Saturday, May 28, 2011

The thief comes to steal...

A few days ago, a student called me in a panic. He had lost his wallet, but a man contacted him and said that he found it. They agreed to meet near the main campus of our university, but when the student arrived, the man demanded 100 yuan (about 15 USD) to return the wallet. 100 yuan isn't a fortune, but to the majority of cash-strapped students, it's enough to buy them meals in the dining hall for a week. The money that had been inside of it was gone, but all the cards were there.

The student didn't have 100 yuan on him, and he couldn't go to the bank because his cards were in the wallet. He called me and asked if I would help him. I am the only person whom he knew that lived nearby and that had the means to get money to him quickly. Anyone with a heart would have said yes. I agreed to meet him at the main gate.

I quickly got ready and then called a few boys to go with me. I didn't know anything about the man who found the wallet. What if he was big and looking for trouble? What if he demanded more money once he saw me? What if he had a violent personality? I was hoping that the five strong guys who went with me would make the man lose confidence in his bold and shameful request. I gave brief thought to going to the police station, but there was (and is) little to no faith in their sense of justice.

When we arrived, I was surprised to see that the man was well into his 50s or 60s and was quite short and small-framed. I could have folded him up like a pretzel. He wore a white baseball cap, sunglasses and was nicely dressed. He wouldn't hand over the wallet until he had his promised 100, but I was shocked that he never felt any shame or guilt in demanding money for returning something that was never rightfully his. His behavior was an awful thing to behold. He is likely someone's father and grandfather, and he should be the one setting the example. Instead, he was a representative of greed and dishonesty, and those of us there had good reason to suspect that he was the one who took the original money out of the wallet. Why else would someone take the cash but leave credit cards?

I repeated over and over that he was stealing, not only from my student but from me, as well. My words fell on his deaf ears. He never showed any regret or humility. My student was near tears. His shock over seeing me arrive with an entourage of young men quickly turned to embarrassment. He wanted to end things quietly. I was incapable of doing so but had to control myself against saying or doing anything that might unharness my temper.

I looked at my watch. Time was running out and I couldn't be late to my afternoon class, nor did I want to cause the boys with me to miss what little lunch time remained. Reluctantly, I handed the man the 100 yuan that he had demanded. He walked away. I was furious that someone – anyone – would do that to a fellow countryman, especially a student. His single act insulted every person who works hard and honestly to support themselves and their families.

One of the boys who went with me used his cellphone to take photos. I'm going to ask the owner of the wallet if he will consider filing a report with the police station so that they have the man's face in the database. I also posted the story on a Chinese blog that's popular among students here. It's generated a good deal of discussion and has received about 200 views. Here are some comments:

2011-05-27 21:32
China is a place where a great number of people lacks basic sense of ethics.

2011-05-27 21:37
I think people in our age are doing much better, the result will change with compulsory education going on in China. Knowledge can change a person. When it's spread widely enough, it can change a nation.

2011-05-27 21:58
That man sucks...

2011-05-27 22:02
It‘s a very special country where strange things happen.Lucky for you your Chinese is poor, or else you will even not believe your eyes when reading local newspapers.

2011-05-27 22:08
The moral bottom line have lost in China for loss of faith.Lots of chinese do not fear any thing. the only thing they pursue is money because they believe that the only thing exisiting in the universe is substance.

2011-05-27 22:24
I find that more and more students around me have been aware of the problem.They feel apprehensive and try to get out of the dificulty.thus,I think it's going to get better .

2011-05-27 22:26
I believe that problem has a solution, that is to...get away initiatively from those dregs like the guy in your article above.

2011-05-27 22:27
There is always people behaving "differently" from the majority, or most people -- I call this kinda "diversity"... this could not be eradicated. We can condemn those bad guys, but at the same time we should not stay on the level of just complaining or appealing to humanity, which can only make us confused. To deal with such baddies, we should resort to laws!

2011-05-27 22:40
Which brought to my mind of a debate we had back in junior high school on whether award should be encouraged on behaviors like returning a piece of missing property to its original owner. This is simply disgusting.

2011-05-27 23:44
Right, there comes the part that we people have become so used to this kinda thing, trivial as it is.

2011-05-28 11:20
What a shameful man he is!But let's believe that this kind of phenomenon only happens occasionaly.Kind-hareted people take the most part.OK?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Those witty Canadians.

Last night, the Canuck, some friends and I attended our weekly Tuesday study. The topic was, "Taming the Tongue."

At one point, the speaker - in an attempt to segue into the topic - asked those in attendance, "Can you give me some examples of small things that can produce very significant results?"

Without missing a beat, the Canuck leaned over and whispered, "Tom Cruise."

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Just another typical Harbin day.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

not the prince she expected

On May 17, in the Chinese city of Changchun (not too far from Harbin), a heartbroken 22-year old positioned herself on the ledge of a seventh floor window. She was wearing her bridal gown.

It was a day originally planned for her wedding. Instead, her fiance left her for someone else.

As she slipped from the ledge, a local worker made his move from the inside of the apartment and was able to wrap his arm around her neck to suspend her body. With the help of other residents, he pulled her back into the apartment.

This young woman's ordeal reminds me that, though I am part of a great and mighty work in this part of the world, there are still deep trenches of hopelessness. And where it (hopelessness) exists, it is consuming, tyrannical and murderous.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

That's not a sepia filter...

Just another sandstorm from Inner Mongolia sweeping through the city.

Photos courtesy of Xinhuanet and China Daily.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


There's got to be a joke out there somewhere whose catchphrase begins with:
So an American girl and three Chinese guys sit down for hamburgers...

And continues with:
...and one of the guys offers to pick up buns without knowing what they are, so the girl sends him a jpg file.

And moves on to:
...and another guy cracks pepper over just one portion of the patty, which makes it resemble a used ashtray.

And adds:
...and one of the three creates an unevenly pressed patty which could double as a UFO or a football for players with impossibly small hands.

...while another nervously flips the sizzling masses in the pan, miscalculating his landing by enough to evoke scenes of Vancouver Olympic bobsleds gripping the icy walls of sharp turns.

And concludes by saying:
...but the didactic undertones of hamburger night make it more than just a meal with friends. They learn to create; pressing and forming shapes, grinding pepper and exercising patience in letting the meat cook undisturbed.

...and they become kitchen jesters whose only collective goal is to somehow fit stacked tiers of food into one comprehensive bite, each angle of attack proving as unsuccessful as the first.

...and their satisfaction made evident by the first quiet mouthfuls of their very own burgers of labor.

So maybe it's a joke only by definition of our laughter within the evening.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

(almost) singin' in the rain

As I was crossing the street the other day, I noticed a guy on the corner squinting at me and then waving his arms. It was StoneCold. I hurriedly crossed over and talked with him for several minutes. I had been hoping that we would meet up again; it had been weeks since any sighting.

I invited him to join me for dinner later that weekend at a nearby Arabian restaurant. Despite his seriousness, he's pretty intrepid when it comes to eating, so I thought he might enjoy being my company on Sunday evening. In true StoneCold investigation, he asked if it was "authentic." "Well, the guy who owns the place is from Syria," I responded. That was good enough for him, and he seemed eager to exercise his international palate.

I tried to order things that utilize ingredients commonly found in Chinese food, such as tomato, cucumber, eggplant, chicken, beef, and garlic. We had a good sampling of some dishes that he had never tasted, before, and all of them earned his approval. He was delighted with the meal and plans to take his dorm-mates back for dinner one night.

Long before we ever sat down, I had been asking for any future conversations to take a natural path toward eternal topics. I cannot develop a script in anticipation of our meetings and dinners. He would see through my attempt, and I would be at risk for losing ground with him. Instead, I continually ask for favor with him and for his mind to be steered into questioning me about what I believe. If he initiates those kinds of dialogues, I know that I am not stepping out of bounds.

Over tearing pieces of steaming hot pita, he very casually asked me, "Are you commanded to go throughout the world with your beliefs?"

Yes, [we] are. But it's not something that we are told to do without joy. It's like being cured of cancer and the doctor says, "Go out and tell others." Wouldn't you do it not only because you were asked but also because of the second chance you had been given?

He nodded and gave a simple, "hmmm." Considering his view of imperialism and forced theology, his answer - devoid of any rebuttal or inflammation - was a sweet acknowledgment to me of grace that is slowly invading his perspective. But I swallowed my joy along with my baba ghanoush and, like Mary, treasured that moment in my heart.

As we left the restaurant, I noticed that the evening sky was hovering low and dark overhead. I heard an inimitable roar above the clouds, something foreign to me these last seven months. My face erupted into a grin as I considered that "He thunders with his majestic voice." Within a few steps, the pavement was beginning to become spattered with rain. We hastened, but the heavens gave way and we were caught in a downpour. I looked over at StoneCold, walking step in step with me and shaking his head from time to time. I felt water begin to penetrate my jacket and the lightweight sweater underneath. We jumped over slight dips in the street and laughed at all the other pedestrians so luxuriously shielded by umbrellas.

We finally arrived at an intersection near my dorm. As I turned, he followed, assuming that he would escort me all the way to my front steps. I assured him that I would be fine. Above the thunder and the echoes of raindrops, he said, "Call me if you have any problem."

I stepped into my lobby with only the tops of my jeans still dry, water dripping from my hair, my eyelashes, and my fingertips. I hurried upstairs, changed clothes, dried my hair, and cocooned myself in a comforter.

I never got sick, and I never regretted sharing the first thunderstorm of the year with StoneCold.