Wednesday, April 9, 2014
I had the opportunity to spend a week in San Francisco before leaving for China at the end of February. San Francisco is a natural in-between layover from Minnesota to China which made visiting there on my way to China an easy decision for me.
My aunt and uncle live in Alameda, California a peaceful island community situated on the Oakland side of the bay. Being able to see them in California is always a wonderful experience since they are both always so full of life.
The diagnosis of my uncle's cancer last year has naturally drastically changed their situation in Alameda. Having to fight for your life changes people, and I knew that my uncle's constitution might be rattled a little bit from going through the whole ordeal.
Paul's situation when I arrived in San Francisco was consistent in the sense that he was consistently in the hospital trying to recover after undergoing several operations on his stomach. His first operation was performed in December in order to remove a tumor in his stomach. After this first operation, Paul lost his ability to process whole foods in his small intestines. From the middle of December until now Paul has been unable to process whole foods. Complications from the first surgery forced the expediency of other operations since December.
The result of that first operation has been his almost perpetual stay in the hospital over the past few months. Paul is still currently limited to a liquid diet which has had a ghastly effect on his body.
These factors convinced me that it would probably be a sobering experience which awaited me in San Francisco. When I arrived at the hospital in Oakland, I was encouraged to find that despite the difficulty of his situation he was still in good spirits. I am truly amazed by his fighting spirit, and desire to battle on despite having faced so many early setbacks.
Spending time with Paul reinforced my choice to return to China in the sense that I saw how precious time can be in life. It is apropos to say that time waits for no one, and if you do not seize the day the chances that your life force will be utterly spent on the completion of tasks below your standard is an absolute certainty.
Also During this week I also had the fortune of spending time with some of my good friends from high school: Elliot, and Johan. On this trip, I had for only the second time in three years been able to see my best friend: Elliot Thomas. Being able to spend a few days with my long-time friend was pretty special since distance had barred us from such a reunion over the past couple of years.
While I was living in China teaching and studying, Elliot was living in Costa Rica volunteering with the Peace Corps. The natural distance and extended nature of our time abroad pushed us to maintain our friendship through email and facebook. Through these correspondences, we both discovered new things about the other person which might never have come to light had we had maintained our normal forms of interaction. In all honesty, I feel that using different mediums to communicate has an enlightening quality to it. I feel that one can really improve their usage of language over a long-period of time if they stick with writing. In this way, I am not surprised that both of us improved our communication skills and learned the value of using print to interact with others.
When I was with Elliot and Johan we always seemed to find something fun or interesting to do. Elliot took a couple of days off of work which allowed us to take half day trips to both Mir Woods and Sonoma County. During my stay in San Francisco, we spent a lot of time in the city itself which I found to be quit a unique experience. Out of all of the places I have traveled to San Francisco holds a high position regarding the amount of entertainment it offers for young-adults.
Each district of the city possessed its own distinct feel and had the markings of the specific culture which inhabited its area. San Francisco encapsulates Asian, Latino, Caucasian, and African cultures depending on where go. I unfortunately did not have enough time to pick up on more than the obvious differences between these areas. If I had spent more time in the city I undoubtedly would have stumbled upon other distinct cultural areas in that enormously diverse city.
After the completion of my week in San Francisco, I felt really re-energized to return to China. My batteries had been fully-charged during my wonderful time visiting friends and family. On the eve of my disembarkation from San Francisco, I made sure to tell everyone how much I appreciated their hospitality during my stay.
Monday, April 7, 2014
Regardless of all of these revelations in my life, I still felt the force of my impending separation with my parents on my soul. The weight of my departure was exacerbated by the realization that I would not return home for at least one year.
I have discovered that I cannot ever really become accustomed to long-term partings with the people I truly love. The circumstances of my father's continued fight with cancer as well as my uncle's struggle pushed me to thoroughly analyze my decision to return to China during the interim time I spent at home. In reality, having to amply consider my reasons for coming to China had the positive effect of reinforcing my decision to return as well as made me more confident in my final decision. In all earnestness, I can say that I completely bought into the reasons for returning to China before I had left home.
The final couple of days before our parting were spent mostly together as a family which was to all our liking. During this time we took several pictures together, enjoyed a couple of delicious meals, went to the movies, played card games, and spent time chatting near the warmth of the basement fire.
As a parting gift I wrote my parents two letters. One of the letters was in English and the other was in Chinese which I think they thought was appropriate despite the fact that they could not read it.
My departure from the airport was of course the toughest parting for everyone. After saying our goodbyes, exchanging hugs, and kisses we went in our separate directions.
The aforementioned revelations in my last blog helped me to feel that this parting was somehow different than in the past. While departing, I still had a distinct feeling that this time we were leaving each other, yet I felt that our bond together was merely broken in the physical sense this time. During previous departures I felt the emotional toll of my separation with my family heavily in my heart; whereas, this time I felt happiness in the knowledge that all parties possessed mutual understanding of the other parties involved. I can contribute this feeling of emotional connection to the important conversations we had together while I was home over that six month period of time.
Sunday, April 6, 2014
The last couple of months before I left for China passed by astonishingly fast for me. By this time, my responsibilities were merely to help out the family in any way possible while father was recovering. This task was made even more singular for me since Minnetonka was able to find a full-time para-assistant to assume my responsibilities at the district in December.
Over the course of my final two months at home I found that the steady routine of life was slowly weighing me down; nonetheless, I still found many ways to remain productive while living at home. I tried my best to read a book a week, write, study Chinese, exercise, and do at least one fun activity with dad daily.
During these long-weeks at home I felt a strong sense of foreboding at not knowing what path the future would lead me down. I tried my best to remain positive about the direction my life was taking; however, I was shocked to become aware of how difficult it was to imagine myself living my normal life in China.
I think that there were many contributing factors which all played pivotal roles in allowing this sense of trepidation to dominate my consciousness. First, the enormity of my father's and uncle's cancer over the past six months left a shadow on my constitution. Second, I was facing a future which I feared the outcome of. Truly, I did not think that my Chinese skills could guarantee me employment in the Foreign Service, nor did I like my chances being employed as a consultant following the expiration of my teaching contract in China. The combined influence of these determining factors left me feeling as though I was a captain of a ship without a clear destination.
The real turning point for me came through an unexpected encounter with my mother on the eve of my journey back to China. After having a spirit-engaging conversation we both left knowing so much more about the other person than we had previously. Truly, the effect of such a heart-to-heart conversation is impossible to overstate with words. To this day, the contents of this conversation have allowed me to feel ease in mind, body, and soul.
Following this inspiring conversation I also had a second conversation with my father which left me equally invigorated. The combined effect of these two discussions has helped me to be centered in mind. Now, I feel much more content with the singularity of my goals in regards to my next chapter in life. The peace of mind that one gets from knowing that they are passionately pursuing perfection in a way which matches their desired vocation is difficult to overestimate in value.
After several months of ruminating, I have come to a couple of conclusions regarding the conversations I had with my parents before leaving for China. Life-changing conversations do not materialize through thin air, nor are they a part of the natural evolution of relationships overtime. These life-inspiring conversations can only manifest themselves when both parties mutually seek understanding to the greater questions at hand. When one has a real heart-to-heart conversation with someone else it is important to be utterly and completely honest. Leaving something out can be the worst thing for both parties moving forward. Above all else, listening and careful reflection are both of central importance. Reacting in a rash or harsh manner can have a negative effect on those involved and in some cases even result in leaving both parties feeling worse than before the exchange.
The impact of such conversations on one's life can be awesome. The clearness of understanding, life changes, and maturation has all lead me to find greater awareness in life. This awareness has opened my eyes up to so many new things that I previously was blind to. One of the best unexpected results of these conversations is that I now wake up each morning feel passionate about my life again. Strangely enough, I have also noticed the curiosity of my youth has somehow returned. The unexpected result of my returned sense of inquiry has allowed my studies, reading, writing, and life in general to feel much more vibrant than it had over the past couple of years. All of these things have come together to make me feel as if I am currently experiencing a "Renaissance" in my life.
Friday, April 4, 2014
After only about a month of time at home I found that my life was falling into a dangerous pattern of routine. Knowing that I likely had several more months ahead of me consisting of similar happenings did nothing to improve my outlook. Understandably, these combined factors started to create disillusionment in my life which is something that I never like to feel. Fortunately for me, I was to learn that there was in fact a great opportunity for professional growth around the corner.
In late August, I was extremely pleased to learn that the Minnetonka School system was interested in meeting me in person regarding their Chinese Immersion program. By this time in my maturation I was pretty confident in my ability to communicate orally in Mandarin Chinese. Knowing this made me all the more willing to accept their invitation to learn more about the program at Minnetonka.
After our formative meeting I know that there was a unique opportunity for me within the district. One trait which all humans pursue is feeling valued for their work. Knowing that I was in fact valued for my novel experience and skills made me very interested in the program at Minnetonka. Only later did the paradox of my situation enter into my consciousness. It is still strange to think that I came home to America to teach Chinese to American students; whereas, I come to China to teach English to Chinese students.
In all honesty, I was really excited about getting the opportunity to test out my Chinese back home in a professional environment. I was also excited to witness and reflect upon the differences in current educational pedagogy, student behaviors, and content material between the United States and China. Since both the ages of students and the content material are vastly different between countries and jobs it is clearly not wise to make presumptive statements without mentioning the limits of comparison.
In my opinion, teaching in both places offer unique challenges and opportunities for personal growth as a teacher. I was really impressed by the knowledge and abilities of my middles schools students in the United States; whereas, I am equally impressed by the discipline and elevated position learning holds in China.
Did I ever meet disciplined students who really valued their education in the United States? Of course I did meet disciplined students during my time teaching back home. Where there creative students how had a lot of potential in the classroom in China? Naturally I have also met many gifted and talented students in China as well.
To me, this is where the value of experience positively impacts a determined learner looking to improve their professional knowledge. In summary, I found that no one situation did all of the stereotypes, biases, and prejudices actually end up true. What this tells me is that a person who is determined to learn from their experiences must take careful notes and observations. Too often humans think that things are so obvious or redundant in life. This has the negative effect of leading some people to the outcome that life is quite banal and uninteresting. To me, there could be nothing further from the truth than this, and throughout my life experience has taught me to always be observant of the minor similarities and differences between occurrences.
Overall, I know that I benefited greatly both professionally and academically during my time working in Minnetonka's Chinese Immersion program. I relished the opportunity to learn from tried professionals who were already well-versed in the difficulties of teaching in a foreign language. Since I had no prior experience working in an immersion setting back home I knew that this was going to be a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to learn from this experience; therefore, I took notes often, asked a lot of questions, and tried my best to challenge myself throughout my time as a Chinese para-assistant.
The three months that I worked at the school district really flew by for me. During that period of time I learned a lot and always tried to come to class with the attitude of the learning enthusiast.
I am really indebted to the district for this opportunity and look forward to hearing more about the Chinese Immersion program as it grows in the future. At the end of my time in China I may walk through those school doors once more in pursuit of a full-time position with the program.
Wednesday, April 2, 2014
The recent events of my life have once again driven me to seek answers to the unanswerable meaning of death. Asking one to answer a difficult question such as, "What is the meaning of life," can very often have a negative impact on a psyche. In my own life, I have found that reflections into death still offer uncomfortable answers.
Since I found that the world I was raised in did not offer environments conducive for discourse on the subject of death; consequently, I feel it is my obligation to advance my proposed ideas on what such an environment might look like. I think that an environment that promoted discourse would be one that promoted questions that did not always have easy answers.
As humans we especially do not like admitting that we are ignorant of anything which carries importance to us. I find that being honest to one's self is the first step towards creating the right environment outside of self. When a person is in the right state of being then they can begin to make progress towards living a more fulfilling, understanding, and aware life.
I believe that as humans we would be wise to do a better job of talking about these types of deeper issues in our lives. The model that I propose to use in this case would be one driven towards discovery through the odyssey of life.
The odyssey of everyday life does not cause many people to stop and think about the greater unknowns. During the course of a hard worked day we tend to forget all of the great mysteries left to be solved in our vast universe. If we think about life as a way to experience that mystery then I feel people would be more inclined to ponder the greater questions of life.
This unknowing nature of life introduces the power of imagination, creativity, and discovery into our daily lives. I love getting up each morning and realizing that I will find something new today that I possibly had not experienced yesterday. I also love looking at all of the possibilities of each moment in the day there are. Our mind truly cannot grasp how great all of these possibilities really are.
These types of revelations have helped me to feel reinvigorated in my life. I now feel like living each day as if it were the only day I had been given. My greatest hope would be that other people could experience this same kind of joy that I have been fortunate enough to feel over the past few months. Enjoy the journey!
Saturday, March 29, 2014
The death of my grandfather in 2012 coupled with my father and uncle's diagnosis of cancer last year had the cumulative effect of influencing the way that I viewed death. Clearly, seeing death impact even the most intimate corners of my life caused me to stop and reflect upon the realities of life. In my life, I have learned that emotionally-based experiences seem to have the greatest pulls on our being; therefore, coping with the loss of those most dear to us is one of the most physiologically painful moments in our lives.
Admittedly, my childhood seemed to keep death about as far away from reality as possible. Losing my paternal grandmother at the age of four to A.L.S; Lou Gehrig's disease, left me feeling quite puzzled as to what death actually was. In all honesty, I was not completely convinced with the narrative which provided positive answers to all of my questions. From an early age I have always embraced the mystery of life, and I felt compelled to seek answers to the questions at large.
In my everyday life, death certainly did not manifest itself growing up in America. Living in a middle class neighborhood and having parents who could provide for the family certainly helped to proliferate the idea that life was an exercise in immortality.
In the family unit, in the classroom, and in Church no one really seemed that comfortable with talking about death. Whenever I brought up these types of questions I found people only willing to offer common sense responses, positivist logic, or a dismissive reprieve to my inquiry. These types of half-hearted, unjustifiably answers, or openly antagonistic answers left me feeling all the more frustrated for asking in the first place.
From a young age I developed the ability to read people's emotions quite well. While growing up, I also started to attempt pleasing those around me in order to receive some sort of reward in return. These seemingly quite different factors contributed in leaving many of my difficult questions unanswered.
These unanswered questions about death had a large impact on my life by the time I was in high school. By that time, I started to become obsessed with the idea that some unintended consequence from a minor event could at any moment cause the end of my life. I seriously spent hours fretting about my own demise a fantasy world of doom. Meanwhile, I found that all inquires on death continued to produce little results.
When looking at these comments in the present, I am aware for the first time how great this fatalistic fear of death impacted my life. The beauty of my present peace has allowed me to realize for the first time that I was terrified of my life until my mid-twenties.
Friday, March 28, 2014
From the first time our family visited the Gift of Life Transplant home in Rochester, MN I felt perfectly comfortable with lodging there. The entire staff exuded confidence, kindness, and respect for each guest and patient staying at their facility. On that first visit to the G.O.L home our family was given a tour of the faculties. During this tour there was one thing above all else that left a lasting impression on me.
I was truly amazed at how clean everything was kept at the home and how serious everyone was in regards to keeping it that way. Since I had never before seen a place such as the G.O.L home I was surprised by the constant collective effort needed by all in order to keep everything sanitized. During my time down in Rochester, I learned that this steadfast diligence is maintained in order to protect patients from infection. Patients who are going to receive a transplant usually already have a weakened immune system; therefore, guarding against infections becomes a serious matter for people around transplant patients.
One of the rules regarding staying at the G.O.L home was that the period of stay was determined by the vicissitudes of their convalescence; thus, the period of stay could be flexible to cater to the needs of those already staying at the home. This flexible lodging arrangement did have a drawback though for those looking to reserve lodging in advance of their stay at the home. Since lodging could not be guaranteed, our group could not be certain of our reservations at the home until several weeks leading up to receiving treatments in Rochester.
Overall, our whole group was extremely impressed with our tour of the facilities and decided that we would pursue lodging at the G.O.L home. Fortunately, when the time came there were rooms available for our family at the home.
In total, I spent over two weeks in Rochester from the beginning of my time home in August until I left for China in February. The vast majority of that time in Rochester was spent at the G.O.L home with my father. My time of stay with my father in Rochester contained two main periods of treatments for his cancer. The first week we spent in Rochester consisted mainly of pre-physical examinations which all patients must pass in advance of receiving a transplant.
After dad passed all of his exams he was cleared for transplant on that first Friday that we were down in Rochester. The stem-cell transplant was definitely one of the highlights of my experience back home over the past six months. It just cannot be overstated how wonderful of an experience it was for all of us.
During these weeks dad and I often talked, played card games, read, watched television, or went on short walks together. Overall, the time spent at the G.O.L. home seemed to go by pretty slow for me which meant that the time went by ten times slower for my father. Honestly, listing all of the rules and restrictions placed on a transplant recipient would be too arduous of a task for this blog. Let us just say that I admired my dad's courage for going through those long and gloomy days of recovery with only me at his side.
At the end of my two weeks down in Rochester my mother came down to replace me as the primary-care giver for dad. On the advent of my return to Eden Prairie I felt a sense of achievement at not allowing dad's health to depreciate too much during our time together. I also was happy to know that I had played a positive role in keeping my dad's spirits high during some of those tough early days down in Rochester.