Friday, September 28, 2007

Can you see my "Seoul"?

Anticipation arising, I am sitting in the "lobby" area of the guesthouse, waiting for Josh's arrival. A close friend, Josh and I first met my freshman year of college at UTSA. It was one fateful morning that he and I were sitting outside class, waiting for Psychology to begin. Josh made the first words, and the rest, as they say, is history...

So, I haven't seen Josh for more than 3 months. Before I left for China, he was globe-trotting around Europe. Once he got back, I left for China.

However, for the past month (like myself), Josh has been teaching English. Instead of China, Josh chose Korea and has been teaching in Pusan.

He should be arriving any moment now, having taken the KTX from Pusan to Seoul. I understand that this train ride is about 3 hours, which I will be doing Sunday evening.

Supposedly, you can take what is called a "beetle" (basically, a large ship) across the Japan Sea from South Korea to Japan (and vice versa); this is what Andrew did to get here. I've already told Lily that she and I will be doing this at one point in the future :)

In any case, I have had up and down moments so far in Seoul.

Today was a lot of fun, Andrew and I went out to the Nam Dae Mun market, where you can find clothes galore. The funnest, and also most frustrating, part of the market is bargaining with the street shop owners. As some of you know, many Asian countries, unlike the U.S., promote bargaining in their shops. I say "promote," because they first start out with an outrageous price, only to take advantage of the foreigner who has no experience with bargaining. After all, this is unheard of in America and most of Europe (I believe).

Andrew and I put our bargaining skills to the test. We were successful at bringing 18,000 won t-shirts down to 12,000; if you are wondering, 1000 won is about US $1. Andrew bought 35,000 won shades for 20,000. We did a bunch of bargaining for other items that turned out to be failures. I wanted to bring the price down of one necklace, but the guy was stubborn and intent on parting with the necklace for no less than 86,000 won. I find walking away and then coming back a strategy in bargaining. Usually, the desperate sellers will drop the prices quickly if they see a "sale" quickly being lost.

I also tried some Korean food, having ate only Western food up to this point. Normally, I would insist on trying native food, but I feel justified this time because I have been without donuts and hamburgers for quite a while!

Andrew and I ate "Panjeon" with some Kim Chi and other assorted foods. We also ate what some might call a pancake. It was very yummy, with some type of honey inside.

Last night wasn't quite so good. I hadn't drank myself silly in quite a while, so I thought it would be fun to go out and do some drinking. I tried a Korean drink called "soju." It's a nice hard drink, goes down well. Well, maybe a little too well...

I ended up drinking a bit too much, stumbling around the Itaweon district. After Andrew saw things were getting out of hand, he had a taxi take us back to the hostel. Really, not a good idea to continue drinking once you've hit your peak.

Well, Josh has just arrived! I gave him a couple of big hugs and now we're ready to head out!


Monday, September 24, 2007


This evening brought great conversation between Lily's father and me. With the help of a Chinese-English dictionary, and my improving Chinese, we were able to discuss some interesting topics concerning business, China, and the future I hold with Lily.

If you all remember, I recently wrote a blog about our "golf experience," where I said that Lily's father and I had to act as "puppets" before his manager and manager's son. Well, that wasn't the best way of putting it -- in fact, I think it was quite presumptuous of me.

However, I was skimming the surface of something crucial in Chinese business and lifestyle; what Chinese people refer to as "guanxi" or (as a crude translation) "networking." It is not an easy topic for me to discuss, because I do not fully understand Chinese business and culture. However, I did learn great deal more about it through Lily's father, and the effects it has on Chinese people and decisions made.

For example, Lily's father explained to me that one of the sole reasons for his wanting Lily to study and later work in America is to avoid Chinese "guanxi." In rough translation, he was explaining to me that networking in China has a good and a bad side, whereas America is fairly decent with its networking effects; not really sure how to better explain it, but he said "Meiguo hao, Zhong guo ye hao, ye bu hao" (America good, China good and bad).

What prompted this discussion was my complaints of my supervisor, "Grace." It seems that anytime I have any dealings with Grace, it ends in frustration. For example, the visa fiasco; lack of internet and television in my room; contract dispute; and now, getting my passport in time to go to South Korea.

That's right, I'm scheduled to leave on Thursday -- September 27th -- and Grace has somehow pushed everything to the last moment on returning to me my passport. You see, they needed my passport to issue me a residence's permit. However, they were able to return to Sean -- the other American teacher -- his passport and paperwork almost two weeks ago! How was I somehow left out? Take that into account that I also gave Grace advanced notice that I would be leaving for South Korea during National Holiday Week, which is next week.

As you can see, I have been met with several bumps in the road. It was as if Lily's father could forsee this, prompting me to offer Grace "gifts." For example, tomorrow is "Mid Autumn Festival," where everyone in China gets together with their family to share "mooncake." Lily's father and mother gave me a coupon for free mooncake to give to Grace. Coincidence? I think not.

Lily's father, after I explained to him my frustrations, also offered to take Grace to the Great Wall when I come back from Korea! Really, all it took was for me to speak the word "guanxi" to Lily's father and everything clicked...

I brought up the golfing experience -- Lily's father nodded. I hinted at the gift and the gesture of taking Grace to the Great Wall -- bingo!

So, my presumptions aren't completely in the dark; they just need refinement. Moreover, it was nice to discuss business with Lily's father. He talked about stocks in Hong Kong, China and the US. He said that Hong Kong's stocks are steadily rising, whereas America is at a standstill and China is super fickle.

I was also happy to understand Lily's fathers' devotion to his daughter -- my Meng Ying. To be willing to be separated from his dauther for the sake of her future -- to give her something more than what China can offer -- is very beautiful. I only hope I can make such a sacrifice one day for my child (if it ever came down to).

It was also another moment in which Lily's father and I bonded. Not to get too ahead of myself, but I contemplated with him the thought of living and working in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong -- on the edge of tomorrow, yet already there.

If you think about it, Hong Kong is at the center of Asia, with Southeast Asia and China its neighbors, and Australia/New Zealand not so far away. Not to mention, Hong Kong is fairly clean and on par with America and Europe in its development. Any way, just a slight consideration.

I love you all very much, and think about you all in every step of the way. Every moment I live brings up the great memories I've had with you all. I really do hope that I have offered you some glimpse into what I've experienced. Or, at the very least, I have enticed you all to consider coming out and seeing me in China ;)

Trust me, communism is here, but it won't haunt you. Rather, you will be met with gracious people, great food, and a luxurious lifestyle that beats America in price any day.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

World Cup Experience

I apologize for the lack of updates. As of now, I am still without internet at home, so my only access is at Lily's parents, or at the "wang ba" (internet cafe).

So far, everything has been very fun and enjoying. I have been very fortunate to meet some really nice people, and my job couldn't be any easier. I am starting to catch on with what needs to be done in the classroom, and, when I'm not teaching, I'm exploring more of Tianjin.

My school was kind enough to offer us foreign teachers tickets to last night's women's World Cup. It just so happened that the US was playing England in last night's match, so I had the chance to cheer on my country and develop more American pride.
On our way to the stadium, Mr. and Mrs. Brown (the two surrounding Kathy in the middle) ran into a couple of Mrs. Brown's students (the guys on the far left). The guy in the far back is Ryan, a new teacher who hails from London. He seems like a fairly intelligent guy, and can share a lot with me in the way of English culture.

For example, he was telling me that, back home, he was captain of his university's football team. However, and correcting my initial assumption, university sports work a bit different in England. Different from America, it is not a natural progression to move on to professional sports from the university. Rather, university sports are more like small-town high school teams. Ryan was telling me that many football players are actually groomed at an early age. He said that one English team recently acquired a 7 year old from Australia! As you can see, sport regulations are a bit different in Europe.
I can already sense that he is not too fond of American culture; we talked about "football" (America - soccer, rest of the world - football), and he finds American football to be quite boring. We also talked about college life in America, which he "seems" to understand; I believe Ryan has watched one too many American teenager movies, haha.

Back to the game, the US and England played against each other in one of Tianjin's newest stadiums. Supposedly, they built the stadium in preparation for next year's Olympic Games, with some of the games being held in Tianjin. According to Brian, the stadium holds close to 60,000 people.
The announcer at the stadium said that last night's game had something like 29,000 people in attendance. It's hard to believe this figure -- look at the emptiness of the stadium; it gives you an idea of how enormous the place is!

They also had a colorful fountain in the front of the stadium.

So, the game started off England receiving the ball first.

Before that, they had an opening cermony, where they brought out flags and had the captains talk about "playing fair."
The first half of the game was somewhat boring, with both teams exchanging shots and passes. When I wasn't watching the game, I was observing this adorable little girl who was sitting in front of us.

Interestingly, I and some of the other foreign teachers weren't the only Americans at the game.

In the second half, the US overwhelmed England with good passing and manuevering. After scoring our first goal, the US quickly scored another two goals. In the end, the US shut out England to win by a score of 3-0.

We actually left a few minutes early, because the game had been pretty much decided by the third goal. It wasn't too much trouble finding a taxi and making it back home. I have found it fairly convenient to get around the city without my own car; thank god, because traffic in Tianjin (and I assume much of China) is a nightmare!

Once we got back, I decided to test my skills and went out to Tianjin's club district. Too bad everyone bailed out on me, because it was a lot of fun. Tianjin has this district -- Xia Wa Fang -- which is lined up with bars and clubs. Three preeminent clubs here are "Sugar," "Feeling," and "Babi Club." They were all pretty much the same -- flashy inside with very nice architecture and colors -- and the DJs played similar music. I thought the DJ at "Babi" was probably the best; I guess because he looked "cool" when he wasn't mixing, and the songs he played were entertaining.

Nothing too exciting that night, other than an overpriced Bud (30 yuan, which is crazy expensive in China!) and some practice at speaking Chinese with the taxi driver. He asked me the same questions: where are you from, how long are you here, what do you do, etc. He was a nice man all around.

Today was spent hanging out with some of my new friends (I will say more about them in the next blog) and working out. I bought a membership at this one nice gym in Ying Kou Dao. It's frustrating that my bad back doesn't allow me to lift, but I did run some. I think I'm going to make it a habit of running several times a week; after all, I want to lose the beer/Chinese food belly for when I see Lily baby again ;)

Here are two links to more pictures from the game, and pictures of my friends:

My friends:

World Cup game:

More to come from China and (fairly soon) South Korea!



Monday, September 17, 2007

Inside the Classroom

Today was the start of my third week of teaching so far. It is hard to say how much progress I have made (if any), but I am continuously making changes in the way I teach and trying to learn from past mistakes.

The first two weeks consisted of introduction and an attempt at lecturing. I did not feel wholly confident that my students understood me last week, so I was motivated to switch up my approach.

My initial thought was that I could pick interesting topics -- such as New York City -- and have discussion with the students. As it turned out, they could barely respond to such questions as, "why is New York City an important place in America?"

I do not blame the students for this, because many of them are finance/economic majors who are only studying English on the side. This was what I learned from one of my students, as well as another student, who explained to me the hectic lifestyle of a college student. Jeez, I should know this, I had just lived the lifestyle not too long ago.

This led me to thinking more about the imbalance of spoken language. I should not overly assume that everyone knows how to speak English. Sometimes, I take this reality -- that most people do speak English -- for granted. It is almost as if, by default, everyone knows my language. Well, whereas I put pressure on Chinese people to speak my language, what about my own attempts?

Sure, I've made some progress in Chinese, but I have a long way to go. Until I can speak the language fluently, I will continue to appreciate the struggles of my students.

In any case, we talked about Thanksgiving in class today. I decided to work with the book today, which I had wanted to avoid. Thing is, a book can only teach you so much -- the rest comes from the bottom of the teacher's heart, if not the back of their head. What's more, the book they are using -- "Family Album USA" -- is a bit old-fashioned. The front cover shows people in 70s getup, and the conversations within the book are somewhat like screenplays for "The Andy Griffith Show." Haha, I'm only kidding, but the books are a bit outdated.

So, I had the students practice the conversation in the Thanksgiving section of the book, which is supposedly where they had left off at since before the summer. I think it worked -- we practiced saying words such as "ingredients" and "recipe." I am only concerned about the pace with which I should take in the class. Of course, the dialogue is ridiculously easy for me, so it is equally easy for me to assume that the students competely understand what we discuss. Any ideas on how quickly I should move along with the book?

Well, here are some pictures of where it all takes place:

The computers are really nice, except, the sound system fails every so often (and without good cause). Here's where the magic takes place:

Because there are compatibility issues with Powerpoint, I have been using Microsoft Word as my method of sharing notes/information with the students. As you can see, the students are able to view what I have displayed on the main computer. I think this works well, because the students seem to be stronger in their reading and writing; so, if I am speaking to fast, they have a frame of referrence.

In other news, National Holiday week is quickly approaching, which means that I will have about 10 days free. I have already bought a ticket to visit Josh in South Korea, so I am really excited about this! I did not get a chance to see Josh before I left for China, so I am greatly anticipating the one-on-one time he and I will share in Busan. Like me, he has jumped off the diving board into the deep end; only thing is, his board was a few feet higher than mine (he has no family in Korea). He seems to be doing really well, and he naturally adjusts quickly to his environment.

More to come on the Korea trip and everything else in between.



Saturday, September 15, 2007

"You Scratch My Back with a Golf Club, I Scratch Yours"

Thank you all for the wonderful email! The nice thing about the world today is that, even though we are separated by thousands of miles, we are still one click away.

That leads me into "homesickness." Peggy and Brian are right, I do have homesickness; I've got a lot of it. But, I embrace this, because it only reflects the love I have for my family, friends, and my country.

As some of you know, I haven't always shown a lot of patriotism, or "love" for my country, but China has actually made become closer to what I call "home." In China, I have been reverted back to some sort of child who is "learning the ropes" each day. I rely on people more than ever, trying to pick up on the subtle cultural cues, and making many mistakes along the way. Though I am quickly picking up the language, I am still struggling with the tones, which Chinese people can almost perfectly say with little effort in the way.

As they say in Anthropology, one consequence to come out of studying another culture is to learn more about your own. Indeed, I have not only come to better appreciation the US, but I have learned more about our culture and the way things work. I find myself explaining to Lily's father each step of the way what "is" and what "isn't" American.

"In America, we do not have such crazy traffic." "In America, Japanese cars are more expensive." But, it runs a little deeper than that. "Just like some Chinese people, many Americans do believe in dream interpretation." This I explained to Lily's father after telling him that Lily had a nightmare involving him :(

Although I haven't shared with Lily's father every cultural comparison I have made -- I wish this could be possible, but my Chinese is like a "lock" on my thoughts -- I have made many other observations to myself.

For example, today, Lily's father took me to a golf club, where we spent most of the day with Lily's fathers' ex-manager and son. Now, although my Chinese is as good as a 3 year old, my 22 year old mind can still pick up on body language and situational context. I made the guess that, much of what Lily's father was doing today was geared towards "networking."

Though the Chinese people clearly see this underlying motive, it is not as greatly vocalized or as "taboo" as it is in America. In fact, I believe it would be socially inappropriate/condemned in America for a worker to spend time with his ex-manager's son. At least, this is how I felt today -- a strong awkwardness, as if I were doing something "wrong."

However, I kept a smile on my face and played like a puppet alongside Lily's father. I mean, he's a great guy, and I would do anything to help him better enjoy his life, even if it meant playing the role of the "happy-go-lucky" American who can help an ex-manager's son improve his English.

Really, the manager's son was a nice kid and showed me respect when he could, but I could see from every corner the kid was a spoiled brat; in Chinese, this is "xiao huang di," or "little emperor." This has become a huge phenomenon in China -- for children to be spoiled -- due to the "one child" policy that limits families to only one child. What's a father and mother to do when they can only take care of one child?

Not only did Lily's father pick up the kid, but he fed the kid, played "big brother" with the kid, and cheered him on every time he swung at his golf balls. The kid's behavior towards his mother (the ex-manager) was more telltale; not to mention, he was telling me he has PS3, Xbox 360, and he's got his own set of golf clubs!

What I'm getting at is not so much the inferiority of Lily's father and I in this relationship, but the complexity of human relationships and behavior in general. In this case, we're not only dealing with a different cultural/historical realm -- Chinese culture -- but we are also dealing with a generation gap.

Sure, times have changed, but the way in which Lily's father handles his business affairs seems to still be fairly strong in China. From what I understand, Valdo says that this is also true in Brazil. That, you need to know the right people and pull the right strings for things to run more smoothly. Valdo can see a doctor the same day he requests one. I've got to wait maybe one or two weeks.

Although networking is also important in America, I do not feel it is conducted in the same way, or as important as it is elsewhere. It seems that your credentials (i.e. education and work experience) and skin color are the strongest determinants for landing a job with an American company. It's not so much how entertaining you can be to a boss' son, though it does certainly help.

I'm not really sure where we Americans picked up on this idea of "merit," or why we are so determined to enforce it. But, are we truly dealing with one's "merit," or social inequality? How can you measure merit when people don't start off from an equal beginning? Sally goes to a private school, John goes to an all-black school on the eastside. Both put in the same effort -- what should be "merit" -- but Sally ends up at Harvard, and John ends up as an auto mechanic.

I know I'm leaving out important details, but it is all just food for thought. The point is, China has encouraged me to reconsider my own values and the things in which I have greatly believed.

Haha, no worries, I'm not about to start stealing or vandalize a church building.

I just hope that I can remember much of this after the whole experience is said and done. It seems to be that humans are molded and shaped by the environment. Though we hang our hats on one hook and the hook molds the hat a certain way, when it is time to pick up the hat again, the mold/crease vanishes.

However, I do believe the hat is never exactly the same again. I wonder how much of me will be forever changed by this experience. We'll have to wait and see ;)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Wisdom and Love: The Great Struggle

I am not sure where I am going in my life right now, but I know that I am going somewhere. Whether it’s sitting in the subway back to Cai Jing Da Xue (where I live) from Hong Hu Li, or catching the next plane to Hong Kong, I’m moving – always moving.

At the same time, thoughts continue to flow, feelings come and go, and decisions are made. The world doesn’t stop; you only go backwards in time. As time moves on, you begin to understand things before you, make the connections, and you are finally caught up to the present.

Yet, I am still trying to make sense of this life, the decisions I’ve made, the experiences I’ve encountered, and what’s to come in my future.

I try to take small and big strides, working with the wisdom that’s given to me, and what I know as of today. It’s hard to see past passion, pain and uncertainty, making your way to the end of wisdom’s path, but I am blindly going with it.

I’m “rolling with the punches,” as they say. Making the decision to leave my family, friends, and, most of all, my beautiful girlfriend behind was not an easy one. I am still not sure if it was a good decision, but each day does bring new delight and fascination.

However, regrets can’t be had, and one “crying over spilt milk” is an action people do not like – there just isn’t any sense in second-guessing decisions that have been made. You have to continue moving forward, taking each moment with pleasure and excitement.

Wisdom tells me that no decision is a bad one, because you always learn. You learn when you are sitting down with gracious people, eating various plates of delicious food. You learn when you feel lonely at night, without your companion. You learn when you speak the word for “shrimp” and people look at you dumbfounded – they think you’re saying “shoe.”

I am trying to see beyond the surface, believing that, with pain, comes pleasure. I am also trying to see the bigger picture and maintain a commitment to my goals. Of course, uncertainty is a demon which I must face and conquer. Though, do you really ever conquer uncertainty? This seems to be God’s sheath over our eyes, because only “he” knows what’s to come in your life. Or, does he?

I hesitate to answer this question, because I believe some force is driving our lives and all that is beautiful. Moreover, this force has reached an extreme capacity of pure love and devotion. It is such a beauty and miracle that we are given free will to decide, for ourselves, where we will go next in life. As Descartes once said, “this is God’s utmost and true love” for us. I want to believe this as I continue to make decisions and mistakes; that, any pain I suffer is a result of my actions, and that I am embracing a gift – life – that was given to me.

My goals are to live life passionately, experience pain and happiness, and examine these experiences and construct my own reality. I believe this is my purpose in life, to continue living and form various episodes that constitute my life. I believe we are all given this purpose, and we have to seize the opportunity with righteousness. If, however, you decide to do evil onto others, your life will not be meaningful.

It’s not a matter of defining “evil” and “good,” or wrestling with philosophical questions concerning ethics and morality. I know I am a product of American culture, but what I feel – as it pertains to my actions – seems to be natural. I feel good when I commit good for others; I feel bad when I mistreat people. These are the consequences of my actions, and they guide the decisions I make in life.

Of course, everything is relative, and the accomplishments I make in life have no grounds for comparison with other people. Not just accomplishments, but I also mean mistakes, decisions, and life trajectories – we are all on different courses in life and we have to make the best of what we have.

Fortunately, I have been given such a beautiful life, comprised of amazing and beautiful people. I love you all so much; I am nothing without you all. Each day, you all give me such warmth and love. You all take me by the hand and guide me through the wind.

I am you and you are me. I am the result of my beautiful mother – god, I miss her so much. Each day, I am living for her, continuing her life and spirit. I am in China for her. I am in Japan for her. I am interacting with people for her. I am accomplishing what I can for her. She is in me, and I am living life for her, making up the days that she should have had. But, you too, are all in me.

The decisions I make come from you all. As I said, I am nothing without your wisdom, love and advice. I continue to tread unknown territory, but I am not afraid. I am guided by your hand, and through the cracks, I rise. I know this, because through my mistakes and decisions, I am taken to another point in life.

Liz, you took me in as your own son and gave me new life when my mother had been taken away from me. The love and support you gave to my grandfather – who I deeply loved – has driven me to be the greatest person I can be. I hope that I may have the same level of compassion and love as you.

Brian – you have always lent me your wisdom and broadened my horizons. You are both a brother and a father to me. Man, I can’t even imagine where I would be without you… When I was a troublemaker, with no direction in life, you came and rescued me. I look up to you in every way, and the wisdom you give me is golden. Not a day goes by that I try to live in your steps.

Aunts Sandy, Peggy and Uncle Tommy – you have all shown me how to live life passionately. This passion comes from the beautiful families you all have, and the commitment you all have towards making life the most it can be. I have had such wonderful moments with you all, and I hope that my family will one day be as equally wonderful.

Tim and Cindy – you all have shown me the beauty behind love and happiness. Your children are beautiful, smart and amazing. The warmth and love in your household reminds me that life is so wonderful and worth living. Thank you for bringing me up as your own son and giving me positive guidance.

Tony and Alma – your family is equally beautiful. You both have great personality and a pure heart. I can never express the gratitude I have for having had the chance to meet you all. Your store is so beautiful, as well as the impact you make in peoples’ lives. I only hope that my actions will be as pure and gracious as yours. I miss you all so much, and pray for your store's success.

My friends – you all know me the best. Valdo, Vinnie, Derek, Josh, John, Kellie, Charlie, Doug, Aaron, Anthony, Steven, Marcus, Robert, Will, Rollins, Sofi, Ray, and many others – you all give me air and life. When I fly, it is from the wings you all give me. You have all made my life such a great experience, I would be so cold and empty without you all. When I am down, and the energy is absent, you all bring back to the top and renew my faith in life’s beauty.

As they say in Buddhism, the lotus rises through the mud, and, upon reaching the top, it is clean. When I find myself sinking, you all come to my aid and bring me back to the surface. I do remain adamant in believing that the decisions we make come from within us. Moreover, the suffering that we experience is greatly a result of our actions.

However, these actions come from intuition, which is a culmination of all that has been taught to us. I did not come to China on my own. I came here with you all. You all guided me here, and have allowed me room for growth. I will make mistakes, but in the end, it will be you all who will break my fall.

We are all a web of free thinkers, given the opportunity to make our decisions and experience in this beautiful life. Thankfully, this “web” will catch us when we fall hard. Maybe though, the web might break one day. But, as long as we continue to live life passionately, the web will be rebuilt and remain strong. The strength will come in experience and numbers.

I am meeting new people each day, extending and expanding the relationships I have with people. This has been one result of my going to China. I have met so many wonderful people that, I can’t help but think, I would never have met in America.

The most beautiful person that I have ever met in my life comes from this faraway land. She is both very intelligent and compassionate, amazing and life’s greatest gift. Whenever I see her in pictures, or in person, I forget all that is bad and evil in this world. She drives me to pursue my goals, she makes me want to be a better person, and she is the main reason I am in China.

Lily, words can’t express what you mean to me. You make me believe in God. I know I may be young, and immature, but what I feel for you is genuine. I haven’t entirely given into wisdom and what it has handed down to me.

Wisdom has told me to go to China. Love has told me to remain with you.

Rather, I am holding both wisdom’s “hand” as well as love’s “hand.” Like a moment in which peace has been made – imagine President Bush shaking hands with Muslims – both hands are warmly embracing each other.

You see, I have made both a part of me, and I am taking my life in a direction that will make this embracement everlasting. I am here, in your country, to learn your language and your culture. I have given up my chance to be with you this year, as well as with my friends and family, to reach the depths of your heart.

This decision was not easy, but I have accepted wisdom’s conditions for love and happiness.

Each day, I relive your past, as baba and mama bring me up in a Chinese world. I see the places you have seen, experience your childhood moments, and slowly become one with you.

Though we started out an ocean apart, our two worlds have become my reality.

I am solving the beast’s requirements to reach your “labyrinth.” I am struggling to learn the language, breathing in the dust and fumes that is China’s pollution, sitting in a car zipping through near-death traffic, and spending each day without you, so that I can be a better man to you.

This experience is as much for me as it is for you.

When I become closer to China, I become closer to you. Your parents have become my parents. Their friends have become my friends, and China’s beauty and problems have also become mine.

It may be hard to see this as a decision guided by love, but wisdom has not won me over entirely.

I will be waiting for you, with experience and maturity in hand. These will be the tears and smile I wear when I step off the plan to see you once again <3

Friday, September 7, 2007

Home Sweet Home

"We're not in Kansas anymore," yet we still are. I have two married suite mates who come from the great state of Kansas. They, along with my friends Sean and Kathy, are here to stay and, along with me, call Tianjin their home. I did not have to look far to find my circle of support and comraderie -- it came to my doorstep.

I should explain a bit about each of these wonderful persons. First of all, they, like me, seem to be on a quest for something more. They all want to explore more in life, step outside their boundaries and broaden their horizons. They are ready for the risks and the rewards. Speaking of this, I was at a stall in the bathroom, where I read the following: "although the risks my be big, the beautiful reward will be your new perspective." This corresponded with a kitty trying to leap to another branch ^_^

The biggest leap so far has been from Kathy. She comes from the Phillipines; who would have thought Alma?? It is an interesting connection, because my former boss and Austin mom comes from the Phillipines. In any case, Kathy seems like a nice person. She still seems quite nervous and somewhat shy (don't blame her, she didn't know anyone in China before she left), but I will do my best to make her stay in China more comfortable. I feel that this might be my way of exercising the extreme gratitude I have towards Alma and Tony for the love and support they consistently gave me back in Austin.

(Filipino) Kathy's on the right:

Tom and Kathy (who is in the middle) are the Kansas couple and are a wonderful presence at the school. Tom is a very intelligent, soft spoken man who has a nice sense of humor; the other day, we were laughing at the lock of a window door being on the inside where no one could reach it (I'll take a picture of this one).

From what I understand, Tom is teaching MBA classes and has previously taught English in China. Kathy, his wife, is a very nice woman, sort of reminds me of Judy, Brian's mother-in-law. She is very respectful, has a willingness to learn new things and has already almost been like a mother to me. She was telling me that she and Tom have 4 grown children and are always willing to take in more kids; in fact, they hosted a Japanese girl for a year I believe. This is interesting, because the Japanese girl fell in love with an American. I found all this out when I had asked them for advice on my length of stay in China.

Allow me to explain. Don't get me wrong, China is great -- the people are wonderful, the food is delicious and my teaching job is a lot of fun. But, all of that can't erase the emptiness in my heart, my desire to see Lily again. I walk the streets, ride the subway, eat in restaurants, and experience new things without the person with whom I had spent my summer days. Lily has become a lot to me, she (and of course, Brian) is my traveling buddy, my companion, and I miss her a lot. I wonder if being here for another semester would be too much... this is what I had asked Tom and Kathy. And, not just that, but I believe I will have many opportunities to see China again with Lily. This has been a thought on my mind in the past week.

The last person in my guesthouse, but the one with whom I share a lot in common, is Sean. He's a funny guy, has very humorous mannerisms and can make me crack up in the middle of a sentence. In some ways, he almost reminds me of Bill Murray's character in "Lost in Translation." For Sean, China has been an intriguing experience to say the least. He has somewhat of a condescending approach towards Chinese, yet still saves room to be open-minded towards their habits. It's hard to say, never really know what he's thinking -- I guess that's what makes him interesting. Overall, he's a really smart guy (graduate from Vanderbilt) and like me, has a wandering spirit and adventuresome heart.

I think all of these people have made my stay thus far in China very pleasant. As always, it is elevated to another, more intimate level when I spend my days with mama and baba. I'm at their place now, and will be here until next Sunday.

I gave you the words last time, thought I'd provide the pictures. Enjoy!

Here's my room:
My homage to lao lao (American pappy and Chinese pappy):

This evening, Chinese lao lao was so cute! He reminds me a lot of pappy -- I miss grandpa a lot. I was thinking about the mornings when I'd wake up really early, and see him in the dining room, reading his bible. Good times :)

Outside the guesthouse:
Here's the school where I teach:

It's a bit different from what you'd normally see in China...

Here's a picture of the main campus, where I live (but do not teach):
Lastly, one of my favorite places where I love to eat!
I promise, more pictures on the way.
Always with love,

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Unlocking The Teacher's Heart

Hey everyone,

This past Monday was the beginning of my teaching career for Tianjin University of Finance and Economics. There is a lot to tell and express to you all, with an effort to unlock the emotions I have toward this new profession.

I could not sleep the night before, thinking about Lily, adjusting to the new bedroom environment and having the thought of standing in front of 50 students on my mind. I remember continuously tossing and turning, awaiting the minute that the clock would strike 6:00 AM. I knew that, at this time, Lily’s father would be calling me to wake me up in time for my bus ride to the new campus. It was as if the cell phone were staring me in the face, being my reminder that I will soon be a teacher.

The act of waking up the next morning at 6 AM did not come with as much difficulty as I expected, but sure, it would have been nice to sleep for just one more hour. I got out of bed and headed towards the bathroom to brush my teeth. The first challenge of the day hit me real quick, as the water from the faucet in my bathroom poured out murky brownish water. I told myself that I would not allow this to stop me in my tracks, that it is part of the experience, and that I would try to be more flexible.

Ok, I made it out to the bus on time. It was nice that I had a co-worker waiting for me at the bus stop. Her name is Qi, Hang (English name is “Kate”) and she turned out to be a very wonderful person my first day. She, along with another co-worker, walked me to my classroom, as well as to other areas on campus, such as the dormitory and the cafeteria. It was very pleasant being able to have her on the bus ride to the new campus, because I was able to learn a great deal about China and teaching English from her; not to mention, her English is very good, and I finally had someone other than Sean with whom to speak English.

So, the bus ride to my new campus was an experience in itself. Many different faces passed my view as I sat on the bus, awaiting my arrival to the school where I would be teaching. I also got to see another side of China, escaping Tianjin’s circumference and entering a more rural area of China. This is interesting, because the campus is in a district still considered part of Tianjin. I am not sure how true this is, because Kate told me that the campus is between Beijing and Tianjin.

The rural area is much different than the city, and brought me some relief. For one of the rare times, I had the chance to see many trees and grassland, along with a blue sky. As Kate said, the air is much cleaner where the new campus is located. I knew that with some minor inconveniences would come nice delights. After all, I’m just a recent graduate teaching my language for the first time. I’m already thinking about some of the challenges which came up my first day of teaching.

As we approached the campus, my surroundings became very familiar. I felt as if I took one step back and found myself in Texas once again. Green, trees, clear big sky, and… houses! That’s right, there is this subdivision which I believe my bus/van will be passing each day as I travel to campus.

The houses are fairly large, even for American standard, and are encircled by something similar to a moat. Kate told me that she heard from a friend that these houses are somewhat like a condo “get-away,” which can be rented per day. Not sure how extended the truth was in this statement, but Kate said that some of the houses rent for 10,000 yuan a day. So, a rough exchange would make that about US $1,500 a day.

After about an hour and 30 minutes, I finally arrived at the campus. It is actually very nice on the outside, the buildings look very new and are all painted similar to the red of a tomato. I will provide a picture soon, but in word, these buildings are all painted this red and look identical! I have a feeling that I will get lost at least once my first month.

The time I got to campus was about 8:30 am, and the time my first class began was at 10:15 am. Believe me, the amount of time between went by faster than lao lao’s Chinese. When the time came, Kate escorted me, along with the “deputy director” (not sure what this title would be considered in America), to my classroom. The director is a very nice man, his English is better than my Chinese, and he seemed overtly concerned about my well-being.

I have to tell you, walking to my classroom building, and entering the building was like walking on red carpet to the Oscar’s. Not only was I escorted by two Chinese people, but all heads turned and all eyes were on me. I knew it was time to go to work, to begin the day that I would try to make a difference in students’ lives.

I soon stepped into my classroom, wearing blue jeans and my “Bruce Lee is my homeboy” t-shirt, and I made my first eye contact with the 45 students I would be teaching that morning.

From the very beginning, there were some technical difficulties, but it was all soon resolved. Actually, I think that some American schools would be impressed by the technology I have in my classroom; I think you’d like Brian. It’s really cool, at the front of the classroom, I have a desk and access to the main computer.

On this computer, I have a program called “net class.” Once I click on this program, and open it, whatever I decide to do on the computer can be seen on all of the computer screens which are in front of the students. That’s right, each desk has built in computer screens, which are somewhat slanted for the students to see; Alma, it’s exactly similar to how you have your computer screen positioned at the store.

Once I entered the classroom, very shortly, I made my first words to the students. I wonder how long it had been since they had last heard a native English speaker…

I never felt a moment of nervousness throughout the first class. I could not only see, but I could feel the awe that came from my students. It was as if I were some high profile celebrity giving them all a speech like some kind of publicity stunt. However, I believe my words carried far more substance, as I slowly spoke to them some of the thoughts running through my mind.

I did well to keep the class lively, never failed to say or do something. I spent a fair amount of time talking about English, the goal of the class, what will need to be done to achieve the goal, and a little bit about me. Actually, I talked a lot about me, but in a very subtle way.

Thing is, many academics always debate as to whether teaching could ever be done from an objective stance. I finally felt the pressure of teaching, wanting to make sense to these students, but also wanting to give them enough so they could begin to shape their own realities. However, I turned my interests into topics which I discussed, explaining to them different styles of music I enjoy. Charlie, I actually talked about Sasha and Digweed for a few minutes, knowing with complete certainty that they had no idea who these two DJs were.

This did not turn out to be too much of a problem, because I could feel their eyes glued to me. I could sense that what I had to say was of some interest to them, that I had become a new presence in their lives.

Really though, I’m not trying to paint some arrogant picture of myself; I would later find out in the questions I had them answer (“what did you learn in class?”) that they enjoyed what I had to say.

I have this feeling that classroom life in China is somewhat lifeless and that I had just become a breath of fresh air for the students. This had been explained to me previously by Liu lao shi, who suggested that I try to keep the class lively.

I did my best at this, walking around, keeping a smile, making hand gestures, and not ever allowing for a dull moment. I even played them various music, ranging from Coldplay to Marvin Gaye. These artists are as foreign to them as Beijing opera is to Americans. This world, though it has shrunk from air travel, is still very wide and full of great imagination and interpretation.

I couldn’t help but feel that this class might serve as a gateway to some of the students’ many dreams. As has always been the case, America is a faraway land, something like an enchanted paradise, which is fed to outside people in bits through film and music. However, for places like China, access to American culture below the media surface is somewhat hard to come by; Chinese people have lesser opportunity to hear Motown than they do Backstreet Boys.

The sad reality though is that any exposure these students have with America will only remain within the movies and music they enjoy. As I have learned from many people, traveling is very expensive for Chinese people, especially for traveling to America.

This hit me hard, as I thought of ways to motivate the students to learn English. One thought I had was to show them beautiful pictures of various English speaking countries; of course, the first country which came to mind was New Zealand. I thought that I could explain that, with better English, they could greatly enjoy traveling to these places.

I wonder if this would be more of a tease than an effective strategy, because many of these students may never have the opportunity to leave their country.

I don’t want to invoke pity, or create a dismal situation that these students possess, but I do feel that their opportunities are greatly limited in comparison to Americans. We often take for granted our ability to go to places like Europe, Mexico, Canada, and/or South America.

And, even for those Americans who don’t have such an opportunity to travel, you are still provided with a fairly good education and chance to find good work.

The reality is that wealth is greatly concentrated in few Chinese hands, and most Chinese people on average have lesser opportunity; opportunity being a good education, a chance to travel, a chance to explore life’s limits.

As for education, I wonder how good it actually is in China. Sean, the other American teacher, and I already have our handful of complaints. These complaints range from lack of textbooks, assigned textbooks which are incorrect, lack of promptness in knowing our schedules, and overall lack of organization. For Sean, he will be having his entire schedule changed next month, losing a couple of classes, and picking up “mixed” classes. So much for student rapport…

Not to mention, they come to a person like me – with zero experience in teaching – to teach 6 crowded classrooms. From my understanding, language acquisition is best achieved in a small classroom setting. However, the reality in China – according to Kate – is that classrooms are never small. China’s population can’t afford to have an ideal classroom size of maybe 25 for teaching a language.

These are my challenges for the year: to work under China’s educational reality, and to be a moment of enjoyment for my students.

My students are very wonderful. They are very courteous, intelligent, shy and sweet, and overall, have a genuine interest in me. I am coming to develop a teacher’s heart, wanting to tap into these students, and also wanting to share with them my reality.

I have told Lily this: that, as each day goes by without her, my heart rips a little more. My students have already pulled out the thread, and are sewing in the stitches to put my heart back together once more. I believe that the suffering I am causing for both Lily and I can be channeled into bringing enjoyment to my students.

As I said, maybe they may never have a chance to go to America, but I can make that reality come true, if at least in a rural remote part of China. I want to give them so much joy and happiness. I want to share with them my childhood, share with them the experiences I have been fortunate to have, and walk away having touched their hearts. If not all this, I hope that I will at least encourage them to continue learning a language that colonialism and history have made important.

I thought about this ambitious goal as I sat on the van headed back into the city. The sun had come close to finishing its descent over the hills, and you could begin to feel dusk over the farmland around. In this moment, I read to myself the various short sentences my students wrote in English.

“I hope that I can learn more about your country.”

“What are Americans like? How do American teenagers spend their free time?”

One student even wrote down that he hopes I can join his server on World of Warcraft! (For those of you who do not know, WOW – as it is called by many fans – is an online role-playing game)

“I want to be able to study abroad.”

“I think you are a wonderful teacher, and I hope we can be friends.”

I tried to remember all the faces I saw this day, wanting to attach a voice and smile to these sentences. The one face that kept reappearing in my head though was that of this one girl who didn’t look too far off from Lily. She had sat in the front row of my first class, and had her eyes focused on me most of the time. More importantly, I couldn’t help but think that Lily could have been that girl, sitting before me.

Lily (along with her parents, family and friends) has made me realized how special Chinese people can be, and given their life situation, I want to do so much for my students. I want to give them so much. I will ride on the bus for an hour, be away from my country, family and friends, if I can at least be a moment of enjoyment for my students.

I believe I finally understand the beauty of teaching.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

"Time Goes By"

Wow, I can't believe that I have already been away from my country for a month. This is the longest that I have been away from American soil, I truly miss the grass, trees and air in Austin.

With a month having already passed, I am about to begin my classes. I will begin teaching next Monday, and the next class day will be Wednesday. My schedule for the most part is very nice, I only teach on Monday and Wednesday. However, these days will be fairly long, with my day beginning at 7 AM and not ending until about 6 PM.

What I have been told is that a bus will pick me up at 7 AM from the campus where I live, and it will take about an hour to get to the campus where I will be teaching. I meant to blog about this sooner -- I actually had one blog titled "patience," which I haven't posted yet -- but I didn't find out until the day I met my supervisor that I would be teaching at a different campus.

It turns out that there had been quite a bit of miscommunication between Cultural Embrace (my "agency") and the university's agency in China. I was informed at the beginning that I would teach at the other campus (one which is separate from where I live), but then Cultural Embrace told me that the university was, in fact, able to find me a position on the campus where I live. This ended up being the contract I signed, which was signed back in June. I find it interesting that the university failed to notice this -- they had two months to catch this mistake in the contract -- and told me that the first job offer was the actual offer; the one which would have me teach at another campus.

Now that I attempted to clear up the confusion, the campus where I will teach is about an hour away. So, I will be picked up at 7 AM, get to the campus at 8 AM and wait around until 10:15 AM for my first class. My next class is at 2:15, and finally, my last class on Monday is at 4 PM. I think the bus will pick me up around 5:45 PM.

Wednesday will be pretty much the same schedule, except that I will have about a 4 hour break in between my morning and afternoon classes. I think during this time I will try to study Chinese, mess around online, and/or try to play basketball with my students/other students.

It seems like a great setup, I only teach two days during the week, and the classes are going to be very flexible. I met with my other supervisor, Liu lao shi (liu "teacher"), who was a very nice man. He is equally impressive, having been a diplomat, businessman in San Francisco, and achieving other accolades. His English was great -- maybe even better than Lily's -- and his smile made me at ease; overall, he made a great impression on me.

He said that I can teach my classes any way I like, going as slow or fast as I want with the book. I am also free to use multi-media, such as videos and pictures, as well as other resources of which I can think. I'm really excited! I think I'm going to start out my class by introducing myself in both Chinese and English. I will tell them about my travels, where I come from, my hobbies, and other stuff. I thought I could also play them some music I like, show them pictures of English speaking countries (haha, especially New Zealand!), and do whatever I can to encourage them from the beginning to practice their English.

As it turns out, Liu lao shi informed me that they are quite proficient in reading and writing their English, but they have little to no practice in conversational English. Liu explained to me that the Chinese education system had always greatly emphasized reading and writing, and that the education system has recently revamped its priorities in teaching English. The system believes it is more important now to emphasize conversational English. However, according to Liu lao shi, this change has been a very slow process. Furthermore, the teaching method has not been so great, discouraging many Chinese students from wanting to learn English; as Liu lao shi put it, "it is not the students' fault, but more the system." There is something about that statement that ringed in me, I saw a lot of wisdom in Liu lao shi after that point.

In any case, Liu lao shi wants me to make the class lively, do whatever I can to make it enjoying and give the students a great time. As far as grading, I will be responsible, but I can give as much or as little of quizzes/exams that I want. Learning from Brian's burden, I don't think I will be giving out many exams. I have thought that I will test them daily (maybe before class) on their listening and oral skills, by having them recite several phrases, or maintain a simple conversation with me. I am not going to actually grade them at first; I think that, if I don't see any motivation in them in the beginning, I may begin to grade.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think if I provide them with a pleasant atmosphere, allow them to enjoy the class, and remind them of the importance of English -- by showing them fun American movies and playing good English music -- that they will be motivated regardless of grades. That isn't to say they won't have any grades at all. In fact, they will have a final exam, which will be made up and administered by me. Liu lao shi suggested that I wait to create this exam, that I can discuss it with the class in the last few weeks of the semester.

Well, I am open to any input on how I should go about teaching this course. I just want to make this a great experience for my students. I think that they have been drilled so much in their Chinese schooling, I want to be the cool laid-backed American teacher that makes them fall in love with English. In much the same way, I want to have a similar relationship with them that I have with Lily's parents. Let me explain, I feel that Lily's parents are first nice and overwhelmingly helpful and concerned. As a result, it changes your attitude and makes you want to help at any moment, be considerate in any situation, and be the greatest person you can be. It's kind of like the idea that, if you give up your weapons, than maybe other countries will become less belligerent.

I know I'm delving too far and probably don't make sense at this point, but I want to give them so much freedom that my students will begin to enforce their own rules. Of course, if these "rules" are absurd, I'll step in and take the class in a different direction, but I want to trust them and believe that they are very capable of facilitating their own learning. It's a lofty, and probably idealistic goal, but I will quickly learn.

On to other topics, I finally had the chance to see my room for the year. It is truly nice! The university did an excellent job of setting up us foreign teachers. I will provide pictures soon, but for a description now:

My room has been the first room I have seen in China to have carpeting. I have a bed, a desk, a beside table with a lamp, and two large dressers. All of the furniture appears to be brand new. I also have A/C, and my own bathroom (which is very large!). Across from my bed, which is located in the center, is a wall made mostly of window; I have a view of the subway and underlying neighborhood.

Baba, along with Wu Xiao Fan (a friend of the family and a great guy), helped me to move in my bicycle, as well as my luggage. I haven't actually set up my room yet, because I came back home with mama and baba for the weekend. Like I said before, I want to make it a habit of spending the weekend with them; I love them a lot already.

I am very excited for mama and baba's new apartment, which will be ready in about 50 days (what baba and mama told me). Today, I went with them to a mall, where they picked out a very nice refrigerator and washer. A quick note; in China, when people get apartments, they almost always own the apartment, and when they purchase the apartment, it comes without appliances. You have to buy flooring, toilets and sinks, a kitchen counter, a stove, etc.

As I said, mama and baba got a refrigerator and washer. It touched me deeply that they wanted my opinion as to what I thought they should purchase. Baba said that, along with mama, my decision mattered. Imagine, a 22 year old, who has little experience, is asked to help make a decision in spending close to 7000 yuan (about $1000). Baba said that their new apartment will also be my apartment, and that, "ni bu gao xing, women bu gao xing" (translated: "you are not happy, we are not happy"). Wow...

Following this, I became a little concerned once, after my becoming excited over how beautiful one refrigerator was, mama and baba decided that they would want to buy it. I mean, it's a nice refrigerator, but I couldn't help but think I greatly influenced them.

Baba and mama quickly picked up on my concern, and I explained to them Lily's concern. I told them that Lily is very concerned about the expense of her schooling at UT (mind you, she's paying international tuition) and that we (Lily and me) don't want mama and baba to struggle financially; I actually didn't make such a complex statement in Chinese to them, but made it to that extent. Rest assured, mama and baba told me not to worry, that they are okay. They also said something which came across as, "we will help you financially too," but my understanding was poor; I sort of left it at that and didn't attempt to better understand it (to save baba and mama the frustration of finding words to explain it to me).

Although I want time to go by, so that I can once again be with my baby, once again be able to see my friends and family, I can't help but feel that I have already created a family here in China.

One song that I have come to greatly enjoy is a song by Zhou Hua Jian. The name of the song is "Time," and it is about time passing. It is a track on baba's CD of Zhou Hua Jian, and it really touched my ear like no other. The "timing" couldn't have been more appropiate, with Lily, me, mama and baba heading to Beijing the day before Lily's departure. Baba even picked up on this connection and asked (through Lily's translation) if that was why I had enjoyed the song so much. I later found out from Lily that the lyrics imply that, "time goes by, I don't want this to end."

In a way, it was fitting not only for the moment in which Lily was in China with me. It has also been fitting for the friends I have already made in China, the great food I have ate, and the many places I have seen. I don't want it to end, but then again, I didn't want my time with Lily to end either. I will be excited to head back to America one day soon, but I am also excited to make more friends, and make Tianjin more of a home.

"Time goes by..."
Here's a link to the song:

"Wo xiang liu xia lai..."