Thursday, March 5, 2009


It was hard to begin writing before, because it has been such a long time since I last wrote anything. Where to start, what to say... there is so much to express in words about life and my recent experiences. At the same time, I don't want to just dump everything on paper, or worse, come off in any way that's pretentious.

At first, I wanted to title this blog entry as "Back Once Again," as I had the song by Fat Boy Slim come to mind (my friend Charlie did a really cool video edit using this song, haha). Then, I continued by writing about time, how the past and the future don't exist -- that everything is now. I wanted to link it to how I feel that I am in the same place again -- Tianjin, China. Next, I wanted to say that, even though I am here once again (Tianjin, China), things have changed.

Well, that was a lot easier to say, looking back in hindsight and admitting that I have no intention of writing anything so pretentious, something full of fluff and extra words to fill up a sheet of paper; you know, the kind of stuff you write in college to meet the 4-5 page requirement for your assignment.

I've also thought off and on about my friend, Bruno. It might be easier to write about someone else at the moment, but then again, I don't want to embarass that person by making him or her the center of attention. I'll just say that Bruno has influenced my thoughts about blogging. He's right in that one should conscientiously be humble when writing; that one should not try to come off as so glorifying of his or her experiences. And, well, I feel that maybe I made that mistake before -- that I felt so glorified in my experiences as a traveler in China. But, the reality is, I am like many people who are searching for more in life.

So many planes criss-cross the world everyday, taking different people to different parts of the world. What I accomplished last year in China is no greater or less than what other people have done in their lives as well; and are doing now as I am writing this blog. For this reason and more, I apologize for coming off in any way arrogant or pretentious.

One of my goals for this year, and for the rest of my life, is to be a much humbler person. I never want to think of myself as being better than others... nor do I want to treat others as lesser than me.

China has been a very good challenge and test for me to break down any arrogance or high-minded thinking I have previously held, to develop modesty and be more humble in thought. Each and every day, I am met with someone who looks to be of lower socioeconomic status than me; whether it be their clothing, or the way they comb their hair; or how they behave. Overall, it's very easy to spot who's got money and who's got nothing.

A lot of people here, unfortunately, are part of the "who's got nothing" and it's very apparent, if only on the outside. As I've said before, most people here either walk or commute by bus or bike. If you're in a city like Tianjin, you won't see people with name brand clothing; and if you do, it's most likely a fake. You'll notice that a lot of people here have aged very badly; faces weathered and hands worn out; darkened skin and grey hair. Basically, life is and has been rough in China (at least for those who aren't wealthy businessmen living in fast developing cities like Shanghai or Beijing).

I don't want to draw out this idea anymore, but I'll simply say that I think twice when I see these people who, in my opinion, dress poorly, or act crudely (like spitting on the ground). Initially, and before, I will want to look down upon these people; maybe think of them in a "barbaric" sense (or, as some Chinese people joke, as the poor farmers of the countryside). But I remind myself that these people grow our food; they clean our streets and restaurants; they cook our food; they build our apartments and roads; they build amazing cities and highways. For the most part, they give people like me, and those who are fortunate, a more comfortable and privileged life.

Valdo once told me the same for my own country -- that Hispanics and black people (along with other "minorities") are the ones responsible for the development of the U.S.; for the wonderful parks, zoos, swimming pools and neighborhoods; for the convenience of living, such as driving on streets and living in houses/apartments.

Well, that's one point that I would like to make in my attempts to be humbler; to remind myself that I'm not so sexy and great (at all); that I should be more thankful for others who have created the human world (of cities and skyscrapers) around me.

For now on, I want to devote each blog entry to some aspect of China, or to anything really... so long as I am not the center of attention. I think, before, this blog was focused on me and my rantings; rantings about how I saw China and the way I think about politics and stuff (immature thoughts and viewpoints, I feel).

I used to also think this would be my way of keeping in touch with people, but 1.) we have been blessed with email and skype, so I will keep in touch with you all that way 2.) I don't believe in somebody writing about themselves -- it's too self-glorifying (unless you are a very accomplished person, like Benjamin Franklin). I will also try to be more concise and less drawn out -- I just want to introduce something that is meaningful and interesting to me.

Well, for those who have read this blog and have been so kind and patient as to give me your attention -- I don't want to waste it on myself any further...

Sunday, June 1, 2008

China -- Overall Impression

So it looks like we are already in our last week of May, just under two months before I return to the U.S. Although my last entry might give the impression that I have disliked China, my true feelings are quite the contrary. It has been a very complicated journey, one filled with excitement and frustration. The frustration comes from the fact that I may never truly understand Chinese people, because of our differing backgrounds in both history and culture. I think Chinese people are some of the most wonderful people in the world; their love and care for one another is, in many ways, unmatched; their understanding of health and life is grounded by a long history that could never be understood by current Western standards.

Even though it’s easy to denounce their methods and practices as “outdated”, or worse, “backward”, the exact opposite is true; Chinese people, on average, live a much healthier lifestyle than most Americans. Sure, their standard of living may not be as enjoyable, but China’s history is much more complex and involved than America’s. Take into account Western imperialism and the destruction that Europe and the U.S. caused for China’s society in the 20th century. Even before that time, try to understand the magnitude of China and its overall geography; for hundreds of years, China constantly faced invasion by the Mongols and other outside groups, vying for China’s power and wealth. It’s much easier when you’re surrounded by ocean, which has given the U.S. great advantage over the years.

Added to that effect is China’s population, which raises many challenges and problems. When you are dealing with 1.33 billion people, things begin to slow down, efficiency is lost, and creating a favorable situation for all is close to impossible. I constantly wrestle with this phenomenon – is it China’s fault for its swelling population? Many have said that during the beginning years of the P.R.C., Mao Ze Dong encouraged all families to have plenty of children; he said that more numbers is equivalent to greater power. Of course, we now know that this isn’t the case. For this reason, China’s population boomed during the 20th century. But, you have to remember Mao Ze Dong’s background and where he came from. He wasn’t a college-educated politician like Barack Obama; nor was he a wealthy family member of the Kennedys. No, he was simply a farmer from China’s countryside who had great ambitions. As a result, many people could relate to him and, for this reason, his power and fame soared.

However, also for this reason, many of the decisions he made as China’s leader are greatly questionable. Interestingly, most of China’s younger generation recognize this and realize that, although Mao should be credited for helping China’s reunification, he should also be blamed for hindering/preventing China’s development in the world. It wasn’t until the early 1980s, under Deng Xiao Ping, that China was once again opened to the world for trade and development. Since this time, China has greatly tried to catch up with the rest of the world, but under a Communist regime. There are, of course, advantages and disadvantages to this process.

I believe that Communism requires a greater level of control over people’s thinking, because for Communism to work, people must forfeit their power and freedom as individuals; after all, it is more about the group than the individual. Moreover, if the Communist system begins to falter, it is best that the people not recognize (or, at the very least, ponder) this flaw in the system; otherwise they may want to take control into their own hands and produce change. It’s like first giving trust to a friend, but once the friend makes a mistake, you will think twice about trusting this friend again; you might want to even take action into your own hands. With regard to government, it is understood in the West that the government is meant to serve the people, not the other way around. That, should the government begin to make mistakes, it is the freedom and liberty of the people to make necessary changes. I believe most Chinese people would feel the same way about this idea…

However, many Chinese people accept the notion that, for quicker and faster development, Chinese people should be in unison, forego their opinions and beliefs, and allow the government to direct China’s developmental process on its own terms. The “Economist” even credited China’s Communist government for China’s rapid economic development. For example, in our system of government, we have so many congressmen and lawmakers whose opinions are often so conflicting that it is very difficult to pass new legislation. This, of course, is mainly driven by the congressmens’ constituency – people like you and me who have the power to vote a person into office. It is often a game of political balance, whereby the politician has to please both the voters and the lobbyists (aka big business).

So, China has inherited a host of problems – Western imperialism, poor developmental and population mismanagement, political suppression via freedom and education – which China is now trying to overcome. In the face of this, China is making strides in becoming one of the world’s superpowers, and for this, I give China a lot of respect.

What’s more, I know that change can often be slow and arduous, and so I, as well as the rest of the world, should be patient; not only for China, but also for many Western practices to be changed. However, in matters of human rights, violence, freedom and peace, patient will and should wear thin quickly…

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Being American in China

I have been meaning to add more thoughts to this blog as new ideas arise; interesting topics are discussed and revealed to me. I have about 20 minutes before my next class, so I think it's a good time to jot down some aspects of Chinese society which I have contemplated and learned from others.

When I find moments of reflection, I often like to analyze my place in Chinese society and my overall experience as a teacher in this country. Coming back for the second semester has really been quite different from my first semester of teaching in China. Before, everything seemed so new and exciting; I was like a child in an amusement park -- all the rides seemed very big and grand. But, now China, and moreso Tianjin, has become my "home."

In this way, I no longer see myself as an "outsider," but just another resident among the local people. As a result, it's harder for me to separate my cultural tendencies from theirs -- my "sensitivity" towards Chinese culture has been somewhat... dulled. I might have mentioned this in a previous blog, but this kind of transition into another society is often good and bad. It allows me to truly experience China as a local; I take public transportation everyday; I come face-to-face with a lot of China's frustrating moments.

However, I too often approach these Chinese situations as an American. I expect a speedy, efficient service (as any other American), but then I am met with some of China's drawbacks in their overall organization and management; my patience wears thi and I begin to break down. I suppose it is because I can readily see the flaws; or, it could simply be that I haven't been exposed to it for so long that I still allow it to "bother" me. In other words, I feel that most Chinese people do recognize problems within their country, but they have lived with it for so long, that it almost becomes "background noise" for them; like a thorn in your side that you can't pick out.

For example, one thing that really bugs me is the phrase "mei you." The literal translation of this phrase is "doesn't exist," and it can be used in almost any circumstance when you want to express something that is no longer available; something that hasn't happened. Anyway, many Chinese service workers seemed to be programmed like robots to execute these two syllables -- "mei you." They will say it so quickly that you don't even have a chance to ask, "what do you mean, 'mei you'?" It is almost as if this phrase is the answer to everything. Sometimes, it's blatantly obvious that they have chosen not to help you, because they will say it too fast for a moment's thought.

So, essentially, when they say "mei you," you are expected to understand this, not ask any questions and simply move on with your life. I really don't want to dwell anymore than I have to on this phrase, but it does highlight a very common trait among most Chinese people. It's this... solemn acceptance of "failure"; that, along with "mei you," you should just accept the way things are and not question your "hardships."

One of the other foreign teachers defined this as "Chinese contentment"; that most Chinese people lack any real ambition to change the way things are in their society; they are apathetic towards such things as pollution, corruption, or anything else that would normally irritate an American. I feel that most Americans rarely take "no" for an answer; we are usually very head-strong about our opinions and desires that simply saying "mei you" (which is essentially a negative reponse like "no") will not deter our ambition/drive.

Of course, by drawing up this quick contrast between "American" and "Chinese," I am obviously one-sided in this affair; I portray Americans as "strong" and "determined" people, whereas Chinese people are "weak" and "subservient." This, naturally, isn't a fair summary -- I should probably acknowledge the system of government, as well as the history and culture of both countries. That, in China, people have less of a "voice" when it comes to policy-making and -enforcement.

For example, almost everyone I know in Tianjin recognizes the city as a very dirty and almost uninhabitable place. Lily said she had read somewhere that Tianjin could very well be the 4th most polluted city in the world; yeah, world. One then has to ask, if the city is so dirty; if people dislike the environmental degradation; if people would like to have clear blue skies, then why don't they change their actions and environmental standards? Why not cut back on the pollution they are creating?

If you ask a Chinese person, they will almost automatically blame it on China's "development"; that, just like America, when America was developing, China too will have to undergo a period of environmental disregard in favor of "development." In my opinion, I think this is a very weak argument -- it's bullshit. In my view, I see this in 2 ways -- well, actually I see it in 1 way. I believe most people are led to believe such environmental degradation is inevitable and unavoidable for the sake of China's prosperity. But, I feel the government and many of China's corporations (yes, just like America) are the drive behind China's environmental disregard. To cut the costs and gain more profit, many Chinese companies and industries prefer the old methods (the use of nonrenewable resources such as coal and oil) over newer developmental techniques. And, in the process, the people here are, again, led to think that for the sake of their "motherland," they should accept the smoggy sky and contaminated water. Sure, America created a lot of environmental decay when it was "developing," but that was something like 200 years ago! Think about all the technology that is available today, such as solar power and microprocessors... I know, expensive, but there has to be less sophisticated methods for striking a balance between development and environmental conscientiousness.

On the other hand, often times, when I'm walking in a public place, I'll see a mother have her kid squat and either piss or take a dump on the sidewalk. Or, I'll see a Chinese person chuck their trash on the ground as if the trash will magically disappear into thin air. I confronted my friend Lu Kai about this and he said most Chinese people do this because it is more convenient and comfortable for them; they don't need to hold onto their trash for a moment longer until they find a trash bin...

So, in regard to a few things that I have come to really despise in China -- "mei you," apathy and environmental disregard -- I feel Chinese habits and a history of limited freedom in political/public affairs has led to these shortcomings in China.

It seems that these things never bothered me so much before (fall 2007), but now that I am becoming more of a "Chinese citizen" by living and working in this country, certain issues begin to arise and creep up above from the surface; these issues have also become a part of my daily life...

Moreover, I know that there might very well be some critical explanations for some of China's problems; and I will admit this is simply a rough sketch of my experiences (not to mention, a biased view towards Americans). But being an American in China, I can't help but think China has space for change and better development... that just as an American will not take "no" for an answer; or that an American would probably stand up for their beliefs, Chinese people will also one day put these behaviors into everyday practice and realize true development and progress...

Saturday, April 19, 2008

From Ancient Times, Taiwan Is A Part of China

Today at school was an interesting experience for me. This term, I have made it mandatory that each group from my 7 classes see me at least one time for about 10-15 minutes. Though this seemed like a reasonable idea at first, it has proven to be mixed success. Now, I hardly have any free time when I go to Pearl River College, because when I’m not eating or teaching my classes, I am meeting with students.

However, today I began what has turned out to be an interesting dialogue with one group of students. Yesterday, I saw on television that China is not “happy” with Taiwan’s recent purchase of fighter jets from the U.S. So, I wanted to understand my students’ reaction to this issue – the issue of Taiwan’s relationship with both the U.S. and China. Of course, they were inclined to believe that Taiwan is and has always been a part of China; yes, the same situation with Tibet.

Yet, these students were still interested to hear what I had to say. I told them what I feel most Westerners believe – that Taiwan really isn’t part of China. If only I could have had a camera ready to record their reactions to this viewpoint… “shock” as they later described to me in a letter they wrote me.

So, the second half of this “debate” proved to be the most interesting. As it turned out, some of the students with whom I met had class with me later the same day. When it was time to call it a day and end class, these students approached me rather quickly and suspiciously. I wasn’t quite sure what they wanted to say or do, but before I could even speak a word, they handed to me what seemed like a college essay for some exam… I must admit, I was equally “shocked” by their response to mine.

The letter goes like this (verbatim):

“Dear Michael,

We are writing this letter just want to tell you a serious thing… You said Taiwan is not a part of China. We are shocked and very sorry to hear that… Being a member of Chinese, we have the responsibility to defend our motherland’s territorial integrity… From ancient times, Taiwan is part of China…”

Furthermore, they wrote:

“All of Chinese people believe that Taiwan will come back to her mother’s embrace, it is an unchangeable fact.”

According to their history, “Although Taiwan was ever occupied by foreign force… Especially Taiwan was occupied for nearly 50 years by Japan in the World War II.”

Now, first, I must admit, I am very impressed by their response. The fact that they were able to discuss such a complex issue in English and went out of their way to write a page and a half on this issue automatically gains my respect. In fact, it is my intention to write back to them, hoping to clarify some details and also to encourage them to further investigate the issue.

Although I know freedom of access to information is somewhat limited in China, and that any form of dissent towards the government is prohibited, I feel that I have a slight duty in this matter. I intend to explain to them that, as humans, we have the right to think for ourselves; that we should defend our own opinions and viewpoints; that we should investigate an issue from different angles.

I don’t want to openly say that I think the Chinese government is “wrong”; that they are “wrong.” In fact, it’s hard to say who is “right” and who is “wrong.” However, I do want to express my views on history and thinking. Even for my own educational background, I can be sure that there are many flaws in my thinking.

However, I am willing (and able) to admit that history is very much political and not always balanced in view; that we have to come to our own conclusions given solid data and support for our viewpoints. As of now, I'm still not sure what to believe when it comes to the Taiwan issue. Although the Chinese raise a good argument -- that they were at civil war during the time that Jiang Jie Shi (Cheng Kai-Shek) fled to Taiwan in exile -- this war occurred before the establishment of the P.R.C. (People's Republic of China). Would it then be a civil war?

It will be interesting to see how China reacts to the world this August for the 2008 Olympics. Already, several countries have begun to put pressure on China to change its stance on human rights. I feel that it is only a matter of time until things do change… just as slavery has ended in the US (although remnants of it remain), so too will China's approach towards its people…


By the way, you can find more videos of me DJing at:

I decided to change my DJ name to "Mike Beeds" for various reasons; originality; avoiding the fatal error of mispronouncing "Blueshift." One of my friends at the club said he and his friends could have sworn that the MC called my name out as "Bullshit"... So, I think Mike Beeds will work better for me at the moment...

Taking The Time To Write

I apologize for neglecting to update my blog. Part of this is due to China's restrictions on blogging. Of course, part of it is also due to my laziness. However, Lily's grandfather and I had an interesting conversation this afternoon which reminded me of the importance of writing. He reminded me that it is important to take the time to write down your thoughts and experiences...

For Lily's grandfather, writing has become increasingly hard. Of course, he too is a bit lazy -- haha! But, I can understand that, with arthritis, dementia, and all the other unfortunate impairments that come with age, writing for Lily's grandfather is nearly impossible.

Today, he was recalling some old schoolmates he had in high school. Most of these classmates have since passed away, but during their time, some of them went on to become important figures in China. One of lao ye's classmates went on to become Tianjin's "president" (maybe lao ye meant mayor?). This classmate's aunt and uncle were also lao ye's teachers. He later starting naming different places he's been to in China (Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guilin, etc.).

In any case, lao ye was explaining that he has had many experiences; he has seen many things in life. Part of his life now consists of remembering the good old days; remembering the time when he was younger and was very much full of life (much in the same way as I am now).

However, with time, we begin to lose some of our memories (at least the minor details). For this reason, it becomes almost necessary that we write down our memories; or, at least do something to recall these moments in time.

Lately, I have been doing pretty much the same that I set out to do when I came back to China -- teach English, learn Chinese, and DJ. So far, it has been a lot of fun. Of course, with any routine, it starts to get old after some time. In fact, last night, I had contemplated my time in the club; if I should continue with it or move on now that I have experienced it. You know, the lights, the noise, the crowdedness, the smoke -- it takes a toll on one's health.

More importantly, I thought about the kind of impact I am making with DJing. For me, DJing has become my new passion, and with most passions, I am always excited to take this passion to new heights. First, it was basketball; however, my height and overall athleticism quickly dispelled my pursuits. But now, I am actually working and making money from DJing. I am consistently playing to a crowd of people. Of course, should I continue with DJing, I would like to take it to the next level.

For me, it has become a task; a goal that I am constantly working towards. I am always thinking of different ways to improve myself; practicing as a DJ, figuring out ways to market myself as DJ. I have to admit, it has been pretty fun. You know, I have the time and opportunity to do it now in my life, so I'm taking full advantage of it. I sort of see it as building a kind of "empire" for myself, which is what most DJs typically do as they become more successful; create your own record label; produce tracks; market yourself through the web (YouTube, etc.); meet people and make connections.

It really is a lot of fun... but, at the end of the day, what have I accomplished? What have most successful DJs accomplished? Fame? Wealth? But, what about the kind of impact they make on everyday people? I was thinking, with the amount of effort and passion I have put towards DJing, why can't I put it towards something like human rights? Why can't I become an activist and work towards making a better world for everyone? What can a DJ do for starving children in Africa? I know the last one is a bit cliche, but it rings true -- we should always ask ourselves what we are doing for the greater good.

Then, I thought, what about the happiness and fun I bring to people every night I go out and play? Can't I create a sort of escape for people with my DJing? Anyway, these have been some thoughts I recently had (last night, as a matter of fact).

Other than that, I have thought more about the following year. I am 99% certain that I will go back to the states in August (or possibly July, not sure). I want to finish out my contract (which ends in June) and then I want to do some traveling in July. Brian -- are you still coming out??

When I return, I will most likely stay in Austin. Lily and I are probably going to get a place together and I will try to find a full-time job doing... what, I don't know, haha. But, as I have done so far, I will be sure to make it interesting and exciting. I don't expect my first real job to be exciting and well-paid. However, with my hobbies, my girlfriend, and friends and family, life will still be very good :)

Here's a video from my DJing last night:

Thursday, March 27, 2008

DJ Blueshift @ Scarlet

Here's a video of my DJing last weekend at Scarlet:

As it turns out, it looks like I'll be staying on board with the club for an "indefinite" period of time. Last weekend was crazy fun, Lily's parents, along with a big group of friends, came out to see me. Not only did they get to see me DJ this past weekend, but I also "MC"-ed for about an hour's time too, singing songs like Depeche Mode!

I'm having a great time right now, though my schedule has been really busy these days. Monday through Thursday I teach English, and immediately following, I get ready to DJ on the weekend. My only "downtime" is Sunday, really. But, as Brian once said, it's good to be busy. I hope I'll have a chance to keep up this schedule for some time now...

I'll have more videos in the near future for sure!

P.S. I finally got my laptop back -- it broke before I left for China and it took Toshiba nearly a month to repair it!