Waxing Nostalgic

I received an email this week from Fiona, my colleague that I worked with to get the teaching job in China.  She emailed to let me know that it has been 10 years this week since I first arrived in China. 10.years.  It’s hard to believe that I answered an ad in craigslist for a teaching job in China, got the job, got the visa, travelled to China and became a teacher for a year.  Harder to believe that was 10 years ago.  This has been the busiest decade of my life.  I taught in China, met my wife in China, travelled, got Married in Germany, worked for Microsoft, had a son, got more jobs, bought a house, had another son and here we are.

The decision to go to China was an easy one– provided the whole thing wasn’t some kind of sham.  Answering an ad on craigslist hardly seemed like a secure way to get a teaching job in China, but I remember I was at work at AT&T (where I work now… Oh, the irony), being bored out of my mind, proofreading Blackberry manuals (who has a Blackberry now?!?!).  After we did the proofreading, we would then write AT&T specific manuals for our users.  So you could kind of understand why I was looking on craigslist for something more exciting.

First mention of the opportunity is here:

If I could dig a whole to China…

That year went by pretty fast– although challenging, I learned a lot of things about how the world works and how I work within it.  In America, we often talk about all of the problems and how screwed up everything is, but the reality is that we are a long ways from the under developed world of China, although I am sure that there have been some significant changes in the 10 years, I bet a lot of it just like was 10 years ago, except with 10 years of age– and 10 years in Chinese development time is a long time.

I also really learned that you can get by on a measly amount of money if you have to– and you can also travel on it if you aren’t in the States or Europe.  Travel in China was ridiculously cheap– it had to be since most of the country earned a couple bucks a day doing hard labor.  At $450.00 a month, English teachers were treated like wealthy people– to a villager $450.00 usd was like 6 months of wages.. and a lot of my students came from the fields.  For a number of them, I was the first white person that they had ever seen face to face– and there were only a few of us in all of Chenzhou.  In fact, if white people would be seen in the city, I would always heard about it within a couple of days of them being spotted.

It’s the travelling that I remember the most.  So many opportunities for travelling during that time and I took every one of them– a free weekend meant a trip to Changsha or Guangzhou, a free week or two could lead me basically anywhere in the country.  There were only a few places I didn’t get the chance to travel to that I really wanted to go– the Gobi desert, Tibet. I know I will make it back to those areas at some point in my life– I just ran out of time.

Then there was the delight of teaching– and it was a struggle.

Teach2005

It was a University, but the students weren’t prepared for a college education and the University wasn’t prepared to give them one either– I remember arriving there mid week thinking I would be teaching that next week and it was something like three weeks later that I finally started teaching.  It was 6 weeks later that my freshman class finally started and two weeks after that– 2 months from the start of school when the text books finally arrived– such was the normal in China.  The school didn’t have the money to buy the textbooks until they got the tuition money from the students and the printing house didn’t print the books until they were paid in full from the University– seems totally logical, right? That’s what life is like without a credit system.  It was the Chinese way.  It might still be the Chinese way for all I know.  I later found out that the freshman were required to do Military service.  So for the first month, no freshman.  I saw the freshman marching every morning as I walked my way to my other classes.

Looking back over these archives makes me really glad I journaled online as I went through it– and took pictures– most of it is still here in the archive, despite losing it all a couple of times due to hard drive crashes, it all still lives here on the web for someone to consume.  Mostly me.  🙂

Maybe one day one of my former students will find it and contact me.  I always wonder what happened to all of them– most of them went to Shenzhen and I bet more than a few got jobs at Foxconn for awhile and put together iPhones or iPads at some point.  The last contact I had with a student was few years ago. She moved to NYC with someone she met and they were trying to make it in the Big Apple– she didn’t like it because she was very poor and her family wasn’t poor in China, but she felt that her new husband would find luck and they would be rich soon… Not sure what happened there, but I assume they are still trying….

Here’s a picture of one of the classes:

students 2005

 

 

A look back at 5 years ago

This week, my wife and I are celebrating 5 years of marriage together.  At times we both forget just how much we went through to be together.  We met in Beijing, in the most beautiful hostel that I think either of us had ever stayed in– The Red Lantern.  http://www.redlanternhouse.com/

She was staying there with a group of friends, I was there with my good friend Billy and his wife Virgia.  We had been touring China from Hong Kong up and were a little weary from the long journey.  We had a plan to stay the night at the Red Lantern and then head up and spend the night on the Great Wall of China.  I had managed to arrange through the Chinese network the chance to do an overnight on the Wall and we jumped at the opportunity.

Except that I met Lili the night before– and had seen something very special in her.  To make a long story short, I decided to let Billy and Virgia have a romantic night alone on the Wall and decided to haul up the Great Wall, take a picture and haul ass back to the city and spend some time with my German friend.

lili3

So there is the picture.  As you can see, it was COLD.  Winter like conditions in April.  Still grey everywhere.  Cold.  I hoofed it up to the top, been there, done that, time to go meet my wife– thank you very much.

The next day, we went our separate ways– only to meet up at the same Buddhist Temple.  This picture was taken from there…. Billy and Virgia had arrived back from the Great Wall– had an awesome time and we decided to go to the temple to see the big buddha on display– and Lili and her gang of Germans were also there. Here is a picture from that afternoon.

lili2

The next 24 hours were really what sealed our first moments together– I invited Lili out to have a duck dinner with us at one of the “famous” duck restaurants in China. She agreed and we went and had a great time with it. After dinner we split up from Billy and Virgia and went to see what Beijing was like at night. We wandered over to a small monastery which overlooked this beautiful pond and talked through the night about everything. It was such a fun evening that we floated back to our hostel.

The next day we split up, she went her way and we headed off to Xian. We texted back and forth– I was lost inside of her. We made plans to see each other again as soon as possible– which took a month or so– keep in mind that we had to travel 24 hours just to see each other… Such a crazy time.

… and here we are… 5 years into a marriage. Marriage is tough– make no mistake. Raising children is tough. Keeping a family together is tough– but it really is the most important thing you can ever do. Remembering the struggles that we went through just to be able to see one another is something that I forget from time to time, which is why we celebrate these milestones– it gives us the opportunity to think about how lucky we are to find love in our lives.

lili first

Would-Be Protesters Detained in China

Would-Be Protesters Detained in China

By ANDREW JACOBS
Published: August 18, 2008
BEIJING — When Gao Chuancai slipped into the capital last week hoping to stage a one-man rally against corruption in his village in northeast China, he knew his chances of success were slim.

During his decade-long crusade, Mr. Gao, a 45-year-old farmer from Heilongjiang Province, had been jailed a dozen times. Two beatings by the police left him with broken bones and shattered his teeth, he said, but did little to temper his drive.

The government’s recent announcement that preapproved protests would be allowed at three sites during the Olympic Games gave him a wisp of hope. Two weeks ago he mailed in his application, and last week he came to Beijing to follow up. During a visit to the Public Security Bureau on Wednesday, the police interviewed him for an hour and then told him to return in five days for his answer. “They’ll probably arrest me when I go back,” he said afterward.

Mr. Gao did not have to wait very long. A few hours later, he was picked up by the authorities and escorted back to Heilongjiang. On Monday, his son, Gao Jiaqing, in the family’s village, Xingyi, said he had not heard from him.

A man who picked up the phone at the Wanggang police station, near Xingyi, acknowledged that Mr. Gao was being detained at a local hotel. “He’s under our control now,” said the officer, Wang Zhuang.

Mr. Gao’s ill-fated odyssey is not unlike the journeys of other would-be demonstrators who responded to the government’s notice that protest zones would be set up during the Games. At least three other applicants are in custody. Two, Ji Sizun and Tang Xuecheng, were seized during the interview process at the Public Security Bureau, according to human rights activists.

On Monday, 10 days into the Games, the government had yet to permit a single demonstration in any of the official protest zones. According to a report on Monday by Xinhua, the official news agency, 77 applications have been received since Aug. 1, from 149 people.

All but three applications, however, were withdrawn after the authorities satisfactorily addressed the petitioners’ concerns, Xinhua said. Two of the remaining requests were rejected because the applicants failed to provide adequate information, and the last was rejected after the authorities determined it violated laws on demonstrations.

Protests are not illegal in China, but they require government approval, a prospect that often dissuades citizens, daunted by excessive bureaucracy or potential retaliation. Posters and slogans must be submitted to the police, and each participant must apply in person. Any rally deemed a threat to “social stability and public order” can be denied permission, and most are.

Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, a private group based in New York, said he and other rights advocates had been skeptical that China would fulfill its pledge to allow greater free speech during the Olympic Games. Still, he said, the International Olympic Committee should be held accountable for not pressing China on the issue. “The I.O.C. seems oblivious to the fact that they’re holding the Games in a repressive environment,” he said.

Giselle Davies, spokeswoman for the I.O.C., said that she hoped Beijing would follow the path of other host cities and allow demonstrations in designated areas but that the issue was one for local officials to decide.

The days Mr. Gao spent in Beijing were both nerve-racking and exhilarating for him. He said he knew that the police from Heilongjiang were on his trail, but he was buoyed by the possibility that a foreign reporter might tell his story. “With the Olympics here, now is the best time to remind the world that China still has problems that need to be solved,” he said.

His handwritten poster listed a series of grievances against Xingyi and Wanggang officials. He accused them of stealing money meant to compensate farmers after their land was confiscated and described how he was jailed and beaten for publicizing his allegations. Last year, he wrote, his wife swallowed a fatal dose of pesticides at the Wanggang government building in the futile hope that she might shame officials into releasing the money owed to Mr. Gao and his neighbors. Mr. Gao said that his wife had been suffering from breast cancer and that the couple could no longer afford treatment.

The police arrested Mr. Gao, saying he had given her the poison. A court released him, but the police warned him against continuing his campaign. Mr. Gao said the police told him that if he caused trouble again, he could be killed.

He was not deterred. When he arrived in Beijing, he slept in a different hotel or bathhouse each night. By checking in around midnight and leaving at dawn, he said he hoped to evade security officials who often trace people through their registration information. He made sure to leave his cellphone at home and called his son only from public phones.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Gao’s son said he was worried about his father, but he also expressed resignation.

“I used to try to stop him but now I don’t bother,” said the son. “He has been through so much but he keeps on chasing his dream of justice.” He sighed, then added, “I fully support him.”

Olympics…

I have been keeping quiet about the Olympics on the blog for a reason. I really didn’t want to make any judgements or comments about the games or the Chinese until I had enough time to really think about it.
Firstly, I think that the Chinese have really managed to pull off quite the show, if you watch the games from a strictly NBC perspective. There have been a lot of different things happening with the Olympics that beg investigation, yet NBC is probably not going to lead these discussions because they have so much at stake with the coverage.

Here is a short list of issues:

1. The opening ceremonies were doctored slightly to give a more impressive feeling overall. I find this to be interesting as the computer imaging didn’t really need to happen, but the Chinese were sure to go as over the top as possible.

2. The gymnastics controversy–the Chinese gymnasts are suppose to be 16 in order to compete in the events, but there are a lot of questions as to the passports that they provided to prove their age. I can tell you from experience–the Chinese passport is not exactly one of the more legitmate documents out there. I do not understand why there is not further investigation into this.

3. The ugly duckling scenerio: Not allowing the girl with most beautiful voice in the world to sing her own piece of work is just embarrassing, but so Chinese–why? This is all about image–the Chinese are hell bent on making sure that the west doesn’t see behind the red curtain and the easiest way to do that is to make everything as beautiful as possible.

4. China has 1% of its annual GPD on the games–thats 40-60 billion dollars on these games! It is also important to note that the Government does not spend nearly that much on education or health care for the 1.3 billion people it has in it country.

5. Attendance of the games: Are you like me and wondering exactly why the stands at most sporting events are so ill attended? Check out this link:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/china/article4547323.ece

6. World shattering records: Ok, give it up for Phelps, who shattered the previous records of Spitz, but I keep wondering, how can this Olympics be the one that smashes so many records in so many different sports? By the time that this thing is over this will be the most record breaking Olympics in our time–and I just have a strange feeling that perhaps some of the construction is just a tad off in design–there has already been a lot of talk about the incredibly “fast pool” which Phelps has brought home his 8 solid golds. We will more than likely never know the truth about that one, but it is something to think about.

There are more issues, but these are the main things I have been thinking about. I do think that the Olympics is a great thing for China and I do hope that it does continue to open huge doors for the people of China, but there has been very disturbing news that the country will enter a huge recession once the games are over-and that might just be enough to send the country back undercover again while it licks its wounds from the Olympics.

No live TV from Tiananmen for Olympics

China: No live TV from Tiananmen for Olympics
By Charles Hutzler

The Associated Press
BEIJING — Don’t expect to turn on your TV during the Beijing Olympics and see live shots of Tiananmen Square, where Chinese troops crushed pro-democracy protests nearly two decades ago.

Apparently unnerved by recent unrest among Tibetans and fearful of protests in the heart of the capital, China has told broadcast officials it will bar live television shots from the vast square during the Games.

A ban on live broadcasts would disrupt the plans of NBC and other major international networks, who have paid hundreds of millions of dollars to broadcast the Aug. 8-24 Games and are counting on eye-pleasing live shots from the iconic square.

The rethinking of Beijing’s earlier promise to broadcasters comes as the government has poured troops into Tibetan areas wracked by anti-government protests this month and stepped up security in cities, airports and entertainment venues far from the unrest.

In another sign of the government’s unease, 400 American Boy Scouts who had been promised they could go onto the field after an exhibition game last Saturday between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres were prevented from doing so by police.

“It was never specifically mentioned to me it was because of Tibet that there were extra controls, but there were all these changes at the last minute,” said a person involved in the Major League Baseball event.

The communist government’s heavy-handed measures run the risk of undermining Beijing’s pledge to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that the Games would promote greater openness in what a generation ago was still an isolated China. If still in place by the Games, they could alienate the expected half-million foreigners.

Like the Olympics, live broadcasts from Tiananmen Square were meant to showcase a friendly, confident China — one that had put behind it the deadly 1989 military assault on democracy demonstrators in the vast plaza that remains a defining image for many foreigners.

“Tiananmen is the face of China, the face of Beijing, so many broadcasters would like to do live or recorded coverage of the square,” said Yosuke Fujiwara, the head of broadcast relations for the Beijing Olympic Broadcasting Co., or BOB, a joint venture between Beijing Olympic organizers and an IOC subsidiary. BOB coordinates and provides technical services for the TV networks with rights to broadcast the Olympics, such as NBC.

Earlier this week, however, officials with the Beijing Olympics Organizing Committee, or BOCOG, told executives at BOB that the live shots were canceled, according to three people familiar with the matter.

If the decision stands, it would be a blow to the TV networks whose money to buy the rights to broadcast the Games accounts for more than half the IOC’s revenues. The biggest spender is NBC. It paid $2.3 billion for the rights for three Olympics from 2004 to 2008 — Athens, Turin and Beijing.

BOCOG officials began signaling discomfort with live broadcasts in Tiananmen Square a year ago, but discussions went back and forth, according to those involved. The square has been a magnet for protests for decades.