Monday, October 15, 2012

I will read anything this lady writes.

William Tyndale, who was burned at the stake for his translation of the Bible, who provided much of the most beautiful language in what is called by us the King James Bible, wrote, he said, in the language a plowboy could understand. He wrote to the comprehension of the profoundly poor, those who would be, and would have lived among, the utterly unlettered. And he created one of the undoubted masterpieces of the English language. Now we seem to feel beauty is an affectation of some sort. And this notion is as influential in the churches as it is anywhere. The Bible, Christianity, should have inoculated us against this kind of disrespect for ourselves and one another. Clearly it has not.
--Marilynne Robinson in a new collection of essays entitled When I Was a Child I Read Books

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Overhead in the locker room

Lady 1: Don't you just hate those talking scales?

Lady 2: Oh yes! Every time I get on mine at home, it says, "One at a time, please."

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


That headache I mentioned in the last post dated over a month ago?

High blood pressure.

Generational high blood pressure, I should clarify. It's practically a requirement in order to have my family name.

So, coupled with some other health concerns, I ended the semester a month early and flew home two weeks ago. I moved all my stuff out of my apartment because I'm taking a year off to spend Stateside.

Right now, I'm taking a break and waiting for a lemon pound cake to reach southern perfection in the oven. My family and I are leaving tomorrow morning for Orlando, FL, for some Fourth festivities with relatives.

Not sure how much I miss China, yet. Air conditioning and customized healthcare and a Kitchen Aid standing mixer keep me well distracted, so far.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

stuffed crust: not for the feeble

Yesterday was a long and challenging day. It started with a headache and it ended with a magnified headache that bridged from temple to temple.

Lunch was spent at a nearby pizza buffet that was on the way home. Some friends and I stopped in during a dead time, so the place was unusually quiet. In fact, half of the floor staff was sleeping in plain view at the back of the restaurant. I chuckled at the lack of decorum but admitted my simultaneous envy over such a reprieve; mine didn't come until much later.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Teach it and they will come.

A few weeks ago, one of our largest school-sponsored clubs asked me to give a TED-esque presentation. (If you don't know what TED, is, click here.)

At first, I declined because it would require yet another commute across town to our second campus, a place which already owns me four out of five teaching days in the week. One of their leaders, a current student, finally sold me on the idea when she asked me if I would speak about the ways in which I have encouraged my students to "do the right thing," all year. I took it as an open door through which I should step in order to reach ears that rarely hear counsel of the heart from teachers. The majority of my presentation was dedicated to internet integrity and how that impacts their current reputation, their future chances of acceptance by international schools, and their overall legacy that will continue long after they are gone.

It was a good night. No, it was a great night. Standing room only. With so many in attendance being current students and former students, it reminded me that I have one of the most amazing jobs on earth.

Friday, April 20, 2012

resurrections from music

This is one of those videos that I could watch over and over again.

Friday, April 13, 2012

time warp

On Thursday, I left my apartment at 7 a.m. and it was raining. By the time I caught the bus, the rain had trace amounts of snow mixed in it. Two hours later, the flurries were everywhere. Flakes were the size of a penny. By noon, the snow had stopped and the emerging sun had melted most of it away. Grey skies turned blue and the temperature reached mid 50s.

Harbin is one of the few cities in which it is entirely possible to experience three seasons within four hours.

Photos courtesy of students.

Monday, April 2, 2012

tough love

So I sat down tonight to write the following email to a former student who has asked me for help in studying for the TOEFL, an extensive qualifying exam required by every U.S. university to prove one's level of English proficiency. I hope it strikes him with a holy discomfort.


Let me prepare you for this email. It will not be easy to read. It's not even easy to write. Understand that what I share with you, I share because I care about you. If I didn't care about you, I wouldn't take the time or the effort to use this opportunity to help you see things with a fresh perspective.

I taught you when you were just a freshman, and I realize that over time, people can mature and make positive changes. However, it's my overall experience that, unless there is a major trauma in one's college life, what works for the first year will continue to be the formula applied to the second, third, fourth year and so on. I also know that the academic environment here encourages whatever means are necessary to achieve the final result. In China, everything depends on the final mark. It is not that way in the U.S. Our education system highly values the process of learning as much as the final outcome, which is why many professors develop long-standing friendships with their students; it is considered an interactive part of learning. Academic integrity receives high priority among colleges. We have clear definitions of cheating and plagiarism, and when one is caught, the result is often expulsion from the institution with no hope of ever returning. American universities share names of such individuals so that the odds of being accepted to another university are slim. No school wants to be known as a refuge for liars, cheaters and fakes.

I say this because I want to establish that I am evaluating you based on the perspective of a U.S. school, and what I share with you should be taken with all seriousness. As your former teacher, I am somewhat acquainted with your approach to learning and academic integrity, and I will tell you that I am greatly concerned when thinking that you might possibly study in the United States. To be honest, X, I do not think you are a good candidate. Here are my reasons why:

1. You have already indicted yourself by choosing an internet moniker that displays great contempt for certain areas of western education. "FUCKtheGRE" not only insults American institutions AND your American teacher who tried to help you see the value in a foreign language, but it also labels you as arrogant and short-tempered. Consider that many US schools now have access to Chinese microblogs, and do not think for a moment that they are not out looking at your posts. They want to know if the person on paper is the real thing. Sadly, with a name like your previous one, you would not pass the test of authenticity.

2. You once told me that you have no problem cheating on exams or quizzes if they're not important. While your attitude about cheating certainly isn't rare, it is slightly alarming that you have not considered how this will affect your performance in America. X, cheating is not tolerated there. Not on homework or on quizzes or on exams or on finals. Not even in writing articles. If you still cheat and are accepted into an American school, you are putting that school and your own reputation in huge danger. More importantly, cheating is like setting a small part of a forest on fire. If you get away with it, it begins to consume other areas of your life: your business, your taxes, your friendships, your marriage. X, your lack of conscience is going to be a serious threat to your future. Sadly, when I think of you in 20 or 30 years, I do not imagine a content man who is surrounded by good friends and a strong reputation. Instead, I imagine a man who has achieved life's luxuries at the expense of his own morality. You would not be a man whom I would trust, X, and that's heartbreaking for a teacher to have to tell her own student.

3. You have hired an agency to do things for you. I know more about agencies than you probably think I do. While they promise to make your dreams come true, they are actually part of the reason why American universities are increasingly suspicious about Chinese students. Agencies do more than translate; they forge the entire application for many students. The trouble is that the application doesn't match the ability of the students once they arrive on campus. On paper, the student has exceptional communication abilities and outstanding contributions to class. In person, the student can barely speak and sits silently in class, never interacting with the other students (except for the ones who are Chinese). This is causing some American students to be resentful of Chinese kids who buy their way into class yet never contribute. They are, essentially, taking away the chance from someone who does the work honestly and independently.

4. You have demonstrated little interest in true study. Why go halfway around the world if all you really care about is smoking, the NBA and your girlfriend? You can have those things here in China without doing any damage to the reputation of the US schools.

This isn't just your academic life I'm talking about, X. This is your whole future. Instead of focusing on what a US school can do for you, start asking yourself what YOU can do for yourself. Maybe you need to take some time for self-examination before you expect an American university to change your life.

While I love China and desire the best for my friends and students here, I am also protective of the reputation of my own country's universities. After all, I am a product of such an education, and I wish for the level of excellence to be maintained for the sake of my own children and grandchildren. Your current performance does not meet that standard, and if I were on the admissions committee of your target schools, you would not be selected.

Our conversation tonight has given me reason to believe that you do not yet understand that YOU are a part of the problem that keeps Chinese education from experiencing its true potential. Change starts with the individual, not when you step foot onto foreign soil. Whoever you are now determines the rest of your days. For your sake and for the sake of your wife, children and the subsequent generations, I hope that you choose to re-evaluate your attitude and approach to the life you have been given. It is not too late to choose a better way.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

the rock to which we cling

Regarding my relationship with kids, I'm not exactly the ogre-ish Mama Fratelli from The Goonies, but I'm no Mary Poppins, either. The odd thing is that while I favor well-mannered children (and who doesn't?), it seems to be the mischievous rowdy ones that somehow fall within my shadow of influence. For instance, when I worked in Japan, my employer offered classes to children as young as three. Once I had established my reputation as the branch's most requested teacher, I used that to my advantage and negotiated out of most children's lessons. However, one of our regular instructors had some conflicts for a few consecutive weeks, and his classes defaulted to me because – as I later found out – I was the only one on staff who might be able to control a group of three-year old boys led by a wiry little guy who could somehow scale the 6-foot body of his British teacher in less than a minute. I remember looking at them through the observation windows as I made my way to the door. There was only one way to establish my presence, so I entered the room where they were darting and screaming, and I immediately stiffened my posture, hardened my face in seriousness and gave a sharp and effective commander's “Hey!” The chaos was stilled and every single little pair of almond eyes looked up at me in shock. I scanned each face like a sea captain who had just confronted the band of mutineers. From that point on, they were mine. Restricting their feral activity gave them freedom to use their indefatigable imaginations. I taught them “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” with exaggerated gestures, and they requested to perform it each week, their favorite part being when we would emphasize the line “and WASH! the spider out...” with a dramatic extension of our hands in every direction. Their exhausted mothers watched with pride and subtleties of wonder that the wild things of home were suddenly standing at attention when the foreign teacher entered the room. After a few weeks, their regular teacher returned, and I happily passed his former students back to him. It was a refreshing change of scenery for me, but I knew then, as I know now, that children are not my target group.

Which brings me to Tuesday night at our fellowship. We have a bi-lingual study there from 5:30-7:00, and it's been warm enough this week to walk the 45 minutes from my dorm. I arrived early and took a seat in the back while the music team rehearsed and did mic checks. On a bench to my left was a mother and her little girl of about three, whose delicate frame could've passed her for a two-year old had she not been so sturdy on her feet. She wore a lime green coat and pink pants. Her hair was straight, black and cut short so that her bangs fell just into the rise of her eyebrows. Her skin was pale and translucent, and she wore a tan-colored patch over her right eye. The patch hid slightly behind glasses that made her other eye appear disproportionately large, and the moment I saw her walking so carelessly in front of my seat, I silently crowned her the cutest sweetest face I had seen all week. She turned and noticed me smiling at her but didn't register any emotion. Her indifference was welcome; being a foreign face in China doesn't often afford moments of homogeneity. She made her way back toward her mother, and I gave her a subtle wave as she passed by. Again, she noticed but didn't seem impressed, and it's not in my nature to try to win over small kids. She went her way, and I returned to navigating through the alto range of the songs being practiced.

A few moments later, she circled around (again) in an aimless walk that only children can pull off without raising suspicion. As she passed by me, I looked at her and smiled at all the cuteness that she embodied; the little white boots, the puffy green jacket encumbering so small a stature, the miniature features on a porcelain face. She stopped and evaluated me for a minute and then turned and walked right up to me and draped her body over my crossed legs. She rested her chin on my knee and looked up at me, neither with sparkling curiosity nor with eagerness to play. She didn't move, and neither did I. We just stared at one another for several seconds, and then she turned her face so that her cheek rested above my knee. She was tired and had decided I was a good rock on which to rest. My left hand instinctively covered the back of her head, and I ran my fingers through her shiny black hair. My heart felt a special affection for this child who asked nothing of me other than to simply be who I was, where I was. She didn't expect entertainment, and she wasn't dumped on me by a parent who wanted bragging rights.

I looked up to see some friends of mine walking through the door, and when they noticed the tiny human starfish suctioned to my leg, they whispered, “Who is that?” I shrugged my shoulders and laughed, “Dunno, but she's been here for ten minutes.” Her mother had been watching and came to retrieve the listless child once the service started. I didn't protest but was a little disappointed that our tender moment came to an end. The next time I saw her, she was curled up next to her mother on one of the benches, dreaming little-girl dreams full of cotton candy, rolly-pollys, and pigtails.

This morning, I thought of her and how much she had affected me. My desire to suddenly protect her and love her were no doubt stirred by her quietness and vulnerability. In the same way, how much more does the Rock on which we fling ourselves release His lavish love on us when we approach Him with weary silence, simply trusting that He will be Who He is: a comforter, a protector, an immovable rock, a Father who reaches down and gently anoints us with His hand. Yet how often do we, instead, come with a sense of entitlement or the expectation of being entertained or amused. Our interaction superficial, we return to our lives boasting of His favor when, in fact, we have not known the fulfillment of simply anchoring ourselves to His satisfying presence.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Hollywood's storytellers

Great article written by John R. Erickson for Worldmag. For full context, click here.

In 1985 CBS Television made a 30-minute animated cartoon out of my first Hank the Cowdog book. I was thrilled to get the exposure offered by a Saturday morning cartoon, aired on national television. At least half the population of my Perryton, Texas, hometown watched it. Everyone was proud that a local book had made it to the Big Time.

CBS did a first-class, professional job with the animation, the character voices, and the music—but made subtle changes to my story.

In my books, Hank's ranch is a family cattle operation, involving a husband (Loper), a wife (Sally May), and a hired hand (Slim). Loper and Sally May have two children, two dogs, and a cat. Their ranch is typical of cattle operations in Texas and the Southwest.

The CBS version turned the cattle ranch into a chicken farm, and Sally May had become the boss. Loper and Slim were her hired hands, and there was no suggestion of marriage or a biblical family unit. The children had disappeared from the story, and one assumed that Sally May and the men lived together in the ranch house—one big, happy, postmodern family. CBS used my teacher-trusted, family-tested story as a carrier for its feminist, beef-hating agenda.

On a typical Sunday morning, my pastor preaches a Christian message to 150 people. The CBS cartoon probably entered 10 million to 15 million living rooms, where unsuspecting children absorbed it along with their chips and soda pop.

This is the challenge Christians face in today's media-drenched world. We preach. We present well-reasoned arguments and back them up with Scripture. We organize boycotts and sign petitions. And in the arena of popular culture, we're getting creamed, because we have allowed someone else to tell our stories.

In her powerful study of art and media, Nancy Pearcey notes, "Ideas penetrate our minds most deeply when communicated through the imaginative language of image, story, and symbol" (Saving Leonardo, p. 11). Pearcey urges Christians to stop complaining about rotten art and entertainment, and to start offering an alternative that is better.

Christians often regard entertainment as a second-rate profession, inferior to preaching or missionary work, but storytelling satisfies a deep human need, and we should feel comfortable in the story business. The Old Testament is a collection of stories, and Jesus used parables to reach people of all ages and levels of sophistication.

In the history of our church, storytelling came first. Theology, doctrine, and scholarship came later. Ours is an age of electronic parables. Every movie and TV show presents a worldview, a set of beliefs that tell us who we are, where we came from, and how we're supposed to behave in this life.

If Christians don't present our own version of reality—with a high level of professionalism, and in the media of the times—who will do it?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The best part of wakin' up...

is knowing that you can have a steaming mass of skewered ground meat to go with your frothy cup of delicious coffee.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

the conundrum of cereal

8:00 a.m.

I am up, coffee in hand and sifting through the accumulation of emails that came in overnight. Among them, one is from a teammate thanking me for my contribution of strawberry banana bread to her long day. Another is from our tech department advising us on new virusware.

And then there's this one from a young man I taught last year and who now frequents our Sunday morning location. It's my favorite:

date: Fri, Mar 9, 2012 at 11:23 PM
subject: Methods of eating corn flakes.

In order to taste something new, I bought a box of corn flakes the other day. However, the problem is that I don't know how to eat it. And I wanna ask you for help. How would people usually eat corn flakes? Do I need some other ingredients?

China, you had me at corn flakes.

Friday, March 9, 2012

four days in a Chinese village: a photo journey

So, a Chinese guy invites an American and a Canadian to the small village where he was born and raised, a village where the presence of blonde hair and western features causes a mild disruption in traffic and conversations among locals.

The story continues with photos.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Duck Tales

My teaching schedule resumed last week after a month and a half of official holiday time. In each of my classes, I dedicated the first several minutes to hearing stories from students. Most echoed one another: I slept a lot, I ate a lot, I played on the computer, I saw my old friends.

One young man, however, had a unique experience. He volunteered to share his story with the class:

I returned to Harbin a few days ago. I decided to ride my bike to the Songhua River. I asked my roommate to go with me, but he didn't want to, so I went by myself. When I got to the Songhua River, I saw that it was still frozen and there were people walking around on it. So, I decided to walk across to the other side. I got off my bike and pushed it across the ice. When I got to the middle of the river, I heard the ice crack and suddenly a big hole opened up, and I fell in.

We all wore the same shocked expressions.

I surveyed the class. "Does anyone have questions? I know I do!" Heads nodded in unison and hands shot up.

Q: How did you escape?
A: Well, my legs fell into the water, but my hands were on the ice, so I pulled myself out.

Q: Was anyone around to help you?
A: No, no one was at that part of the river.

Q: What happened to your bike?
A: I was able to pull it out.

Q: But how? Wasn't the water moving quickly?
A: No, it was very slow. That's why I was able to pull myself and my bike out.

Q: What did you do once you got to the side of the river? Did you tell someone what happened? Did you take a taxi back?
A: No, I rode my back back to the dorm (a good 20-30 minute ride).

Q: But it was near freezing that day! You rode back with wet clothes?
A: Yes. My pants were frozen and covered with ice. That's why I have a cold now.

My shock exhausted any commentary. I told him how glad I was that he survived. Many in China don't know how to swim, and if variables had been slightly different...

But he WAS delivered from danger, and my afternoon was dotted with simple upward expressions of thanksgiving.

A few days later, I was shopping with a friend at a local market whose range of products is dizzying. Within steps of walking through the entrance, my eyes claimed an item that would be destined for the same young man mentioned above: a bright yellow duck float. There was just no way to refuse such a perfect mascot.

Prior to class on Monday, a friend and I found a box large enough to hold my purchase, and we taped it up and applied a mailing label to masquerade it as a legitimate delivery. The friend agreed to keep it in his possession until the start of class, at which point he would knock on the door and hand it over. Let the fun begin.

Monday morning at 10:05, my unexpected delivery arrived right on time. I played dumb and accepted the box with a passable level of confusion. The label, written in Chinese, was addressed to my student from the Songhua Safety Bureau.

"Oh, that's not mine," he said, waving his hand. Surely a mistake.

The students began to gather around the box.

"But your name is on here," I pointed out.

"No no no," he confidently insisted.

A young girl standing next to him examined the label and said, "Is that your phone number that's listed?"

He didn't even look. "Of course nah---Hey! That IS my phone number!" he corrected. His eyes widened in alarm.

I calmly encouraged him. "You should at least open it to see what's inside." No sooner had the suggestion come out of my mouth than a pair of scissors appeared out of nowhere. Collective curiosity was at its apex. Packing tape was sliced and the brown flaps opened to reveal a burst of yellow plastic. As soon as the students peered inside, heads reared back and howls bounced from wall to wall. Our Songhua survivor was no exception. His boyish face was plastered with a grin of absolute delight, and it only took a glance in my general direction to discern who the culprit was.

After class, he came up to me and said, "At the beginning of class, you asked us how we were, and I was actually very sad because the bicycle that I rescued from the river was stolen. I was quite upset about it. But this...I...I am so touched. I'm not sad anymore."

This afternoon, I received an email from him along with some photos:
Thanks for your surprising gift. I'm really happy to receive it. Now it lies on my desk. I show it off in front of my roommates. It is cool! it is a wonderful memory in my life.

Monday, March 5, 2012

keywords: my new BFF

As the account holder of this blog, I can go into my "statistics" menu to see how many people have visited. I do that a few times a week, mostly because I'm no stranger to disappointment. My traffic sources are then dissected by country, by referring sites and by keyword search.

Somehow, somewhere...someone found this blog by keyword search, "give a rip."

There's a modicum of pride there, folks.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

four days in a Chinese village: the preface

Imagine that a friend invites you to his village during the long Chinese New year holiday. Imagine you say yes.

Then, imagine you are just days away from departure and you get this photo emailed to you from your host. As you open the attachment, observe the facilities available at his house and then read the caption obviously processed through an online translator, your idea of a sweeping John Steinbeck adventure falls into the same hole over which you will soon be straddling.

Monday, February 27, 2012

along the watchtower

I can't sleep.

But it doesn't matter now because my alarm for 4:25a just went off. Last night, after a long day and a long walk, I went to bed earlier than my grandfather. I had a dream that the angel, Gabriel, visited me. I don't remember his message. He was beautiful, but in a way I didn't imagine.

I woke up around midnight, and my mind never stopped working after that.

Once I concluded that sleep wasn't coming back, I settled down in my favorite chair - my only chair - in my living room. I decided to read what I read yesterday because it's convoluted and wonderfully mysterious.

My favorite part is verse 36: If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. (Mark, chapter 13)

Imagine how that resounds with someone who can't explain her insomnia at 3:00 in the morning.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

An interview with Traveling Postcards founder Caroline Lovell

Have Fun • Do Good: Traveling Postcards: Interview with Founder, Carol...: "We all carry a desire to be recognized and appreciated, and often it takes only a small gesture of of deep listening or witnessing for a situation of despair to turn to one of hope and resiliency."
~ Caroline Lovell, Founder, Traveling Postcards

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

right place, right time

This photo, taken last May, won the blue ribbon in its division at our annual Thailand conference. I don't give a rip about the prize. I submitted it on a whim.

This photo STILL makes me laugh.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

protocol at 6 pm

Ratchadamnoen Road in Chiang Mai, Thailand, blooms on Sunday night. Located just opposite one of the gates along the old city wall, it's home to the weekly Sunday Night Walking Market, awash in colors and textures and goods for sale, ranging from cooked quail eggs to Thai lanterns. Everyone knows where it is and when it is. Setup begins between 3 and 4 pm, but crowds don't start to swell until after 6, when those looking for cheap and local savories combine with those on the hunt for the perfect souvenir. It can be a test of nerves and patience as the number of pedestrians thickens. If you happen to live in China, though, it feels about right.

At 6 pm, something very interesting takes place. The national anthem of Thailand is played over loudspeakers positioned throughout the market. Locals and repeat tourists know that everything must come to a standstill. I learned that very quickly during my first year in Chiang Mai, and this year, I went back to the market to capture the process.

The first three photos were taken from my position atop the gate. Not much room up there, so watch your feet as much as you watch your lens.

This next photo was taken just as the national anthem began to broadcast. Notice that those who are already at attention (circled for your convenience) seem to be locals or, as in the case of the two in the background, experienced tourists:

And finally, everyone catches on:

An interesting sidestory to this photo essay is that I noticed a woman and, presumably, her daughter, making their way through the crowd as the anthem played. They are in the middle of the photo below. The young woman appears incapacitated in some way. They eventually made their way down the street, and I lost interest, but going back through the photos that I took, I noticed that they appear out of nowhere. I can't find them in any of the shots taken just prior. Maybe I shouldn't watch so many suspense movies; there's always a cryptic photo involved.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

a place for compassion

Just back from winter vacation, and I couldn't be happier that my incoming flight arrived 24 hours ahead of the snow. Small mercies always appear bigger under the magnifying glass of travel.

Lots of stories to post and archive, but the first comes courtesy of a current student who took the time to write me this afternoon. On behalf of the enormous (and growing) number of aged people in China, it breaks my heart. It also gives me hope that my student and others like him might be not only listening but responding to the need for greater compassion.

How are you?How was Thailand?I joined a volunteer group and I went to a gerocomium with the

group a few days ago.The gerocomium was in a town near Chengdu city.There were more than one hundred old people living

there.Because the gerocomium was pretty big, we were divided into several teams, heading to different buildings and rooms.

First, my team went to a room where two old women lived.One had amnesia.She could barely remember few things.She kept

asking what my first name was, and I told her that my first name was Li again and again, but patiently. When she heard

someone in our team had the same first name as she did, she suddenly cried.I guess it reminded her of her family.Seeing her

tears falling down, we all felt very sad. As we were consoling her and trying to make her feel better, a girl in our team

offered to give the other old woman a haircut.We talked with her for a while, then I went to another room and met the leader

of the volunteer group here.He was fixing the TV for the old man living in that room.That old man moved there from another

gerocomium, and he spoke with a strong accent.He liked smoking ,drinking teas, and he said he usually went to bed at 6 pm.I

noticed the floor was a little dirty, and with his permission, I cleaned up the floor for him.Most of the rooms were closed.

Considering the old people were sleeping, we didn't knock at the door.When we went out of the building, the other teams were

already in the dining hall with some old people, preparing performances.I joined one group and gave a dance in front of the

olders.The dance was a little stupid but quite amusing and we seemed to enjoy it more than the audience.Then I sang some songs(not

rapped)to the old people and an old lady also sang some songs about Chair Mao.We had such a great time.After all the teams

finished their performances, we took some photos and said goodbye to the old people.Some of them were very thankful and hoped that

we could visit their gerocomium more often. In fact, I was a little bummed on the way home.I felt like I hadn't done enough for

the old people.But since I am in the volunteer group, I will still have a lot of chances to do something for those people in need

of help. Now I understand your intention of asking us to do this.The world needs us.It needs our compassion, it needs our help, It

needs our love.I think I can trade my life for something meaningful rather than just enjoy what it gives me.

Monday, January 30, 2012

the getaway

I came to Chiang Mai early to slip into the quiet comfort of warmth and stillness...and anonymity. Tomorrow is my check out day from the little bungalow that has been my retreat. I will report to the hotel downtown, where several hundred of us will gather for our annual conference. I look forward to it for a number of reasons, partly because I am coming out of isolation and am emotionally and spiritually ready for the next eight days of fellowship, workshops, meetings and dinners on the terrace.

It's been a lovely two weeks at this place. Though not much more expensive than the budget YMCA that has been my default accomodation in previous years, it's given me two of the things that the Y can't: a pool and seclusion. I've taken to calling the owner,a retired man from the UK, "Sir Philip." The gecko brothers, on the other hand, still remain, "the gecko brothers."


My bungalow is on the far right.

The bikes are available for any guest to use. They don't climb hills very well, but are fine for quick trips into the nearby village.

There are three pools on sight. The largest is a lap pool. The two circular ones are more shallow and are generally offered for children. The water is as cold as I can stand it; get in and keep moving.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Do we get a prize?

Just linked to a newly published list from of the top 30 universities in China for 2012. If the minds behind the appointments have any credibility, then Harbin Institute of Technology is in the top ten. From the source (click for full article):

Rank 2012: 10

Rank 2011: 10

Score: 104.98


Located in the ice city of Harbin in Heilongjiang Province, Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT) was formerly founded in 1920 as the Harbin Sino-Russian School for Industry. The university, a member of the C9 League, is generally recognized as one of China's top universities with distinct and unparalleled programs in the field of astronautics. Early in 1954, it became one of the first six universities in China designated to receive major support from the government. With its cutting-edge high-tech research, HIT has always been a leader in large-scale and highly sophisticated national projects. It has made great contributions to China's space and defense industry, including the internationally-renowned "Shenzhou Series Spaceship Project". It has created many scientific inventions, such as China's first simulation computer, first arc-welding robots, and the world's first advanced-level system radar.

Monday, January 23, 2012

in the gecko...

By the end of the day today (Monday), I will have been in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for a week. I usually arrive prior to my annual business conference. I've been staying on the outskirts of the city at a swimming facility that has three bungalows on site. I wanted to be secluded and away from the night bars and markets that monopolize the downtown streets. So far, I got what I asked for: I'm a 10-15 minute walk away from the nearby village, and the first things I hear in the mornings are the warblers perched atop nearby tree branches and the occasional dog chorus from nearby properties. There's an insomniac rooster somewhere around here, as well.

I also discovered that there is a turf war going on among the geckos that congregate on the outside walls of the bungalows. One of them has managed to break inside (not hard at all, considering that my windows are open during the day and my front door leaves enough room to allow light in through the bottom). He has claimed his stake above my wall-mounted air conditioner and has demonstrated a nocturnal fascination with the trash can that sits directly underneath. I know this because two nights ago, he rattled around in the plastic liner long enough for me to realize that it wasn't being stirred by air circulation. Once I turned on the light and started walking toward the trash can, he seized straight out of it and dashed to his hiding spot behind the air conditioner. I transferred the contents (few as they were) to the bathroom trash can, overturned the tempting one, and set my sandals on top. No more noise for the rest of the night.

Last night, the trash can was empty. I made sure of it. About 45 minutes after I turned off the light, I heard the unmistakable rustle of plastic. I didn't even turn on the light as I raised my head and - without even second-guessing his English proficiency - said, "There's nothing in there." He continued investigating a few more minutes. At one point, I got up to use the restroom and, as I turned on the light, I saw him scamper back to his hideaway. A few seconds later, I saw him dart from there toward the the large window on the same wall. He was darker than I remembered from the previous sighting.

Within seconds, I heard the the succession of clicks coming not from the one on wall, but from behind the air conditioner. I recognized the sound immediately; during a previous conference, my roommate and I had a gecko in our room, and he silently occupied a corner, save the peculiar little chirp that charmingly incriminated him. My trash can scavenger had, as best I could tell, kicked the intruder out of his spot that was likely claimed while he was, well, in the can. I had on my hands the cute reptilian version of a smack down.

No idea where the challenger finally ended up. I guess I'll find out tonight if there's a round two -- after I turn over the trash can.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Harbin Ice Festival 2012


(video courtesy of the Telegraph)

New Year's Day 2012

I was invited to dinner with one of my freshmen classes. Whoever made the decision of where to eat has good taste; we dined at a hot pot place with mirrors on the ceiling (but without the "pink champagne on ice") and a great view through the third story windows overlooking the street. With full bellies, we walked down the street, took a few photos in front of some ice sculptures and then retreated to the warmth of a karaoke room, where I contributed two mangled Chinese love ballads.

my favorite photo of the evening