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Monday, April 26, 2010

Dinner on Lamma Island

Floating restaurant in Aberdeen harbor (we ate on Lamma Island)

Fellow-Fulbright scholar

A routine Sunday evening--I went by Yacht from Aberdeen Yacht Club to Lamma Island for dinner. The main items placed on the table, in order: shrimp, squid, snails, cuddle fish, crayfish, clams, greens, a bit of fried rice.

Soon back to popcorn on Sunday evenings...

Friday, April 23, 2010

Melding and Conflicting Cultures

Double click on the image to enlarge it to read.Po Chung funds the Fulbright program under which I work. He has interesting ideas about Hong Kong's unique position.

As someone recently reflected--Hong Kong has the British rule of law, and the best of Chinese sense of obedience to laws and hard work. Macau has the worst of Iberian culture in terms of work ethic and the worst of Chinese nepotism and corruption. What happens when two cultures meet?

In Dutch West Michigan you might say that American conservative cultural values resonated with Dutch Calvinism. However, Dutch Calvinism isn't individual-focused as much as community-focused so it is not a perfect match. In fact, Dutch Calvinist are often hard to place on the liberal-conservative cultural scale of American politics.

In Southern Louisiana, the Houma tribe has been left without a treaty because they didn't conflict strongly enough with colonial powers--they remain without the legal status that a treaty would have established.

When I lived in New Zealand I spent time trying to figure out the roots of New Zealand culture. It is a physically aggressive and competitive culture--is this the influence of South Pacific, Maori warrior culture or as someone suggested to me, the brutality of English boarding school culture? Or did the two resonate with other, amplifying its influence. The suicide rate amongst young men that do not fit this norm is very high.

Japanese culture is known for its ability to bend to outside influences but remain the same underneath. The Frontline film, American Game, Japanese Rules illustrates among a variety of things, how baseball is played in Japan. It looks like baseball but it isn't. When a player does too well, the strike zone expands to even things out. When one team gets too far ahead or one individual gets too much attention, then they are pulled back. They play for a tie.

The African-American author, James Baldwin told of an experience of living in Paris. While there he had an encounter with an black African and then a white American from Georgia. He concluded that he had more in common with the white Georgian because of the history of white-black conflict in the U.S.--it had shaped who we have become as Americans. Out of the country's struggle over slavery and racial inequality we have become who we are. Sometimes it is in being forced to confront the worst in ourselves that we are given the opportunity to shape ourselves into something better--or not.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Vote on most useful blog entries

The Fulbright team that I belong to is considering compiling a book drawn from our various individual blog entries. The purpose would not be to focus on Hong Kong so much as model thoughtful and reflective encounters when traveling or working abroad from a variety of perspectives. The audience might be students who are going on study abroad.

For those of you who have been reading about my experiences--are there particular entries that have been most helpful in giving you a new way of looking at the world? Or a new frame of reference for when you travel? Or new perspectives?

Please let me know!

Monday, April 12, 2010

books on China

If you ever need a reading list...
I'm working my way through it.

An Addition

Paul Thereoux. Kowloon Tong

Lu Hsun. Selected Stories
Li Cunzin. Mao’s Last Dance
Hannah Pakula. The Last Empress: Madame Chiang Kai-shek and the Birth of Modern China
Leslie T. Chang. Factory Girls: Voices from the Heart of Modern China
Lisa See. Shanghai Girl
Chan Koon-chung. The Golden Age
Xue Xinran. Message From an Unknown Chinese Mother
Xue Xinran. The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices
Esther Cheo Ying. Black Country to Red China.
Lynn Pan. Tracing it Home: Journeys around a Chinese Family
Han Suyin. A Many Splendoured Thing
Sterling Seagrave. The Soon Dynasty
Jung Chang. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China.
Jung Chang. Mao: The Unknown Story
Peter Hessler. Oracle Bones: A Journey between China?s Past and Present
Simon Winchester. River at the Center of the World: A Journey up the Yangtze and Back in
Chinese Time
Peter Hessler. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze.
Rob Gifford. China Road: A Journey Into the Future of a Rising Power.
Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziang
Clyde Prestowitze. Three Billion New Capitalists: The Great Shift in Wealth and Power to the East.
Tim Clisold. Mr. China: A Memoir.
David Aikman. Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power.
Janice Y.K. Lee. The Piano Teacher.
Martin Booth. Gweilo.
Jerrilyn Farmer. Dim Sum Dead.
Han Suyin. The Crippled Tree
Jan Wong. Red China Blues: My Long March from Mao to Now
James Clavell. Tai Pan
Shirley Lim. Among the White Moon Faces
Aaron Shepard. Monkey King
Xu Xi. The Unwalled City
Ha Jin. War Trash
Myself a Mandarin by Austin Coate
"Monkey King" by Timothy Mo

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Culture, parenthood, and societal vision

I spoke at a required junior night at an international school in Hong Kong, which was attended by students and parents. The topic was "how to choose a college." It was organized by the counselor who works with students on college applications, and included an alum, a recruiter from the University of British Columbia (they have a staff of 6 in Hong Kong), and myself. I spoke on "why choose a private liberal arts college, and a private Christian liberal arts college."

This was an incredibly tough audience. Some of the points I emphasized were: Private liberal arts colleges have a long tradition in the U.S. going back to Harvard. They are very strong academically, provide opportunities for students to have full professors teach them and for them to do research with faculty that will be published. Such college focus on the undergraduate program (no graduate students) and have small classes, providing a better learning environment. Because of these characteristics and their fostering of critical thinking skills and a breadth of knowledge, they have a tradition of training students who become societal leaders. They also have high success in sending students into Ph.D. programs and professional schools.

This school is an intentionally Christian school where families and students must be committed to a Christian faith. So I also talked about why a Christian liberal arts college could be a good choice. The educational philosophy and environment is build on shared Christian values. This allows faculty to encourage students to ask hard questions with the knowledge that the other students and faculty share Christian commitments. Students grow in their understanding of the Christian intellectual tradition which involves reading about what Christians have written and thought about particular crucial issues--war, government, life and death, etc. Opportunities are provided for individual spiritual growth and corporate worship. Underlying all of this is an education philosophy that is concerned with the wholistic development of students--spiritual, academic, moral, and physical. Students are thus challenged to not just prepare for "jobs" but to ask the question, "what is God calling me to to?"

Wouldn't all parents want such rich environments for their children if they thought it was a good fit? And cost is not the issue since they are all going to pay out-of-state, province, country tuition rates!

But this vision of education is a hard sell in Hong Kong, even within the Christian community. The view of the crowd was quite evident when one parent asked, "How do you go about choosing a college?"

My response was to have discussions with your son or daughter over what would be a good fit--urban or rural, big or small, what types of programs, etc. Where would they thrive?

The parent then said, "but what is you want to hold out for the dream college?" The school counselor quickly responded with: "A college where your child thrives is their dream college."

Afterward, most quickly went up to the UBC recruiter (a world class university). One young man quietly came up and told me he was intrigued by the idea of a Christian liberal arts college. I gave him my card and he quickly disappeared into the crowd.

This is a very hard place to recruit because parents are determined to send their children to big, high status universities--names that people recognize--and really don't care about "fit" for their children. It is all perceived status. I was struck by the impoverishment of this perspective. Children are not allowed to talk about their needs. Parents are not allowed to focus on what kinds of people they want their children to become, but rather only on their "success." There is no grace--children are not allowed to fail to meet expectations. If they are unhappy when they are away at university, they cannot say it. And, in spite of their being Christians, a life of service to community and others, does not seem to be within the acceptable range of options.

This cultural perspective of course, is seen throughout society here. This is why business runs government and the non-profit sector is not very strong. Family obligations are primary and these obligation involve this narrow view of success.

I recall when my daughter Marie was 1 year old, we were invited to a child development class so the class could see an example of what a one year old was like. Of course, she was in no way a typical one year old. Instead of holding on to me, she proceeded to turn the classroom upside down by tearing through everyone's backpacks. But that is another story...

In that class, a student asked me WHAT I wanted Marie to be when she grew up. I was so stunned by this question that I didn't have much of a chance to answer. I had only thought about WHO I wanted her to be--a Christian who portrayed spiritual values such as compassion, service to the poor and suffering, and desire for justice, and lived her life in such a way as to make a positive contribution to society. This desire for both my daughters comes out of my Christian commitment. But in Hong Kong, even within Christian circles, this type of desire for daughters and sons is muted. Even those that might wish this for their children have a difficult time finding an outlet for expressing it. Societal vision pushes otherwise.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Transportation and Big Buddha

I wanted Ruth to experience HK in its fullest so we went to the Big Buddha on Lantou Island and also to the Peak on Hong Kong Island in one day. But the "real" experience was related to transportation--

Subway to cable car station on Lantou Island
Cable Car to Big Buddha and back to cable car station
Subway to Central
Bus from Central to The Peak
Tram down the mountain from The Peak
Ferry from HK Island back to Kowloon
Subway home
LOTS of walking

Next day--Ruth took a taxi to the airport and got in a plane. I count 8 types of transportation in 24 hour period.

Ruth was in good company. While in the cable car, we saw a Buddhist monk sitting and reading a newspaper by himself in a cable car coming down from the monastery.

Sunday's and holidays in the park

Catholic church after mass

On Sundays and some holidays the parks and churches are full of Philippino domestic workers. The invisible becomes visible. Over Easter weekend, the tunnels leading to the subways and ferries and parks were full of groups of them sitting on blankets. There also appeared to be some type of event--it looked like a political campaign that went on for several days near the Central station on Hong Kong Island. As it turned out, the newspaper report that Hong Kong's Philippine workers voted in their national election a month ahead of voters at home this week in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong 95,355 workers were registered to cast their ballots.

Signs and Views

Temple in Shanghai

Views from the Train

A new coal plant is built every week in China

Rice fields as you get closer to Guangzhou

Solar hot water heaters are prevalent and also these peaks on the roof.

Cement railroad ties and utility poles.

Harmony with nature?

Harmony with nature as a westerner might think of it, is not very evident in China. Parks are well controlled and structured. Culturally there is also a strong emphasis on technical solutions.

For example, when I was giving lectures, I talked about the problem of pig production in North Carolina--the amount of pig manure was out of sink with the acres of land that could absorb it. Someone asked--couldn't they just ship it to Iowa?

When I talked about climate change and threats to water supplies from droughts, someone asked, couldn't you just take water from areas with water and build a huge pipeline that would take it to drought areas?

In Shanghai, one of the curiosities was the trimming of the trees. Every season they are cut back with great effort and vigor. It would be like cutting off the top of a maple tree each year so that it would sprout from its main trunk. An American had asked people about why this was done and gotten one response that involved the trees being too messy and dropping leaves. Perhaps it is to keep them from interfering with the wires. Also the number of large trees was said to be few because of famine and people cutting down the trees to use them so none are over 25 years old. I can't say what the reason is for all this. I am curious and wish I understood.

A Train Across China

Dan Holtrop, Calvin Alum who works for U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, with Stanley.

Guangzhou from our hotel

Guangzhou from our hotel

The four of us--mothers and daughters took a train from Shanghai to Guangzhou--an 18-22 hour trip. In Guangzhou we were going to give lectures arranged by a Calvin College alum who worked for the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou.

The first challenge to doing this is buying the tickets. In China you can only buy tickets at the origin location of your trip and only shortly before you go. But we all had flown to Shanghai so we could not get the tickets before we arrived! Ruth's niece managed to get the tickets for us while Ruth was off lecturing in China, but found that the train we wanted was sold out before the tickets went on sale. Yes, I know, that doesn't sound possible! She got us tickets for another train that left and arrived at different stations.

Always get a soft sleeper--a compartment for four with beds with mattress, pillow and comforter and a door that closed and locked! Since there were four of us, that worked well so we didn't have to share with anyone.

The Shanghai station was new and modern so it was easy to navigate and find our train.

We left on time around 11:30 a.m.. Soon after leaving the station, someone came and took our tickets (which were also our receipts!) and gave us little plastic tickets with our berth number on it. We tried to figure out what they were for. Ruth tried to see if they were to be used to let us in and out of our compartment if we locked it. We looked for places to post the tickets without success. In the end, we put them away in hopes that at some point their use would become evident to us.

Each compartment had a stainless steel thermos for hot water which you could get at the end of each car, and a stainless tray. Ruth and I decided to try to get tea or coffee in the dining car for an outing. After some attempts at discussion, it became clear that this was not what the dining car was for--you had to bring your own drinks. We went back to our compartment, got hot meals, fruit, and cold drinks when the vendors came down the hall selling their wares, and resorted to getting our newly acquired tea out of our bags to make our own hot drinks. Luckily we had had tea lessons in Shanghai. I think the stainless tray was for used tea leaves.

We kept ourselves quite amused by the double takes of people as they went past our compartment, especially when they saw Karis's red hair. We were THE only westerners on the train.

It got dark around 7 pm so we went to sleep and slept relatively well. We awoke around 5:00 since the train was supposed to arrive at 5:30. However, nothing happened. We did got through some much poorer areas than around Shanghai and of course, rice fields and mountainous and very rugged areas.

At about 7 a.m. someone came buy and gave us back our tickets and took our plastic replacements. Mmmmm. Maybe this was the system they used to make sure we got off at the right station. We arrived about 30 minutes later.

The Guangzhou station that we arrived at was very old. We walked out with all our luggage into a sea of humanity, thousands of people exiting the train and moving through a cement tunnel with puddles and water on the floor--Annemaria thought it looked like a sewer. I had clear visions of the holocaust. All we could do was move with the crowd which eventually moved up a long cement ramp to a huge plaza. There far in the distance we saw one westerner with a sign with our names on it. We were easy to spot. And right there, parked illegally on the plaza, was a van with consulate license plates. From this sea of humanity, our luggage was taken from us, loaded into the van, and we were taken to a very upscale hotel.

I highly recommend the trains!