Sunday, June 1, 2008

China -- Overall Impression

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

Even though it’s easy to denounce their methods and practices as “outdated”, or worse, “backward”, the exact opposite is true; Chinese people, on average, live a much healthier lifestyle than most Americans.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Being American in China

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 19, 2008

From Ancient Times, Taiwan Is A Part of China

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

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

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

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

The letter goes like this (verbatim):

“Dear Michael,

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

Furthermore, they wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Taking The Time To Write

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's a video from my DJing last night:

Thursday, March 27, 2008

DJ Blueshift @ Scarlet

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Keepin' Busy

How is everyone doing? It has been a while since I've talked with most of you, which is both good and bad. It sucks that I haven't had a chance to catch up on what everyone is doing, but at the same time it's good -- I think we have all kept busy in our lives, moving at least in some direction.

I apologize that I haven't done a better job of updating my blog. I feel it's a combination of sevearl things; laziness; internet issues; the novelty of things. I remember when I first set out on my "journey," when I was spending time in Japan, I felt that everyday was an incredible experience, something worth jotting down. Although each day still brings a new experience, it doesn't hit me full-force as it once did; I'm beginning to be able to predict the outcome of most days.

My classes are going well. I actually teach one more class than I did before, so my Thursday schedule is quite busy. From 8:30 to 11:45, I am teaching. Then, after my lunch break, I go back to teaching at 2:15 until 5:30. In between my classes, I have a 15 minute break, which is nice. Monday is a little easier, because I only have 3 classes on this day.

But, despite the predictability (i.e. I have finally adjusted fully to my new environment), I am still trying to keep things interesting, pursuing hobbies and trying to meet new people each day. In fact, yesterday was quite interesting. As most of you know, I enjoy music, and most of all, I enjoy sharing music with people. So, I thought it would be an interesting adventure to find myself a DJ job in China (either Beijing or Tianjin).

Well, Beijing wasn't so successful, because the one advantage I have -- being American -- doesn't carry much weight in China's capital. However, perhaps this will help to get my foot in the door in Tianjin, where foreigners are fewer in number. I went to a few clubs this past weekend to speak to managers and to inquire about possibly DJing for their club. Although a few clubs gave the usual shoot-down -- "we don't need anymore DJs at the moment" -- one club, Babi Club, actually showed some interest in me. So, they asked if I could come back yesterday (Tuesday) to "try out" for a DJ position.

Wow, what an exciting opportunity, right?! I was really pumped and excited that I might have a chance at DJing for a club in China. Clubs are a bit different here; they're very flashy, with many lights, ornaments and colors everywhere. Well, the excitement turned into anxiety and pressure for me when I showed back up at the club yesterday. My friend Chen Guan was also equally nervous for me. Of course, when you are nervous, everything seems to go wrong...

As one friend pointed out, I should have been more prepared. But, in my view, preparation comes with experience, right? The things which I was not prepared for were: technological issues (I should have expected this one by now). First off, my music wasn't compatible with one of the CD players the club has. Second, I was not entirely familiar with the CD players, although they are the same brand and style as the CD players I own; there's a function on my CD players which automatically cues the music for me (starts the track on a beat, which is crucial for mixing two songs). So, I quickly became flustered, because it seemed that everything was quickly stacking up as failure in front of the manager's eyes. My inability to control the equipment with mastery; my music failing on me.

Well, despite what seemed to be failure in my eyes, the manager, along with his boss, expressed interest in me. They said that I might have a chance to play for them for 1 hour this coming weekend and that they would "give me a call." As I've told my friends, I'm not expecting a call from them. I think it's better to assume the worst, so I won't be let down. And, it is still hard for me to read Chinese people; I'm not sure what they are thinking or what their next move will be. However, experience has told me not to expect too much from club managers, because business comes first. Unless you have name recognition or something considerable to bring to the table, they really have no interest in you. With that said, being American might just help me out (being American always seems to a life-saver, unless you find yourself in the Middle East!).

Other than that, I am also trying to pick up more work as an English teacher. This evening, Lily's mother will go with me to another school, where I will have an interview. If it works out, I should have another teaching job on the days when I'm not teaching (Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday). Wish me the best of luck!

Friday, February 29, 2008

Countdown to Beijing Return

I feel so ashamed that I have not been more consistent in blogging and keeping this thing more alive and fresh. In a way, this has become more an obligation than fun for me. I know, at first, that might sound like a bad thing, but in a way it's also good. Since I have graduated, I rarely find myself doing anything scholastic, aside from the everyday experiences I try to interpret. Along with that, I hardly write and, although I have hardly read much, I am pushing myself to do a better job. So, for me, this blog is somewhat of a writing assignment for me, much in the same way as what I previously did for one of my Anthropology courses.

Aside from that point, I have also experienced some technological difficulties. Before leaving for California, I discovered that my laptop's motherboard no longer functioned properly. As a result, I have been without my own computer for a few weeks now (oh no! kick, cry and scream!). As Eileen mentioned, it goes to show you how dependent many people have become with technology and the internet. This has been an ongoing issue for many of the teachers (including myself) at my school in China. For the first term, we made "ends meet" (such a funny expression in this context) without internet in our rooms. However, upon the delightful hint that we would be receiving internet in our rooms for this new term, we were quickly let down... but, when people are desperate for something, they find their ways of obtaining it.

So, I am here now, in what is called "B" Building of the university campus. It's about a 10-15 minute walk from our dormitory. For the most part, the walk across the university is nice. However, sometimes you can be caught off-guard with the weather. For example, this afternoon, it was quite warm, so I left without my jacket. When I was ready to go, it was late evening and it suddenly got chilly! As I mentioned in my email, the weather has been very nice so far in China, except for a few cold moments in Beijing.

I'm tempted to continue this entry about my recent happenings in Beijing, but I have tried to keep this blog in some sort of chronological order. You know, a lot happened during my remaining weeks which are worth noting.

I think my best moments were with my friends in San Antonio and the time I spent with Brian and Lily (individually -- unfortunately). I was overly flattered and felt quite appreciated by the outgoingness of Vinnie and my other friends who had two parties for me in San Antonio. These were both very special nights for me, when I got to DJ for everyone and, for a short moment, felt somewhat like a celebrity; I thank you all from the bottom of my heart, I could never ask for better friends!

It was also very nice to be somewhat at "home" again when I went up to Ft. Worth to visit my family. We all had a chance to enjoy the Super Bowl, along with pizza and good fun. The day before, everyone took me out to eat for my birthday at P.F. Chang's, which was, although Americanized, still very delicious. I also had a great time with my cousin Chris, who will be attending the University of Texas at Arlington this fall. He has been a very close cousin to me (my closest), and I was very happy to help him in any way I could. After all, I was blessed to have Brian, my mom and my grandparents when I began college; at the very least, I hope I was able to motivate Chris just a little more.

Although my time in Texas was short (apologies), it made the 12 hour flight very worthwhile and rewarding! My last destination before going back to China was California. Although I visited Brian and Eileen the previous summer, I did not have a chance to see San Francisco, which was the first place Lily and I visited. Despite some hard emotional times, Lily and I were still able to enjoy some of the city, along with Alcatraz. I think we both really enjoyed the city tour offered to us by a local, which took us around the city and across the Golden Gate bridge. He had a lot of interesting facts to share with us as we passed some of the various districts/neighborhoods of San Francisco (which I would like to mention in my next entry). I think my favorite moment was when Lily and I walked from Fisherman's Wharf over to Lombardt St, where we walked down the crooked street. After that, we both sat down in a nestled stairway as we ate some of her yummy Ghihardelli chocolate. I also enjoyed carrying Lily up three flights of stairs too <3

The last of my California trip involved camping with Brian near Pfeiffer Beach, which was an amazing experience. We spent part of the afternoon at the beach, exploring different spots along the coast. Brian was really "jazzed" by an accessible rock that was somewhat out in the ocean, where the waves crashed. It was sort of suspenseful at times, because the waves would come in cycles, yet their force varied. Further back into a grove area, we found a place up on a short cliff where some people had built a swing from one of the trees. It was amazing and awe-inspiring to say the least.

I wish I could add more at the moment, but it is getting close to my curfew time (11pm), so I've got to make it back to my room now.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Stateside Once Again

Wow, it has been a long time since I last touched this... well, my excuses are half-valid; I wanted to surprise people about my return, so I didn't think it would be wise to update my blog; or, what else would I talk about?

I have also been catching up with friends and eating a lot of the foods I missed while over in China; yeah, despite how delicious Chinese food can be, they still lack some of the best dishes, like chicken fried steak!

Well, I my return to the U.S. began with spending time up north in the Chicago/Wisconsin area. The first night I got back, Lily and I drove up to Milwaukee from Chicago, where we met up with her host family. The following day was somewhat hellish, because Lily's host family was in the process of moving and I felt somewhat obliged to help; I think it was good for me, because I need to be less selfish/spoiled sometimes. After all, her host family allowed us to stay with them (for free), and they have helped Lily out in the past.

After spending a few days with them, Lily and I ventured down to Milwaukee, staying with Lily's friend, Sarah. I felt somewhat lame during this part of the trip, because I had been severely suffering form jet-lag. Each night, when the clock struck between the hours of 8:30 pm and 9:00, I became a zombie; nothing felt better than resting my head on a pillow. I understand that it is the worst when you come back from a country that is across the Pacific Ocean (the time zone crossover in this part of the world); that day I flew, I had relived the same day twice.

So, my New Year's was very lame; I think I went to bed sometime around 10:00 pm (lame). Well, it doesn't bother me too much that I'm trading off my experiences and good moments; I had so many great moments in China that one bad night of New Year's didn't phase me. Still, I felt bad for Lily, because she sacrificed her night of fun for me just the same. I keep telling her that she should be more selfish.

However, things sort of picked up once we went back down to Chicago, which was the last leg of our Midwest trip. Here's how it went:

Just as quickly as I flew into Chicago, I was blown back out. Really, my 4-5 days in the windy city was as fast as a heartbeat, subway hopping and walking from one district to the next. It was my second time in Chicago, but Lily and I were both able to enjoy just the same as the first time.

This time, we made our efforts to cover more ground, venturing outside of the “loop” and into some of the various ethic spots. We visited such places as “Greektown,” “Little Italy” and we made our way over to Pilsen Village, where you can experience a little of “mexicanidad.” This is a new term for me, one that I learned at the Mexican Fine Arts Museum in Chicago. Basically, it is a term which tries to encompass everything that is “Mexican” – a type of identity with which most, if not all, Mexicans and Hispanic people can relate.

I spoke to a woman who works at a tea shop in the area and she said that it is quickly becoming a “hip” spot, meaning that the neighborhood will most likely undergo a lot of changes in several years to come. Much like Wicker Park, Pilsen (the largely Mexican neighborhood) will soon become “home” to yuppies and bohemian artists who have a lot of money to spare. As is the case for many urban neighborhoods with an artistic “image” and interesting historic background, Pilsen will be swallowed up by wealth and consequently evict its current residents – a phenomenon known as “gentrification.” As the tea shop lady put it, it’s a catch-22; that Pilsen should undergo more development, but subsequently force longstanding residents to leave due to rising real estate.

We really enjoyed our time at the museum, reading up on the treatment of Central America’s indigenous people; from the continual oppression they face to their syncretic religion and somewhat successful immersion into mainstream Hispanic society. Like other indigenous people, along with Africans, the Aztecs merged their polytheistic religion based on nature gods with that of the “saints” found in Catholicism.

As for Greektown and Little Italy, we found some worthwhile restaurants which served their respective foods; Lily and I had Italian subs from a mom-pop store in Little Italy – wasn’t too bad. I think the most interesting cuisine experience was an Ethiopian restaurant we found near the Green Mill. The Green Mill is a well-known night pub, where you can watch and experience live performances, ranging from poetry slam to organs and big band; they say Al Capone visited this place from time to time.

It was the first time that both Lily and I tried Ethiopian food. Not sure what to do, we began to break up what seemed to be sourdough bread and dipped it into the two dishes we ordered; one was some kind of beef and the other was a premier Ethiopian ritual choice for chicken. The chicken drumsticks were bathed in a kitchen-made sauce full of different ingredients. We both noticed that Ethiopian meals largely consist of sauce-based foods with which you can dip your bread in. We weren’t super crazy about our Ethiopian cuisine experience, but it was interesting nonetheless; actually, there’s a Moroccan place we really enjoy in Lincoln Park.

However, probably the best experience we had in Chicago was getting to see “Wicked,” the musical. Wow, I really don’t even know where to begin with describing it. Many times, I found the hair on my back standing up, with a tingly feeling running down my entire body. The music was both catchy and emotionally charged, with breathtaking stage designs and effects. The score for the musical had various contrasts between the singers and the instrumentation which really brought out the vocals and also my emotions with inside.

My favorite part of the musical came before intermission, when Elpheba and Glenda perform “Defy Gravity.” In this scene, Elpheba (who is the “Wicked Witch of the West”), discovers that the Wizard of Oz is not as grandiose, amazing, nor as virtuous as she had once thought. In fact, in the musical, the wizard takes on the antagonist role, rather than the witch; this is Wicked’s main twist of the original “Wizard of Oz” story. There are many other interesting connections between the original and the reworked version, which makes the musical not only intelligent, but fun and interesting.

The best part of it all was that Lily and I got to sit front row! They have been doing a regular drawing before every show, where they will pick a group of names out of the hat for a chance at front row (orchestra) seating; although the seating is not free, it is the same cost as balcony seats. The interesting side to this story is that Lily and I almost forwent the drawing so we could enjoy a deep dish pizza at Giordano’s; well, the interesting part to this is that I clearly remember telling Lily, “We’re not going to win this, we never win…”

Here’s a YouTube clip of “Defying Gravity,” probably the best song from the Wicked score:

Friday, January 4, 2008

Christmas in the Far East

I “celebrated” Christmas by living any other day of my life in China. I woke up, checked email, chatted with mama and baba in Chinese and then was rushed off for lunch with friends/family. Being 6000 miles away from home, I sort of expected a change of routine in my life, especially with American holidays.

However, China has quickly changed its habits and practices with the onset of Western integration into Chinese society. This, I feel, is both a blessing and a tragedy around the world. Wherever you go, as a Westerner, you never feel too far from home. For a person who is homesick, this is quite comforting. On the other hand, for the soul-searching adventurer, it is somewhat upsetting that you can’t entirely escape the grasps of Western consumerism and business. Likewise, for the Anthropologist, differences in culture become somewhat blurred and you are no longer dealing with an isolated group of people.

With that said, nothing will ever exactly be replicated. When the Chinese celebrate Thanksgiving, they do so with a different bird other than turkey; I celebrated my Chinese Thanksgiving with pigeon. At the same time, outside the realm of business and such places as Pizza Hut, most Chinese families still do not overtly celebrate such holidays as Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Most Chinese people will agree that it is more of a youthful thing to embrace American holidays. As I mentioned in my email, going out to the pub for a drink, or meeting up with friends at McDonald’s is a simple, yet pleasant way to feel “American” for a moment.

Now that I have mentioned the obvious, I can say that I did not miss Christmas at all. I don’t want this to cause offense for anyone, but I feel that “gifts” and the presence of God (Jesus Christ) – for those who believe –are ever around me. Each day I breathe and live, these are my precious gifts. Likewise, I celebrate the “birth” of Jesus by embracing this life and opportunity with great passion. So, whether I am stepping foot on the Asian continent, or walking along the ocean of Fernando de Noronha, I try to remain enlightened. This enlightenment comes with the knowledge of knowing that life is short, yet in life, nothing is short at all.

Sure, our physical abilities have limits, but our mind can reach great depths. We can never go hundreds of years back in time to witness the decline of the Ming Dynasty, but our imagination can bring to life the pages in a history book. Likewise, when I put on my headphones and allow the music to flow, I can ponder creation, the origin of the universe and my purpose in life.

I agree, such things as poverty, one’s natural disposition and one’s environment can place limits on the mind’s ability to exceed. With this in mind, I look upon the opportunities I have had in life with extreme gratitude. I also attempt in every way to extend my life-given opportunities to others. I believe others have enough problems to understand and realize the struggles of life; they do not need me to “remind” them. However, I can remind them of the good things in life. This, I believe, is the “Christmas gift” I try to give to everyone, each and every day.