwood Mac and Gary Burton and the Animals, Kaiser) in Southern Colorado, saw my first movie, heard of JFK’s death on the radio or watched a man land on the moon. There will always be, in varying portions, those who watch, those who pray, those who act, those who give and those who profit from adversity, turmoil or weakness. The songs are about them all, as are the pictures in magazines, and now the Tweet, blog post or Facebook entry. I am hopeful once again because I own the responsibility to act in accordance with my heart as mandated by my conscience and I see others actively doing the same so I do not feel alone. It is time once more to defy Pavlovians by directing myself via free will to associate the contemporary idioms and events of today with the sights, sounds and cadence of the good that I hope to sense again when I’m brought to reflection on them in the future…

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Trans-America

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

Cal Poly Business School

Cal Poly Business School

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

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

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

California Wind Turbines

California Wind Turbines

(Taken with my i-Phone so…)

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

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

Potty Humor?

Potty Humor?

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

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