Thursday, November 29, 2007

Remembering Tokyo

I would like to go back to Tokyo someday soon...

照品 (Zhao Pin) "Pictures"

Here are pictures from Lily's return home:

Here, we all went to visit Lily's grandparents. They were so happy to see her; abu (grandma) cried, because she didn't get to say "goodbye" to Lily the last time Lily left China...

Here, we are with Lily's cousin and cousins' future wife! We're also in the new apartment:

In this picture, Lily and Lu Kai (with Wang Ying and I) are in the back of a rickshaw (it's a like a little carriage attached to the back of a bicycle):

We're all at "Ying Kou Dao," a popular shopping district in Tianjin:

Lily and I at the new apartment ^_^ :

Thanksgiving in Tianjin. We ate with Lily's mom's co-worker, Lu Da Da, and one of their friends who has helped out mama's school in the past. This night was interesting because, after drinking quite a bit, Lu Da Da had a few things to say which should have been left unspoken, haha ;)

Lily and baba in the same evil hotel where I had to say "goodbye" to Lily before...

But, it was still very enjoying, because we celebrated Lily's birthday early! Her birthday is on December 4th ;)

The cake is a little lopsided, because I wasn't careful when I carried it back to the hotel >_<
It was still a great surprise for Lily, because while she and mama baba were in the restaurant, I snuck into a bakery next door and had them quickly make a cake! :D

It was a lot of fun. I know there will be plenty of more experiences to enjoy in the future :)

Monday, November 26, 2007

"The Return of Lily"

--The title should be more heart-felt and romantic, but I had to make a reference to Star Wars.--

I should first say, I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. It is the second holiday (in my view) so far that I was not able to experience, having been in China for almost 4 months now; the first was Halloween. Sure, you had Labor Day, and several other US holidays, but for me, I have always enjoyed Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.

Well, I didn't feel too homesick, because my girlfriend came back for the week! Words can't express the many emotions that ran through my head as baba and I waited for Lily at the Beijing airport... Although my situation is very minor in comparison to many other couples out there in the world -- many military men don't see their family for years -- I was finally able to experience the beauty of reunion between two lovers. I can now appreciate the many times I see troops wishing their families "Happy Christmas" over the television, or when people feel a rush of excitement at the airport when they see their loved ones once again...

It's that feeling when your heart is thumping, many thoughts/memories are racing through your head, and you feel that you have finally come home to something. Even though Lily came to me, I felt that I was momentarily back home in Austin, like the many times Lily would ride her bike over to my apartment.

However, interestingly, and Lily admitted to this as well, it wasn't quite like home anymore. You know, when you're home, everything feels normal and comfortable, or at least that's how things should be. Except, when I reunited with Lily inside KFC, it wasn't the same -- it felt different. In fact, I had to hold and touch her for quite a while to know that it really was her again... I'm sure I made others around me feel the same awkwardness, but I wanted to smell her again; feel her face and her hair against mine; kiss her once more. It was like taking a shower after camping for 5 straight days. Haha, you know that feeling Brian; it's a great feeling of relief.

With that said, it really didn't take long for us to get back into the "swing of things" once again. In fact, we even argued some, just like an old couple would over dinner.

I should say that, with the mixture of the old and the new, things truly are different from what they once were. People might ask, "Is that a good or a bad thing?" I would like to say "neither," but if I had to choose, I guess I would say "good." As my friend Marc likes to put it, "change is good." I finally felt somewhat of a change in myself through my interaction with Lily. At least, this is what I tell myself. I mean, surely I've changed after spending close to 4 months in an entirely new environment, right?

Likewise, I'm sure Lily has changed, having lived with two of her friends with whom she never lived before. I think individually, our chemistry has changed. Moreover, our chemistry together subsequently has changed as well. Not to mention, my relationship with Lily's parents has greatly developed, which changes the outlook Lily and I have for each other. You know, I'm not just a simple boyfriend anymore, one with whom you can periodically date. At the same time, Lily means much more to me now (not that she didn't mean anything to me before).

I believe this has a great influence on our relationship now. I think it makes both of us more sensitive towards each other in the sense that we have greater expectations which we wish to be fulfilled. She wants me to "always" be happy; I want her to "always" agree with what I say; I want this; she wants that. In a way, it is almost like being married, but without a ring and a huge wedding bill waiting to be paid off...

I'm not saying it's a bad thing -- but it certainly is different from the way things were back in February. I think the best thing that Lily and I have for each other is "care." One of Josh's friends in South Korea told me that, for a woman to argue with you, or for her to become "irrational" -- get upset over something "little" -- shows that she actually cares about you. If a woman thought of you as just some play thing, or someone who was only temporary in your life, maybe she wouldn't care that all of your co-workers are female, or that you were leaving for another country; maybe she'd just dump you...

Moreover, I feel that Lily and I are also willing to admit to our faults/mistakes, which takes an ounce of pride away (maybe more, depending on the mistake). In my mind, great communication requires apologies once in a while, as well as humbleness on the part of each communicator. It really means a lot to me when Lily says she's "sorry," or that she made a mistake. It is also important for me to sometimes owe our arguments to a mistake I made, because I know neither of us is perfect.

Alma once said that, "to really know a person, to develop a deep connection with the person, you have to argue." Well, maybe I changed the words up a bit, but she said that you really don't know a person if you haven't argued with them on a consistent basis.

I love you Lily...

"South and North" -- The Chinese Take

So, we were in the car on our way to the airport to drop off Lily, and her mother had the following to say about “southerners”:

Like Jewish people, [Chinese] southerners are hardworking, save their money and are (in comparison to northerners) smarter.

It seems that some stereotypes are more global than we imagined …

It’s interesting in that China, like the US, is divided up into a “north” and “south” region. More interesting is that the qualities mama attributed to the southerners are (in my opinion) a reversal with respect to the US. There was a website which rated the IQ of Americans by the state in which they preside and all the northern states were (on average) smarter than the southern states; they did this around the time of the 2004 elections to reflect attributes related to party affiliation. I also feel that throughout American history, northern states have typically been the “first” with such areas as industrialization, emancipation, suffrage, etc.

Considering that our country almost split as a result of a civil war, I am somewhat surprised that China managed to remain united itself. If you take into account language and culture, in some ways, the north is almost like another country with respect to the southern area of China. One anthropologist/social scientist once said that the greatest barrier between societies and their cultures is language. This is because language is a mode of communication through which we can better understand one another. Once you have learned a language, you will begin to see that differences aren’t as great as you once thought before... however, in the case of north and south China, Mandarin and Cantonese appear to be completely different from each other, only hanging together on a tiny “traditional” thread. My girlfriend can read traditional Chinese, but spoken Cantonese for her is like “Greek to me.”

I believe Mao Ze Dong’s province lies in the south too. I should know this, but I am not really sure why Mao chose Beijing as the next (and current) capital of China. Lily’s father mentioned that, throughout Chinese history, the capital has moved to different locations throughout China, having once been in the south.

Supposedly on the day of Mao Zedong’s death, China experienced a massive earthquake which killed close to 200,000 people. Mao Zedong also met with a fortune teller who mentioned a set of numbers that represented how long he would rule and at what age he would die.

Another Chinese superstition is that, if a pot of tea is pointing at you, it will bring you bad fortune; this at least a Tianjin belief, so many people have their pot of tea pointing away from the table.

Speaking of “folklore,” I am looking through a book I bought on North Korea. It talks about Kim-Il Sung, the predecessor of Kim Jong-Il, in the first chapter. Supposedly, Kim-Il Sung was revered as the “next coming of Christ” who raised the north of Korea out of Japanese imperialist “shackles.” What’s more amazing is that many North Koreans sincerely believed this biased view. Kim-Il Sung was father to all North Koreans and to “prove” this, most parentless children from the Korean War were “adopted” by Kim-Il Sung during the formidable years of North Korea.

This followed Kim-Il Sung’s supposed single-hand defeat of the Japanese imperialists, along with the Americans who tried to “recapture” Korea. According to “the books,” Kim-Il Sung and his guerrilla army, without help from anyone else (including the Chinese), were able to fight off imperialist incursions on their land.

Well, so far that is what I’ve read. I will continue to read more and share what I learn along the way.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Perspectives on Teaching

For one of Lily’s government assignment, she was made to analyze differing perspectives on the IRS. Many people dislike the IRS and wish for the Internal Revenue Service to dramatically change. However, depending on each taxpayer’s circumstance – how much they make, how much they pay in taxes, how much taxes benefit them – these taxpayers wish for different changes within the IRS.

In much the same way, my teaching style and foresight as a teacher of English is taken with differing opinion from my students and other Chinese teachers.

I had the opportunity to hear out both a Chinese teacher and my student from last week, Christina, all in the same day (Wednesday 11/07/2007).

On this day, we were given heavy fog, which was another lesson within itself. In Tianjin, fog can be a serious problem, because it is much worse than anything you’ll ever witness in America (or, at least this has been the case for me). I’m not sure if it is a mixture of pollution and Tianjin’s close proximity to the ocean, but the fog, in the eyes of the Chinese authorities, can be enough to shut down a highway.

As we were stuck on the bus which takes me to and from my school, I learned from a Chinese teacher the reasoning behind our delay. His name, Sun Jing Jin, comes from his father being from Beijing and his mother being from Tianjin (or, it could be the other way around…). Just for convenience, I will refer to him by his English name – “Wells.”

Since I have been in China, teaching English, I have come across some of the most absurd English names. I apologize, I am not trying to criticize the Chinese or make them look like buffoons in any way; but this can be a serious problem if they – my students and others – ever want to work for an American company. I’ve seen names like “Fish,” “Lemon tree,” and even “Kill.” One of the other teachers, Nadia, has a student whose name is “Snake.” Well, when you compare these names to “Wells,” it’s not such a bad name; still a bit odd though…

So, Mr. Wells explained to me that whenever there exists a certain level of fog, the authorities close down the highway, because – in his words – Chinese drivers are not disciplined enough to heed caution in the face of fog clouds. Well, that was just one simple insight.

Wells, we got to talking about teaching and the current situation in China with teaching English. As Wells put it, teaching English in college is known to be a “disaster.” First of all, funding has been and will always be an issue for Chinese schools. With that said, most classes are oversized, and our students are only able to see us once a week due to a shortage of foreign teachers (and, again, funding); keep in mind that I get paid more than most Chinese teachers who teach twice as much as me!

This is a sad reality that most Chinese universities face as they try to provide their students with the best education possible. When it comes to English, foreign teachers are greatly needed. However, our living standards a bit higher, and for it to be at all worthwhile, Chinese universities have to compensate their teachers at a level which (in most cases) greatly surpasses that of other, Chinese teachers.

However, when it comes to teaching, funding is not only the issue; another is one which is more cultural. Since my students were toddlers, they were raised and groomed to possess a disposition not attuned to language acquisition. In other words, my students are afraid to make mistakes, because they have been taught by most of their teachers that making mistakes is a grave mistake; again, in the words of Wells.

Wells explained that even he, a Chinese teacher, finds it difficult to encourage student participation; students just don’t want to lose face. Moreover, Wells agreed that, to learn a language, you have to attempt, “fail,” learn from your “failures,” and progress.

Back to the issue of over sized classrooms, it doesn’t help my students that they most perform in front of many of their classmates. What’s more, my own ability to control the classroom is naturally lost. As Wells put it, you can only expect your students to have a certain level of attention towards you as you attempt to encourage student participation. What I mean is, using my teaching method – hand-picking each student to practice speaking – leaves me vulnerable to losing control over my other students. It’s, as they say, a double-edged sword…

Sure, I could group my students, but I’m still losing control, because I can’t monitor every group; my students will naturally want to revert to Chinese when I am not paying attention.

With student participation, it isn’t just intimidation, but some of my students have this belief that they do not need to really practice in college; that, most of them will receive their practice when they go off to work. I should say, it is a mistake to over generalize – not every student thinks in this way – but this was what Christina had to tell me last week. She said she tried encouraging her roommates to go with her to see me. However, they were – surprise surprise – reluctant to go because their English is “bad,” and they don’t necessarily need to practice their English these days. No, they can wait until they are part of the workforce, when it truly matters.

However, as Mr. Brown said, “Which is better, to make a mistake in my class, or to make a mistake on the job, where you could be fired?”

I really don’t understand this logic – of waiting until you work to practice English – but I have also been told that firing people is not very common in China. Ready, set… go! (I am ready for you all to clarify this for me)

In the end, Wells said that I shouldn’t expect to make great progress with my students. Rather, I should look to inspire my students and at least influence one, if not a few, of my students; to actually make a difference in their lives.

It’s not a gloomy outlook as most would think; it’s more of a realistic one, given our conditions as English teachers at a Chinese university. My respect for Wells greatly changed after this day… before, I thought he was just some annoying Chinese teacher who was so presumptuous as to recommend this and that to me; he really doesn’t hold back on his thoughts, an approach quite different from most Chinese people…

Afterwards, I joked with Wells that he should write a book on teaching.

The title: Teaching From a Chinese Status Quo

Author: Sun Jing Jin, aka “Wells”

Then he added, “You will need to co-author with me.”

Co-author: Meng, Maike, aka “Mikey,” aka “Michael Biediger”

Monday, November 12, 2007

"Summer Palace Dream"

Art is one of life’s most precious gifts, allowing us to share with the outer world our inner belongings.

Over the last few months, I have had the opportunity to travel and see another part of the world – China.

During this time, I have seen many beautiful places, met many gracious and wonderful people and I have had the chance to grow as both an individual and an artist.

As a way to reflect this appreciation and overall growth, I have put together a mix and visual interpretation, which I hope you all will enjoy…

The overall theme of this artistic endeavor is Beijing’s “Summer Palace,” a breathtaking place full of history and awe.

For many years during the later dynasties, China’s rulers would live here during the summer time.

More than just the palace itself, this endeavor also encompasses the themes of “summer” and “love.” We often find ourselves falling in love during the summer. I too found myself falling in love with a special someone; she has given me more inspiration than I could ever imagine ;)

The mix transitions from a “dreamy state,” where the two lovers have become inseparable and “mesmerized,” to a clubbier atmosphere, specifically Beijing’s “shi cha hai,” a famous pond-side club area. It is here where the two lovers remain together until the “dream” is over…

In this way, I dedicate this mix to my amazing girlfriend, Meng Ying. I will be “waiting here for you,” my love…

Lastly, the theme of “family” also finds its way in this mix. China has taught me an important lesson: family is a sacred gift in this life.

In the end, I want to dedicate this endeavor to my late grandfather and mother, two people who have made this world truly amazing. I remember the late summer evenings, when I would be out in grandpa’s backyard, enjoying the breeze and breathe of life with both my grandparents and my mother…

Through their love and support, I was able to be who I am today. I can’t thank them enough, and I will certainly never forget the impact they made in this world…

I hope you all enjoy, I put my entire heart and soul into this…


Michael “Blueshift” Biediger

Play here:

Track List:

01. Swayzak – Smile And Receive (Apparat Remix)
02. Solarstone – Late Summer Fields (Solarstone Deeper Sunrise Mix)

03. Thrillseekers – Waiting Here For You (Breakfast Club Remix)

04. Deli, Demetreus – Better Love (Axwell Remix)

05. Miguel Migs – Mesmerized Shur I Kan Guilty Pleasures Vocal

06. Hawk – Emerald Mine feat Sasja (Ilya Malyuev Remix)

07. Mobin Master – Show Me Love feat Chavez Safari Mix

08. Eelke Kleijn, Nick Hogendoorn – Where Are My Goggles (Remix)

09. Remo – Ivision

10. Popof – My Toyz

11. Solarstone – Late Summer Fields (Alucard’s Vocal Mix)

Friday, November 2, 2007

Bai jiu -- "hate it or love it"

Some people love it, and some people hate it... it's very close to hard liquor, yet it is quite different from anything you'd ever drink in the states. I thought I'd comment on this drink -- what they call "bai jiu" -- because it is the Chinese drink of choice, especially during the winter. It has become a bit colder out now, and most Chinese people, along with their "hot pot," enjoy a glass of bai jiu; hot pot is fairly straight forward -- a hot pot full of vegetables and meats.

It would make sense for me to talk a bit about bai jiu at this point, considering that I had just recently drank quite a bit with "lu da da," Lily's mothers' co-worker/friend. Man, Lu da da loves any type of "jiu" -- alcohol -- the man can't live without it. I like him very much, he's a fun guy who keeps things interesting. When the meal seems to have died down, Lu da da never hesitates to bring out more alcohol... and, despite the concerns of mama baba, I thought I'd "entertain" lu da da for a bit this evening...

Right now, I'm a that point where I'm becoming quite sleepy; I think I need another glass to jump-start my wits, or at least further envigorate me. However, I am sipping, bit by bit, on some tea. Something which is quite different from the states, Chinese people often drink tea. In fact, it is expected at every single meal, much as you'd expect a fork and a knife. I have my assumptions for this... consider that tap water is undrinkable in China, so everyone has to boil their water... why not add a few herbs to your boiled water to make it a little more interesting?

Speaking of that, it will be interesting to see how China transforms from its development; how much of its past habits will be fused with the new, and how much will be abandoned...

What I mean is, China has social habits which seem to be in line with China's status quo; China's level of development, what it currently has and what it lacks. If, for example, China had drinkable water, would they be so inclined to drink tea?

Although this is a poor example, consider other points. Most Chinese mothers do not rely on diapers for their children. What is the reason for this? Or, what about China's approach towards the infrastructure of its cities? Certainly, now that China is "open" to the rest of the world, it can borrow ideas from other countries in its approach towards development.

However, how far is China willing to go to change its methods? I'm sure I am not making any sense at this point, but believe me -- I'm touching on something that most people also consider.

1. China is "developing." You'll agree with me on this.
2. Development brings change.
3. A country will subsequently change its habits as it adopts this "change."
4. Most often, a society will not entirely abandon its previous habits, but fuse these habits with the new.

My friend Sean commented no this in his "'J' is for juxtaposition." It seems that development and growth is occuring so fast that China barely has a change to "catch up." Apartments are going up, peoples' standard of living is increasing, but China's methods are lagging behind.

It's the same as what Reagan once said -- rather than give the fish, why not teach them how to fish?

Part of this results from China's countryside falling behind in China's race towards "improvement." Improvement in what? That's for the Chinese government to decide...

Yet, in much the same way, China is being built, from the bottom-up, by its countryside people. Maybe some of you may neglect to accept, but America was built by the very people it discriminates -- non-white people. In the same way, Chinese farmers and countryside people -- people who are disadvantaged -- continue to be the choice of labor for China's rapid development.

However, are they ready to accept a new China? A China that has different methods, different habits for dealing with everyday problems. Even Lily once said that, one reason for China's lack of environmental conscience results from the lack of education on the part of the farmer.

Any way, I'd hate for this to turn into a "Simpsons" episode -- man, that show needs to end. Back to the point of bai jiu. It's a very nice drink during the winter, will make you feel warm inside. In fact, most Chinese people enjoy heating up the bai jiu in a bowl of hot water, so that the bai jiu itself is warm in taste. I'll see what I can do Brian, I'd love to bring back some for you, but Lily's parents worry about customs; same for you too Tommy!

Again, I keep dreaming in my head of you all coming to visit me in China... please, if there is one thing you could ever do for me in my life... if I should write one thing on my grave... it would be that you should have come to visit me in China...

I'm ready to show you all the world.

1. Chinese food
2. Beijing
3. Tianjin
4. massages
5. Chinese people
6. me
7. southern China

I love you all and can't wait to give you all so much -- everything you all have given to me in my life...

Thursday, November 1, 2007

An Inconvenient "Teaching"

Today in class, I discussed - upon some students' request - the weather and the effects the weather has on our daily lives. Of course, you are all thinking, what an easy topic; however, try talking about childhood memories in Chinese, and then you will understand how simple subjects can be the equivalent of a college course.

But, I agree with you - it wasn't enough to have my students only discuss the effects the weather has on their emotions. Yeah, we all know that "I am happy when it is sunny." I thought I would take it a step forward and discuss the effects we have on the weather. In other words, I had them talk about the hotly debated issue around the world today - "Global Warming."

To do this, I had them first talk about the basic principles of "Global Warming." You know, light from the sun is trapped within the earth's atmosphere, and with the emission of more and more greenhouse gases, more light/radiation is trapped within the atmosphere; thus, the world becomes hotter.

I was actually quite surprised by their understanding of Global Warming, no less in English. I mean, I'm sure they are some of the most intelligent students I'll ever have; though, you might never perceive this due to the language impediment.

But, this led me to wonder what is taught to these students in school, how the Chinese government views Global Warming, and what China plans to do in the near future to combat Global Warming. After all, with China's recent aims at rapidly developing, more and more people are driving vehicles, factories are using coal instead of better, more renewable resources, and China is polluting the environment at an alarming rate.

I thought I could help get my point across with a little help from ol' Al. Yeah, I showed them parts of "An Inconvenient Truth," where they could hear the former Vice President discuss at length the phenomenon of Global Warming.

I wasn't trying to persuade them of the issue; in fact, they all overwhelmingly agreed that Global Warming is a reality. Rather, I was giving them just another lesson in English, and I also wanted to make them just a little more environmentally-conscious. This, I felt I owed to them, given the wonderful experiences Brian has given to me, when we would go hiking in the mountains, when he would hound me for not recycling. As always, thanks for everything bro ;)

I agree that change only comes in small steps. Perhaps, after this simple Oral English class, my students will remember this lecture when they next decide to throw trash on the ground; maybe not...

I wonder if, at all, I am making any change in class; making change in the lives of my students. One thing I always keep in mind is that, change must come from both sides; the teacher has to make his/her efforts, and so do the students.

However, I still find student participation to be a challenge. Although I say this, I am still surprised from time to time. For example, yesterday, one of my students made an appointment to see me outside of class. This turned out to be a good opportunity for both of us; she was able to practice her English, and I was able to understand more about my students.

I discovered a few discrepancies between my understandings of my teaching methods and those of my students. I learned from this student - Christina - that most of her classmates are under the impression that, in America, courses consist largely of fun and games. She told me that, in movies, she had seen quite a bit of this, where the teacher taught via games. Haha, if only this were the truth...

No, I told her that this was a misconception, one of many found in movies. On the contrary, most teachers/professors lecture in front of the class, whereby the students take down notes. This is precisely the approach I take towards my classes; not sure if it is "good," or "bad."
I also learned from Christina that most of the students found me shy at first, but have since come to find me more "interesting." She said that they came to this conclusion as a result of their previous instructor being somewhat of a "monkey." This was how Christina described him - a man who was "up and down" all the time. In fact, she said that, one time, he threw a pen at a student, because he thought the student was not paying attention...

You know, we often forget how influential we really are in our lives; how we lead by example, and the impressions we establish for others to follow. I know my role as a foreigner in China; I recognize the importance of setting a positive example before Chinese people, because they will hold, with high regard, my behavior. I don’t want to believe that I have the power to ultimately decide China’s relationship with the US, but I know that these are the small steps towards a strong relationship... that is, my attitude and approach these days...

The part which is "inconvenient" about my position is that I have to undo years of training my students have received within their school system. First of all, many students are expected to be error-free, and it goes back to the possibility of "losing face." I found out from Christina that most of my students dislike my method of hand-picking them to participate in class. This results from the large class size and students' lack of courtesy towards their classmates when mistakes are made; they like to snicker at other's faults. So, many students dislike having to speak English in front of others.

However, I feel it will be the only way that they can practice their spoken English. The reality is that many of my students have been studying English for quite a while - some almost 10 years. However, more often than not, they have had instructors whose English is substandard, making the students' ability to speak English quite difficult.

Given these circumstances, I am always aiming to do my best, working what has been given to me, and making the best of my efforts. I understand that, most of all, I will need patience. Second, I will need to be creative in how I teach the class, creating for my students exercises which are both adequate and interesting. These are the challenges before me, and I am ready to take them on...

I am also ready to take on Global Warming (I believe). Are you ready?