Tuesday, April 22, 2014
If my experience in China has taught me anything it is to expect the unexpected. In China, a novel experience is always waiting around the corner. The only limit on how many new experiences you have is your own attitude. If you are willing to try something new out then you are going to have a very memorable experience in China.
One of the very first interesting things that happened to me this semester occurred while I was on the street. I was near Southwest University on my way to get some lunch when a stranger approached me with an unusual request.
As a foreigner in China, one learns the necessity of being adaptable in every situation. This adaptability is no more manifest than in the type of work foreigners do in China. I have been asked to record my voice for students learning English, work as a "foreigner" in a bar, attend a business event as a foreigner, work as an English Consultant, and teach test prep-courses all because I am a foreigner. These offers now seem pretty standard to me after living in China the last two and a half years. However, the request that this man had one was quite different from the norm. This man wanted to be filmed in a documentary he was filming about World War II.
The man later gave me his contact information and promised to meet with me again the following Monday. Monday came and went without any contact from the director. His strange actions exacerbated my fears that there was some type of scheme going on. I first began to suspect foul play when the director continued to call me almost daily. I was also nervous because by this time my Chinese communication skills were still lacking; likewise, I had only been in China for about two weeks.
When I did receive a call the phone number traced to a user in Guangzhou, China which is quite far away from where I am living. After about a week of receiving daily phone call I finally accepted his offer to meet in person. Our meeting was set for the following Monday afternoon.
As a teacher, I have learned to be able to adjust to just about every situation that presents itself. Also, I have had the experience of living in a vastly different society which has taught me the value of flexibility. Even with this knowledge and experience I was still anxious begin put into this unique situation. I knew that being filmed in a movie would push my limits. In my life, I have had almost no experience in front of camera.
When the man missed the Monday appointment and failed to return my call I felt both relieved and disappointed. Regardless of my anxiety, it would have been such an interesting experience to have been filmed in China.
Another strange occurrence happened to me only a couple of days later. The scene was set at a noodle restaurant near Southwest University. While eating lunch, I noticed someone starring at me quite intently from the middle of the street outside of the restaurant. I really felt as if I must have been one of the world's most exotic birds from the way that this man was looking at me. Although, I was able to mostly ignore this stranger there seemed to be something unsettling in the way he starred at me.
The next time I saw this stranger was only a couple of days later. I was eating at the same restaurant enjoying my noodles when I noticed that the same man had returned to verify my existence.
I was soon to learn that my guest was an eccentric immigrant from Kazakhstan who had the ability to speak several languages. The man proceeded to ask me in broken Mandarin some basic questions such as; "Where are you from?", "What are you doing in China?", and "What is your monthly salary?"
After living in China for a few years I have become accustomed to the inquisitive nature of the local people of Chongqing. Traditionally, Chinese people do not like to go up to someone on their own initiative and strike up a conversation. The collectivized nature of Chinese culture stresses the importance of group interaction, not individual spontaneity. Thus, very rarely does a stranger on their own come up to my table on the premise of striking up a conversation.
In most situations, an interested on looker will ask the store's manager some questions about me in the local Chongqing dialect. Since I can understand most of what is being said I do not mind this type of implicit attention anymore. Occasionally, I will decide to shock the questioners into a conversation with me directly. This action is quite shocking to most Chinese people since they believe that it is almost impossible for a foreigner to understand the local language.
There were several quite unique factors which distinguished my communication with my new friend that afternoon. First off, the conversation included the usage of Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Arabic, and Kazakh languages. On top of that, my guest tried to throw in a couple of words in English which only made the situation more confusing for me. After about fifteen minutes, I decided that I had had enough and was on my way out the door. For proprieties' sake I needed to make this exit a protracted affair in order to make sure that I gave this person enough "face". Since living in China, I have learned how important saving "face" and giving someone "face" was.
After what I thought was an ample amount of "face" giving I bid this stranger farewell; however, to my chagrin they were not going to let me go off that easily. The man tried to pressure me to have a few shoots of Baijiu since by now we were lifelong friends. Fortunately, for me I have learned how to give "face" to someone now and still reject their offer.
The same noodle restaurant would also be the location of my third special experience since being back in China. The owner of the restaurant chain is a very nice man in his thirties who really enjoys having an afternoon conversation with me. The owner usually sits down and talks with me when he is not too busy dealing with other business. He is an entrepreneur of sorts and currently owns two restaurants in Beibei. Many of his family members hold positions in the store which has the effect of making it feel like you eating inside their home every time you come in. I almost instantly was able to create rapport with the workers which is why I still eat there every afternoon.
One Saturday morning, I received a frantic call from the boss of the restaurant asking if I could do them a special favor. The CQTV news company wanted to interview the noodles restaurant regarding their "Chinese dream". The owner really wanted to show off how modern his restaurant chain was; therefore, he needed to have at least one foreigner fluent in Chinese during the filming. After a couple of minutes the owner was able to persuade me to give a little interview regarding my experience eating noodles in his restaurant.
I need to make a small digression regarding the topic of the "Chinese dream". The attainment of the Chinese dream has been the focus of Chairman Xi Jin Ping since he took office as the head of the PRC in 2013. The dream is based roughly on the idea of the "American dream" and pushes people to set goals that can be reached through economic progress.
During the interview I was as cool as can be. I actually really had a lot of fun doing it and was not taken aback by the truncated process. After arriving at the restaurant, I immediately was asked to go upstairs where the film crew was to film my interview. When I got up the steps I found a bowl of warm noodles ready for me. The owner would spare no expense in order to make this interview look as natural as it could be.
The crew asked me some basic question about my experience at the restaurant when eating there. For example, I was asked questions such as, "Why do you eat noodles"; "Where did you first meet the owner of the restaurant"; "How do noodles in China and America compare", etcetera.
After the interview was over I learned that the episode would not necessarily be aired on television. The network needed first to edit the film and decide if the footage was good enough to be aired live on television. After two weeks I was told by the owner that our story was to be aired sometime in the next couple of days. One night at 6:15 pm I received a call from the owner telling me in fifteen minutes the story was to be aired on television. Unfortunately, I was in the middle of a workout which meant that I would be unable to see the live story.
Disappointed, I turned to watching the episode online on the CQTV video database. Unable to find the story on my own search to the website I asked the owner if they could help me locate the story online. To this day I have not found it yet; although, hope remains since I know that the owner two would like to have a record of this footage for advertising purposes.
The other day I was told by someone in another restaurant that they had seen my interview on the news. I asked them how they thought my performance was on air and they told me it was pretty good. By this time in China I am not sure what to think of that type of a response. Was it really pretty good or were they just trying to show me respect by giving me "face"?
Saturday, April 19, 2014
Intimate friends and family members who speak frankly to me often say that I have a tendency to work too hard on achieving my goals. Earlier in my life, I would ignore such advice and even scoff at the idea that I was working too hard. In my mind, I was actually not working hard enough in order to achieve my goals since they were so important to me.
Only through the passage of time and with the coming of age have I learned to become more observant of the world around me. Regardless, it still has taken me many years to begin accepting the advice of others in certain situations. If a person wants to try for their dreams then they must try in order to prevent holding onto a lifetime of regret. When someone truly follows their heart even a logical argument opposed to their dream will have no effect in persuading that person to do something else.
My time in China leaves me feeling fulfilled because I have the opportunity to study Chinese every minute of every day while I am here. I have already said that I have a proclivity towards focusing my efforts towards reaching one specific goal in life. My goal-oriented life has had the effect of leaving some people feeling jealous of my ability to focus so exclusively on one thing at a time. As I grew older, I learned that this power I possessed was both a gift and a curse.
It did not take me too many years to realize that if I was going to have a happy life I was going to have to find a more balanced way of living it. As I previously mentioned, a central part of my life has been focused on reaching goals. Since I want to live a more balanced life, I was aware that some changes would be necessary in order to find the balance I was seeking.
In my life I have always enjoyed drawing, reading, writing, discussions with other people regarding interesting topics, and exercise. One of the benefits of studying Chinese to me is that when I am writing characters I feel as if I am actually drawing them. This shift in thinking allows me to feel my artistic side being engaged while studying which is a feeling that I enjoy having.
I have taken it upon myself to read at least one chapter a day in any book. Since I arrived in China I have read "The Horse Whisper"; "Gun, Germs, and Steel"; "The Hound of the Baskervilles"; "The Call of the Wild"; "Nazi Germany"- Jane Caplan; "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes"; and I am currently half way through reading "Factory Girls". Keeping my mind engaged on a topic outside of studying Chinese has allowed me to keep my mind exploring other topics.
I have continued to write my blog throughout my first semester in Beibei. It is my goal to maintain my blog throughout my time in China as I feel that writing is a crucial part of the reflection process for me. I think that the art of introspection is becoming lost in the fast-paced twenty-first century we live in.
If I am to remember my time in China then I would be wise to keep a clear accounting of my time abroad. I also feel that having to transform thoughts into prose is a good intellectual exercise for me. I need to keep myself sharp if I am going to have a chance to achieve the goals that I have set for myself in the future. A third benefit which comes from writing is improved awareness of my thoughts and the world around me. Sometimes, I can see solutions to problems more clearly after putting them into prose. In rare cases, this reflective transparency allows me to even see problems which I had previously left unimagined.
I have found that discussing things with people in China has recently become more interesting for me. This newly discovered insight has come from my increased ability to communicate in Chinese.
I now find myself talking with people in Chinese who I would have previously only spoken to in English. Being able to discuss a variety of topics with friends and students in Chinese has made my experience here much more colorful. Although it makes me happy that the majority of my time now is spent communicating in Chinese; nonetheless, I also enjoy speaking with friends and family in English. One of my recurring fears is that my English will get worse the longer I am living in China. I want to make sure that this does not happen to me; therefore, speaking with those who cannot speak Chinese is also important to me.
During my lifetime, I struggle the most with finding a way to balance the amount of time I exercise. If I want to exercise in a responsible manner then I need to set a time limit for myself to keep; otherwise, I have discovered that I could keep working out for hours if I do not have a time restriction in place.
During the last couple of weeks in Minnesota I began to notice that my right-hamstring had been overused and needed a break from running. Once I returned to China, I began to focus on biking, exercising my core muscles, and doing push-ups in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Doing these types of exercises have been perfect for me since they allow me to stay healthy without taking too much time to complete.
Keeping a balance in my routine has been the key to my success during my first two months in China. The fact that I am busier now than at any point in my stay in China has had no bearing on my constitution. I attribute this feeling of equilibrium to the balance that I have found in my daily routine. I will focus the next blog on some of the more interesting experiences that I have had during my first two months in China.
Thursday, April 17, 2014
After twenty-seven years of living I can conclusively say that existence in this world was meant to be perilous for humans. Today modern medicine, science, and higher standards of living have coalesced together to create many illusions regarding the ease of our existence. These fallacies have led to an interesting phenomenon amongst modern humans. Many modern humans dwell very little on the struggle which our ancestors certainly faced in their everyday lives for survival. This struggle is what truly encapsulates the experience of all species on this planet. It is a common bound which we all share together and something that we would be wise to never forget.
In many ways we should be grateful for our ancestors for helping lead humans to this point of modern living. We often do not ruminate on all of the great people who helped get civilization to its modern point of development. The dedication, sacrifice, and leadership of our ancestors all played instrumental roles in allowing humans to live such wonderful lives today.
I purposefully started off this blog post on an anthropologic note. I think that many modern humans take for granted the great opportunities we have today to live happy, rewarding, and satisfying lives. These types of ideals never would have entered into the minds of our distant ancestors as they sallied forth through the difficulties of existence. The world was hard and harsh to them. In contrast, we have a world of unquantifiable opportunities in front of us born from centuries of inventors, leaders, wars, developments, science, medicine, and disease. We would do well for ourselves to take advantage of these things since we never know what fate tomorrow will bring us.
In my own life, I am trying to take advantage of this evolutionary privilege and find the happiest life possible to lead. Using my recent revelations, my new-found sense of self, and the vitality that only a person in their twenties can draw on I courageously pressed forward in the pursuit of my goals my first month in China.
In my life, I cannot think of a time that I was happier working as hard as I was than during my first month in China. In one part, my sense of satisfaction stemmed from being able to finally accept myself for who I truly was. Interestingly, I discovered that this new sense of personal liberty led to a Renaissance in my intellectual life. Ironically, removing the shackles of my rationally polarized brain also brought back my sense of curiosity for the outside world. Once my curiosity returned, I was shocked to realize that I had for so long looked upon the world as being a mundane and banal place. My new outlook had the effect of making me feel excited for even the most routine things in life.
When I returned to China, I was surprised to see that some things had changed in the six months that I was away from Beibei and Chongqing. The spirit of economic reforms which started in the eighties is still prevalent in central China where buildings come up almost as fast as the seasons change.
I picked up my studies of Chinese with the advanced class at Southwest University. I was pretty excited and not too worried about the outcome of my first classes since I had not been working as assiduously on my Chinese in recent months.
Even though I wanted to allow myself to ease back in my "Chinesification" process I was still a little disappointed with my reading and writing when I first started studying in March. At that time, I made it my mission to focus on reading and writing in Chinese. My change in academic focus would force me to neglect my oral Chinese for the time being. During my previous experiences in China, I worked tirelessly on perfecting my oral Chinese.
In the past, my oral Chinese surprised many native Chinese speakers for its natural flow and for my standardized pronunciation of Mandarin. I knew that this was my greatest skill; therefore, if I neglected it for a while it would not be lost in the long-run. I was determined to improve upon my weaknesses, and in order to do that I was going to need to do more reading and writing. The axioms, "Practice makes perfect" and, "If there is a will there is a way" both wrung through my ears while I was studying my first weeks in China.
At times, I truly did not think that I could continue working as hard as I was at learning Chinese. Whenever that type of feeling entered my consciousness I made sure to take note of it. I really believe that awareness is the first key towards fixing a problem. At those times when the work became unbearable I allowed for myself to do other things. In this way, I was learning to promote an all-around type of development instead of solely putting all of my time into reaching one main goal.
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Looking down the path of one's future can be a perilous road to take. Although I have always remained consistent in my belief that knowledge of the Chinese language will pay dividends; nonetheless, I have still at times felt the psychological pressure of the unknown future weighing me down.
I find that working hard without a clear end goal is almost untenable and bordering on masochistic. Seeing tangible results along the road towards reaching a goal is an essential part of any target-making process. If one does not find success while working on achieving a goal then it is most natural for that person to quit wasting their time on a pointless endeavor.
In the end, I discovered that I was wasting time thinking about the outcomes of things I did not control. If I was so certain that what I was doing was going to be a boon to my future career why did I need to waste so much time analyzing things that might never be? Do not get me wrong, if things started to turn in a negative direction I would do my best to rectify the situation; however, at this time every indication is that my skills are valuable to me in my future.
By letting go of these irrational fears I was able to experience peace in my life. My letting go of irrational fears coincided with the changes which I mentioned in the above paragraphs. Together both of these alterations have played an important role in my creating my current state of consciousness.
When I was on the plane to China from San Francisco a recurrent feeling of anticipation was present in all things I thought about. I could not contain my excitement at being able to return to the country which had opened me up to a myriad of new experiences in life.
Fortune would have it that an American family of one of my friends from Beibei would be on the same flight as me from Shanghai to Chongqing. Being able to help them through some of the more ambiguous Chinese boarding procedures was a wonderful and empowering feeling for me since only a couple of years ago I too would have felt out of place and confused.
Upon landing in Chongqing, I was immediately confronted with the challenge of trying to bargain for a cheaper rate for my taxi fare back to Beibei. I was determined to not settle for less than a competitive fare since successfully being able to bargain down the original price is a sign of learned experience. After settling on a competitive fare (100 yuan) we were shortly on the road to Beibei.
That first night in Beibei was a memorable one for me because I had a very distinct feeling of distress while I tried to fall asleep. I was alarmed by a sudden feeling of uncertainty I felt in returning to China. I started to worry again about the uncertainty of the future.
That first night, it took me several hours to wear-off all of the adrenaline and excitement I felt upon arriving in Beibei. The last thought I had before falling asleep really stuck with me all the way up until today.
In order to get myself to fall asleep, I had to promise to myself that I was not going to regret my decision to return to China. I had to promise to myself to never let one day pass by without living it to the fullest. In the process of realizing this goal, I was to discover something new about myself that I had previously neglected to discover out.
The process of learning to accept myself had the unintended effect of initiated a second process of rebirth in my life. The climax of this process was returning to China because at this point I learned that I could work really hard and be happy at the same time. Previously, I had always worked hard for someone else in my life. I had always found it easy to neglect myself until I decided that it was time to do the right thing for the right reasons; rather, instead of doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.
In this way, I had I found a force inside of me released stronger than any I had experienced before in my life. This "life" force and its impact on my fortunes are what I will focus on in this last chapter of the review of my past.
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.