Digital Chinese Take Out for the Expat's SoulPosts RSS Comments RSS

Turning Hashtags into Plowshares

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be authentic

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

3 responses so far

Many Faces: Education in China

“There are quantities of human faces, but there are many more faces, for each person has several.”

Ranier Maria Rilke

I once substituted  as lecturer for a Classics course in a Chinese Ivy League school. The beloved Harvard educated Chinese professor could not teach that term because of medical issues.  I entered the classroom as an unknown entity. Students at the University were used to “Waijiao”  (Foreign Teachers or literally Outside Teachers) with little or no experience being put into their classrooms more for the color of their skin or country of origin than for the their knowledge of the subject to be taught. After a brief run through the ambitious syllabus foisted on me I asked the class if there were any questions. One young man in the back of the room angrily asked: “What qualifies you to teach at this institution?” His question neither offended nor surprised me.

I knew a little of the history of this class and their previous foreign faculty members: one, in his sixties, had recently been asked to resign as a result of relational improprieties and another, also in his sixties, was dating three different young women at once (uknown to the others)  while living with another on campus. Neither teacher had a degree in English nor much of a cultural grasp of China beyond a singular fondness for young Chinese girls. Sadly, this breed of foreign expert had been the norm at that school for many years.

I calmly explained that I had been at on time, before my travel to China, a “real teacher” with a real desire to see them come to love and understand literature as much as I had during my graduate education. I told them that my credentials, awards, and publishing credits more than qualified me for undergraduate lecturing. I stress that  during my program I was taught by mentors and visiting lecturers in my program who had won every award from the National Book award to the TS Elliot Prize to the Nobel, to…But academic window dressing would only have meaning if by the end of the term they had come, to paraphrase Rilke, to enjoy literature more and more, and became more and more grateful, and somehow better and simpler in vision, and deeper their faith in life, and happier and greater in the way they lived and were able to appreciate the power of the written word as it has influenced millions over the decades.

Richard, the young man above, was the class antagonist the entire term: He became my favorite student by way of his challenges and lust for knowledge and academic integrity in his learning. He will graduate from Columbia this year and he still intellectually wrestles with me when I post something questionable on Facebook or other social networks where we remain connected.

Most new teachers in China will not have such good luck. They will not have vocal students (another post will discuss why they are silent and it is not for lack of opinion or ability) who will educate them about how they are perceived nor will they be lucky enough to teach top students much more than oral English idioms in a class better suited for elementary aged pupils.

Know this:

  • You are a foreigner and many round eyes and white faces have preceded you. Some have done their job well, most have not.
  • It is your responsibility to acculturate, not theirs.
  • Learn your students Chinese names and something of their background.
  • Be patient with yourself and your students.*
  • Know that the students have already spoken, and likely written on school boards, about you. Ask them individually how to improve their learning experience. They will tell you though not always with the grace and tact you might like. Do not be surprised to be told, if you open yourself to feedback, that you are short, fat, old, wrinkled or speak too fast, slow, too much or too little to them.
  • Know that the Chinese staff knows little or nothing about you and may not bother to take much time to engage you: you are a transient in their life of endless meetings, regulations, low pay, long hours and mandated curriculum. They may think you less prepared culturally and academically than their Chinese colleagues.

The China Library Project

There are three exercises I use in almost every class to bring each student, and consequently China, into better focus:

  • I take time away from regular studies to have each student write their name in Chinese on the board and describe each element and character in the name. I ask them to include the historical meaning of the name, who gave it to them and why. Att the same time I ask them not to use an English name in my class in order that I might learn their real names and the identities behind each one. This term, Purple Heart, Handsome Horse, Ms Poetry and Beautiful Phoenix are a few of the student names I will never ever forget–where I might not remember the faces or stories of Chloe, Vince or Sophie. And the stories behind the names have been worth a thousand Chinese culture classes as I have learned about Feng Shui from those whose names were chosen for luck by a soothsayer or master, enjoyed tales about entire villages with a common middle or last names, and shared in the hopes and dreams of parents who chose Chinese name characters hoping their meaning would influence the futures of their children by association or divine intervention.
  • I interview each student in many classes and ask them simple questions about the wishes, lies and dreams in their educational lives. I have come to know real people, not numbers, faces or acquired names. And the fear that once separated us has often dissolved and been replaced by lasting respect and I have been able to honor and stretch their boundaries. And they become as uncomfortable with the term Waijiao as I do because, while always an outsider, I am on the periphery with love and appreciation and a sincere desire to see them succeed:  “I hold this to be the highest task for a bond between two people: that each protects the solitude of the other”
  • The first ten minutes of any class is devoted to school, local, regional and national news. This keeps me informed about things I would never otherwise know, helps with language acquisition, and tells me culturally what is important to them and why. Politics and religion are forbidden discussion topics, but  feelings about sports, war, earthquakes, and even movies or television star scandals will inform about China you in ways you never dreamed possible. Students learn that I am not the America they condemn because of the reader-baiting bias of a CNN or other media source and I re-discover that they are not the perpetrators of the rules and ideologies by which the west defines China.

 

Becoming a teacher in China is more than lessons in language if you have respect, and most of all, patience:”… there is no measuring with time, a year doesn’t matter, and ten years are nothing. Being a [ teacher] means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn’t force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast. I learn it every day of my life, learn it with pain I am grateful for: patience is everything!”

 

American Professor in China,China Blog,China Business Consultant,China Editorials,China Expat,Chinese Education,Confucius Slept Here,Cross Cultural Training,Education in China,Intercultural Issues,New Oriental,Personal Notes,Teaching in China

No responses yet

Dear Mr. Bagel….

Below, find a few of dozens of letters of application sent to an Italian restaurant (Danny’s Bagel) here in Guangzhou. The names and schools have been altered so students won’t suffer any embarrassment. I should have started a collection a long time ago of the many others I have seen….

Typically only 1/10 will even show for an interview even after sending in a recommendation. Even with the dearth of good paying jobs with insurance and social security paid by an honest and caring employer like Danny. Most new graduates or senior students will think a restaurant job too menial and of little value for future appointments even with the tremendous skill set they can acquire while there. Some of the letters sent by no-shows for a full-time position. I am sure they went on to much better things, like CCTV announcer or QIDE (启德)/New Oriental (新东方)English language teacher:

Dear Danny,

Hello, happened to see your ad online. I am a college student at a prestigious college. I major in journalism and communication. Being with people could always excite me, I’ll find it fulfills life to be connected to society. So may I ask for a part-time in your Dannys BAgel at weekend?

If I were not admitted to your Bagel as a waitress then I would like to have meals there as a guest, haha.

Best Wishes,

XXXXXX

“Danny,

I am very grad to make friends with you. I hope we can talk about some chinese and wesern cuisine. So we can study each other.

XXXX

My name is XXXX, a student studying french in guangzhou. It’s a pleasure to have your email when searching the internet, don’t worry, i don’t have a scare attempt. I just want to make friend with some foreigners and to improve my english and french if its OK. i am looking forward to your reply.”

XXXX

“Sorry for late reply. I have just finished my first job…. I have a bachelors in Russian. I like English very much…. I am a good girl I think.

XXXXX

One wrote a rambling three-page personal statement emphasizing her “sunny and careful and patient heart” and wrapped up with “suggestions” for the Danny, a 14-year veteran of business in China–I am still working on what she meant to suggest:

” Some companies especially cafes don’t want to hire short time waiter or waitress, because it will waste the training or other resources. But except for college students , where are young girls with terrific oral English? In other words, as far as I am concerned, hiring the right person may save the training time even can shorten the cycle of profits by so many orders. I think maybe I am not the best, but I am good enough.”

XXXXX

so, I want to work in your restaurant on weekend. What is more, i am good at cooking chinese cuisine. Thanking you!” XXXX

This blog is packed with my deep love for Chinese students and my own long and hilarious struggle to assimilate and acculturate into their culture, while trying to abide by government imposed constraints….I am sure my letters would be much worse, but then I am not an Chinese major at a “pretigious school.”

The barriers erected by, or in front of, students provide the fodder for many a novice writer or newcomer to the Middle Kingdom. For those of us who have been here a bit, it is black humor meant to release a bit of reflexive aggression so it is not misdirected back to the students we are committed to serving….Neither I nor Danny ever make fun of the students, rather we marvel at their lack of preparedness for even a wait-staff position.

One of the many failings of virtually every College and University in China is their inability to give students a sense of direction or prepare them for the future. I wish I had one yuan for every senior who told me that he/she had no idea what they wanted to do upon graduation. I could retire if I had another Yuan for every student that desired to get a “good job at a good company”without knowing what they might like do once there.

Every year I write three versions of every graduate school recommendation letter to cover: the path they “think” they might like to take, the mandated route their parents demand–invariably business or finance at a “top 5o” brand name school–or some easier alternative study plan that will give them time to finally decide on one of the former….

Most of them know the rules of grammar–they can do calculus like we Americans do addition and subtraction–and they can read and speak with astonishing alacrity and competence. But their cultural, vocational and social education has not equipped them to enter an increasingly  western etiquette driven job market without self study or mentoring by a patient teacher. I am hoping that the industrialization of education in China soon includes a module in vocational preparation–even if there is an extra charge.

American Professor in China,Cantonese Schools,China Editorials,China Expat,China Expats,China Humor,Chinese Education,Chinglish,Cross Cultural Training,Education in China,Humor,Intercultural Issues,New Oriental,Teaching in China

9 responses so far

New and Selected Poems: “After Being Asked” and “Soundtrack”

When I passed through LAX customs yesterday I was asked the same question I suppose the immigration folks are trained to ask in cases like mine: “Why have you been in China so long?” Each time I have to resist the urge to render witty or acerbic comebacks–especially after 17 hours of travel next to some high-strung, dialect-limited Chinese emigrant from Guangxi on his first plane flight. But, I digress…

My answer must seem odd to those civil servants who used to hearing one-word responses like: “Business,” Visit,” Coming home,”  or “Job Hunting.” I reply, “fulfilling a promise. I am seeing someone through a long bout with cancer.”

Ms Yue has outlived many of her chemotherapy friends. If you knew her, you’d understand that her natural talent for befriending anyone, from the local trash collector to a head of security in her district, ensures that there are never strangers in her life. She had met them in the hospital annex next to where where she had her surgery performed. She is the last of the League of extraordinary Chinese as I came to call them. They learned from Yue how to embrace the life left to them with meditation, companionship, spiritual supplications and long conversation and rich laughter over inexpensive cups of Chinese tea.

SOUNDTRACK

I am still listening

When the agitated syncope

Of thready heartbeats

Stop to amass a clap of thunder

Over crashing surf

And you fight the waves of fear

With a hand forged sword

And exhausted share tales of battle

With those who subside on phone calls

And weekend visits from half-hearted

Familial warriors lightly anchored to love

And when your body betrays you

In the ravenous silence

And you think you are

One impossibly simple syllable

Short  of a symphony

Remember the lullabies of the past

Conduct them into the present

Lay awash in the fragile swells of hesitancy

Compose mysterious reconciliations

And keep faith in the God of the metronome

Your friends are lucky to have you

Disarmed and hardly replenished

By the convenient half-loves

To which even tender siblings retreat

You survive by teaching through example

How to keep faith in wellness

And the will of the tides

The gift or accident of nature

That gave you ears for

And a comradery with

The roiling, the murmurs, the sobs

And the wicked playfulness of the ocean

And the weather it dares to rebuke…

for W.L. and Ms Yue

Ms Yue has long hidden her illness from Chinese friends. They are not as open about discussing cancer or life threatening disease like westerners. So, when it became evident that she would have do something cosmetically reduce the impact of the uneven loss of her hair and the endless looks of strangers afraid to ask why…

AFTER BEING ASKED TO CUT HER HAIR

When you called, yesterday evening

or the night before, I made the long walk

to you through the thick heat of Southern China,

flanked by our prostitute of a River:

Beautiful after dark, but only when flattered

by the exploitative light of tourist boats

I hated China that night

I found it especially hard to breathe:

It is always damned humid

and it reeks of smoke and poverty

and in the dim daylight reveals

a blinded sun, Guangzhou’s grey cataract

of a sky that, when it can see, ignores the whore–

the river again–

whose name no one can speak

with any longing in their voice

The water was unlined that night:

a corpse without worry as I prepared

a place in my memory

for what I would destroy perhaps forever:

the hair: forty-five years

of silk, glistening with the kisses

of an adoring mother and vigilant father

times in a China no longer missed

by those who have come to this low-waisted city

to find work and forget the darkeness

in which their friends, awake with temptation

in the darkness of their ancestral homes

just grow into unadorned

albeit long, and painless seniority

You asked to me conceal the evidence

of the waning of the infinite. You told me to cut

because I am foreign, from the west,

and know how to use a razor

to shave away history:

the perfect blackness, the magnificent

mystery of the history of moonlights, fires,

and wind that has run fingers

through the remembered and forgotten

“Love is so short, forgetting so long”

when it is a name like yours,

that you clutch deep in your throat

As strong as you are

will always be, and as proudly high

as have always held your head,

the quarrel with your body,

said the doctor–a white coated immigrant

from the North like yourself and too polite

to tell you or your family–the quarrel

will not always look this well

I addressed my selfish sorrow

in suffocated sobs to the still water

that confirmed my questions with silence

Uncategorized

No responses yet

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

No responses yet

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

2 responses so far

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

No responses yet

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

No responses yet

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

7 responses so far

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

No responses yet

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

7 responses so far

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

65325_600

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

9 responses so far

The Rape of the Nanjing Memorial

img_0296

“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.

img_0290

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…

img_0293

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

5 responses so far

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

7 responses so far

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

8 responses so far

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.
Uncategorized

6 responses so far

Hostage Situations: Culture, Charity, and Cures

A few years ago a Washington DC taxi driver, Timor Sekander, a survivor of the Afghan war  with Russia, saved my emotional life by sharing the pain of his losses–a father, and two brothers–with me,  a stranger, looking for answers en-route to the Vietnam Memorial. He turned off his meter and spent two mercurial days introducing me to dozens of grateful refugees who mediated their memories and healed their common wounds by helping each other survive everyday challenges through trade, fellowship and commerce in a country not yet sure how to appreciate their talents or accept their presence.

On Twitter yesterday I engaged in a conversation with a man in Mississippi who had publicly decried Obama’s recent executive order that will close Guantanamo Bay (Camp Delta) within a year while granting legal rights to those incarcerated like the Chinese Uyghur Muslims held there for years without formal charges or trial.  In 17 current cases, detainees were found innocent of any wrong doing and worse yet, some Uyghur prisoners arrived at Gitmo months after being kidnapped near Afghanistan by U.S. supported vigilantes who were paid bounties to round up suspected terrorists. I replied by applauding the executive order and let him know that I had read on, past the section granting constitutional rights, to the section with a clearly worded directive ordering trials and punishment for those the evidence suggests are truly terrorists.

This is not, and was not, a political argument for me.

gitmo-prisoners

My new “follower” on Twitter used the heavily charged word “terrorist” during out talk to describe the detainees still held at Guantanamo and said they did not deserve constitutional protection. He went on to say that the terrorists were being well cared for and nothing at Gitmo could be “construed as torture.” I contend (ed) that being separated from your family and locked in even in the cleanest of cages for four to eight years with recreational water-boarding occasionally on your schedule could hardly be construed as a tax payer funded vacation in Cuba….Terrorist is a word we have been conditioned to associate almost exclusively with the Arab world, so it is easy to imagine that where there is religious smoke  there is terrorist fire; conversely to entertain “torture” as a part of the American lexicon is to appear anti-patriotic,or treasonous at best….

Last week I was talking to Diaster Relief Shelters founder Roland Catellier about the trials inherent in fund-raising for homes and dormitories in Sichuan where millions are still without adequate protection. Those Chinese now living in temporary shelters may well be sharing cooking and toilet facilities with dozens of other families. It is a disaster-induced prison with many innocents serving indeterminate sentences for the crime of poverty.

Collecting funds to help survivors of disaster or trauma is the greatest challenge of any charity in China.  Many people view the Middle Kingdom and all its inhabitants as economic terrorists who are part of an industrial entity that has robbed them of jobs or shut the doors on their neighbor’s family business. And the huge and faceless numbers of those dead in China keep us and any Chinese who could help from looking too closely at the anguish partly made of indifference, or helplessness or fear of falling into some mournful abyss. It is hard for many to care amidst soaring unemployment that has now washed ashore in China and the beleaguered in Sichuan are hard to segregate from the 900 million others in poverty trying to live on less than $1.50 a day.

Sichuan Destruction

I feel ill today and spent the day, when not sleeping, in video and written excursions away from fever and body ache. There is no fun in dwelling in physical or societal misery and I spend more time in concocting solutions than I do recounting trials. So, today I read and  listened to teachers and practictioners of comfort and compassion. My favorite diversion today was a visit with the “happiest man in the world,” Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk, author and photographer via his lecture on TED.Even the man whose extraordinary bliss has been scientifically documeted spoke about the fleet-footed nature of feelings. He acutely feels anguish and sorrow, but can skew his thoughts and actions toward solutions and reconciliation. His spiritual leader recently said that while he often diagreed with George Bush, but he loved him–and I believe him.

I know, as one who lives daily with the extreme and varying degrees of pain associated with an autoimmune disease, that it is through compassion or sharing that I can dissolve associated anger, irritations or suffering. Teaching and writing are my active meditations, my ways of showing compassion: In classes where I really give of myself I often vanquish colds, unlock painfully secured limbs or transform a mood from depression and despair into extreme contentment. And the receipt of good teaching and compassionate words that issue from sage friends like Des Walsh, Zach my monastic guide and Debra Xiangjun Hayes can have the same impact.

Ricard talked to the unseen dual nature of things like the depth of an ocean below a roiling, temperamental wave: There is more than meets the eye in all things. It brought me to thinking about how charity and compassion and even health are often hostages of  our narrow fields of vision–those accepted by us, even if foisted upon us, without compassionate investigation on our part.

The first thing a police negotiator does in a hostage crisis is to begin calling the victim in peril by their true name so that the perpetrator can hear and see that he is a life threat to a vital, breathing person, a sentient being and not just an object for ransom, or a means to an end. There is always hope that you can resonate with the good, the ocean below, in even the most violent of waters.

charity

Michael Berg at the Kaballah Center says in a recent article that we must make conscious decisions that bring us to a place where we are willing to experience the pain of taking on the burdens of others. I think before we can devote ourselves to the Sisyphus-like toil of charity in a place like Sichuan, as has Roland, we must acknowledge some emotional or human connection. we need to see the faces of those in distress, we need to hear their stories and politics will be forced to embrace new priorities. I will settle for even a few more of us taking time to divest ourselves of preconceptions so that we feel an imperative to engage, not war with, people making decisons, not to interfere with our well-being but to survive themselves just one more day. It s then we can follow Berg and feel, to paraphrase Camus, that to help someone you have been taught to revile or to offer money time or comfort to aid someone who may only have minutes to live is a struggle, but one toward the heights of selflessness and it is, by itself, enough to fill any man’s heart.

More in Part II

Addendum: Four good places to begin to appreciate China’s people: Blog of Dreams, Tom Carter, The Library Project, Derrick Chang’s Mask of China

Uncategorized

5 responses so far

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

Uncategorized

No responses yet

On the Light Side…

Here is a post that was lost in the great WP spam crash of ’08….I found it on another site where it had 900 views logged. I don’t want a commission, I want Coffee Cola!:

coffee-cola

Idon’tkowwhyIneversawthisstuffbeforetoday.It’sbrilliant!! TWICEhtecaffeineofordinarycola.It’slikethatBUZZBEERontheDrew CareyshoworJOLTfromyearsback.WaitasecondwhileIitchmylegandget mymyhairtolieflat.HEYIcanstandandtypewithonehand!!!!DidIsay ithadTWICEthecaffeine???!!So,wherewasI??

This liquid crack, if it didn’t taste like vinyl on a bus seat smells (No, never up close!), would be a huge hit! It looks like a Safeway logo on the bottle I have (If it would just hold still I could read it…) and I guess is a knock-off of the stuff Coke introduced to France a couple of years ago. That was devilish, aye? The only think the French like as much as cheese and wine is COFFEE!

I am sure this stuff has already been souped up a bit and is available in the prescription section of supermarket pharmacies in Japan.But, it is new to my part of China!!! I am a little disturbed that they engineered it to froth when you put it into a glass. It looks horribly like recycled Guinness (Again, NO! what’s wrong with you people?) with its flat head of foam.

My bottle, It’s Empty! It’s Empty! I want another one! Now!, was made in Beijing and probably flew down here on its own accord. Maybe they will start bewing it with Pearl River water.

It will probably taste the same only chunkier. It terrifies me that Chinese Taxi Drivers might drink and drive on this stuff….Those guys already have a variant hybrid of St. Vitus’ Dance and Turretts Syndrome; all they need now is this new artificial symptom inducer and WHOOOOOOO!!!!

Give it a try, but have paramedics on speed (ha ha) dial….I am off: I am running down the 27 flights of my stairs to the 7/11 to give this stuff a second try.

Postscript: They discontinued CC here and I have become like House, MD and taken to slapping nuns and biting rabid dogs in my withdrawal…..

Uncategorized

6 responses so far

Whose enemies are they? Pt.1…

Last week during a visit Zach, the Monk in the Sycamore Tree, looked more like a Catholic priest in a open air confessional as we spoke through the screened window separating my porch from the living room. He explains his occasional habit a “3-minute meditation” meant to take him out of his everyday orbit and force his mind and body to accept an alternate reality and the revelations that emanate from such a departure.I am quick to call it a “bullshit excuse” to revisit what he’s missing and has been lost in his life,  bad or good, and quick-cure his loneliness–part of a need to stay tethered to the forces that shaped him.

Vengeance

In between smokes (Zach, not me), we watched “Cold Case” on Hong Kong TV together earlier and, as usual, fell into an unstructured dialectic dialogue ( an argument) brought on by a show many criticize as vapid and simplistic. Anyone who can justify smoking a cigarette as a pathway way to understanding Dharma (the confluence of the active and passive nature of Universal Law) can certainly conjure a personal philosophical treatise on a prime-time TV show.

I cry every time I watch Cold Case. I am a sap and especially affected by music. They use popular  music in  cold Case that is so widely known that is part of our collective consciousness; it is well chosen and stand-alone it frees emotions previously confined to solitary spaces in memory (OK, that is my bullshit excuse for the day). I regard Cold Case as I do Ghost Whisperer: It as an allegory meant to instruct us that to seek the healing of long-suffered wounds is a natural necessary element in personal happiness.

Zach says history is tired of being relived and we should command the sweetness of release from sadness and pain through prayerful self-examination in the here and now. He believes that to replace bad memories with the flood of endorphins and enlightenment that come from meditation actually cauterizes anguish. He said, as has another of my friends, that other people’s enemies are not his adversaries and that Cold Case encourage people to hang on to the past and fantasies of revenge. And where I applauded the investigators that brought closure and consequences to the guilty this week Zach saw it as a fight (albeit fictional) that he’s glad he can avoid in similar real life encounters. He has no need to bear a grudge against malevolent characters–invented or real.

Last week I helped create a sting that jailed a Chinese gang member who had scammed my friend ( a charity director in China ) a week earlier and then was dumb enough to try it again.  I was as angered and incensed as was my buddy: He is my friend, and via my worldview, I owe him allegiance to him should I perceive he has truly been wronged. His enemies are my enemies. Zach was quick to point out that a budding celebrity in social media had,in the past, covertly asked me (on no less than 7 occasions) to help her retaliate against people she claimed had wronged her in some way. It turned out that this minor star had duped all of us in her tiny constellation and I had wrongfully shut out some good people. I admit to being wrong and brought to where I was by a gifted siren, a sociopath who feigned being wronged for whatever narcissistic pleasure. It does not mean that my core desire to be an advocate or protector of my friends is inherently wrong.

Zach drew a parallel to how we deal with China and its enormous need for charity. The western press, he said, revels in stories about wrong-doing and has no use for humanitarian tales of need or triumphs of the spirit from people in a country we have been duped into loathing. ‘Your two years of efforts to raise funds for victims of poverty and disease in China have yielded you less money than was spent today to pass out free drinks at Google Headquarters’. It seems your friends are not many people’s friends either.” And with that we both laughed though mine was tearfully distracted by knowing five people I know personally have died and one is waiting for the end of her life because I have not been able to rally kindness as well as others have rallied hate.  And while Zach himself has volunteered countless hours of comfort to cancer and earthquake victims he is right: My “friends”–rather my friend’s problems–do not belong to anyone else even if I think they should.

Cold Case is focused on wrong-doers finally paying for their past transgressions. But, we never see how they are punished for deeds. And often we are lead to believe that even the perpetrators received some measure of peace because they could not chant away feelings of guilt with a mantra of lies or just causally walk away from secrets that their conscience wouldn’t let them lock up down some dark corridor of memory. Zach thinks Karma (Karma Niyama) –in plain speak the everyday consequeces of someone’s actions–more oten than not rules in cold cases. Me, I think that the scumbags seem to win far more than the good guys because we are basically an apathetic people too concerned about meaningless aspect of our own lives–our “personal branding” as my sociopathic friend calls it. If we take the position that truly moral fights belong to someone else we leave human beings exposed to packs of emotional and materially hungry jackals. On a larger scale we allow for holocausts, the murder of Jewish and Palestinian children in Gaza, the clogging of rivers with bodies in Rwanda, and we become accomplices in genocide. On a smaller scale we are disloyal and selfish and might as well be holding the metaphorical knife that wounds our friends or their families if we don’t take a stance once we are recognize the truth. A Sichuan earthquake survivor told me, with a gravity that pulled all warmth from my body, that his idea of charity was now a sincere wish to die– to save those that worried about him from more trouble and frustration. He is like the women I have met in the cancer burdened Pearl River Delta who have hidden medical reports from their families in order not to bring them the financial pain of treatment bills.

Zach went on quietly to tell me about a meeting between the Dalia Lama and a group of western psychologists a few years ago: The western intelligencia advocated the expressing rage and saw anger as healthy while the Dalai Lama pointed to objective studies of bliss that showed his followers to be happier and more fit than those who divested themselves of rage through retaliation or outburst. I agreed, but pointed out that the cost of selfish devotion to one’s own bliss was condemnation of the opportunity for healing by others.

Zach,who left today after giving me a warm and sympathetic hug, has a religious and spiritual imperative to follow that I respectfully disagree is a good one. In the new rage that is social media we twitter-borgs tend to judge people by the company (Company? Say rather a brigade, batallion or division…) that follow us on a site. And we are loathe to challenge those with influence for two reasons: we want their blessing (and maybe some of their followers) and we are afraid to become victims of their displeasure for fear of losing some of our own social capital. We have turned from offline friends and global neighborhoods to “followers,” numbered minions doing forced labor in our personal branding camps. It has become easy to lose one “friend” when there are 2,000 more still in the fold. When I “tweeted” to 2,000 followers that a newlywed American in China had his money and documents in the Beijing aiport only one person, a Chinese travel agent with meager personal reserves, offered assistance.

To be continued…

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

One response so far

Next »