Tuesday, March 20, 2012

“明瞭” 與 “希望”

Addendum - After dad read my previous post, he wrote me the following:

"「告訴民眾明瞭政府作些什麼,反映民情希望政府作些什麼」-這是蔣經國總統某年巡視新聞局時所給予的訓勉,我在新聞局新建大樓落成時,特別挑選將之掛上。

I am sure we discussed Kennedy's famous saying some time before. I still believe in what I had told you about that saying.“


-----

My memory fails me, but the spirit lives on. Thanks dad!

梅ちゃん at 4:21:00 PM

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Between "公僕" and "領導"

When I was young, when dad was still serving in the government, I would visit him in his office from time to time. Next to his office, there was a grand auditorium with a stage in the middle, a podium in the center, and rows after rows of sofa chairs that were so big and wide that on which, my still short legs and small feet just couldn't help but to dangle - an involuntary gesture that, of course, always invited a silent yet firm look of "No!" from mom.

I had been in that auditorium many times, not for the press conferences for which the room really was built for in the first place, but for the periodic screening events of the films that received production subsidies from the government. It was in that grand auditorium that I watched Ang Lee's very first film, Pushing Hands. It was also in that grand auditorium that I was first introduced to the wonder of art and film.

But beyond the spectaculars that I saw on screen, what always attracted my attention - for kids seem to have this peculiar thing about taking interests in some of the most mundane things to adults - was not the stage, nor the podium, nor the congregation of adults, but the couplet of words that were printed in gigantic wooden blocks and nailed to the side of the stage:

"不要問國家為你做了什麼, 要問你能為國家做些什麼"

Before and after the screening, when the adults were busy giving grand speeches or greeting one another, I put all my attention on the couplet ('cuz really, there wasn't much for me to do, while sitting quietly on that big and wide sofa-like chair was the only thing permitted by mom). Over a number of years, I went from studying just the calligraphy of the writing (before I could recognize all the words), to reciting each word of the couplet slowly (after I could recognize all the words), to finally thinking and pondering what the couplet really means.

But even when I was finally old enough to be wondering about the meaning of the couplet, the couplet puzzled me greatly. "Why couldn't we ask what our country has done for us? Isn't the country by default so much bigger and greater than our individual power and wisdom?" I thought.

Till one day, dad, somehow getting the chance to excuse himself from all the dignitaries at the event, came over and started pointing out the couplet to me - "You see that couplet on the side? That's the famous saying by J.F.Kennedy, a former U.S. President - 'Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country'".

"But dad, why can't we ask what our country can do for us? Isn't everyone asking you everyday what the government, the Premier, or the President is doing for the people and the society?" I finally popped the question, a question that had troubled me for a very long time.

"Well, because more than expecting your country to solve all the issues and problems, wouldn't it make more sense for us to share the burden and responsibility by starting from where we are and asking what we can do?" Dad said.

"If that's the case, why do we need people like you in the government?" I asked again.

"But May-yi, even for people like us, who work in the government, we are still just regular human beings. So just like everyone else, we still need to ask ourselves the same question - 'what can I do for my country and people everyday' - not what others can do for us. That is why we are called the 'public servant' (公僕) - to be here to serve, not to be served," dad replied.

Years later, whenever I heard of the word "公僕" in Chinese, that conversation with dad somehow always flashes back to my mind. In my little 9 or 10-year-old mind, I still couldn't associate the word "公僕" with its literal meaning - "公眾的僕人/the public servant". But for some reason, from that day on, I seemed to have a sudden understanding of what dad's job was all about, why he had been so busy, and why he always seemed to be dealing with a sense of urgency of having too little time for too much to do, too much to solve, too much to implement.

Fast-forwarding to today - 20 years after I had my first lesson on the meaning of "公僕" with dad - I came a land for which I thought I could somehow live up to my parents' lifelong teaching of "serving those who're most needed". Yet, the word that has again and again been preached to me about the meaning of what I do, or the model to look up to, is not the word "公僕", but the word "領導".

So today when one of my students asked on FB what in the world is a "領導" for when he/she is no where to be found when needed, I made a comment saying, "My understanding and perception of 領導 has been completely transformed since I arrived at this school".

And her answer, which really made me chuckle, just so perfectly explained why I said what I said - "In fact, my understanding of '领导' has never transformed since I was born ... 领导 is the person who does nothing but owns all the priority over others, including those who are really working hard for students and teachers".

Mom and dad taught me to live a life asking about the interests and serving the needs of those in underprivileged position. Now I'm at a place where I'm told and expected to ask about and serve the interests and needs of those in overprivileged leadership.

How about finding the middle-way by inventing a new Chinese word for "servant-leader" and restart from there?

I invite all of your suggestions.

梅ちゃん at 3:55:00 AM

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Truth that Overcomes

"God says we need to love our enemies. That hard to do. But it can start by tellin' the truth."

A line by Aibileen from "The Help", which I finally got a chance to take a night off to watch on DVD this past week.

Many might say this is a film about racial discrimination in the early days of the Civil Rights movement in the American deep south. But I would like to say "discrimination" is too light of a term to use. "Injustice" or "oppression" comes closer.

At FT today, we listened to T. Keller's sermon on the last part of Ephesians 6. Towards the end of the sermon, Keller mentioned one thing that struck me hard, and I jotted it down on my iPhone Notes as follows:

"Jesus overcame evil with good, by coming to the world to bear evil and take all the consequences of evil".

Powerful message and a thunderstorm awakening. The question is - HOW exactly are we able to do that, to "overcome evil with good"?

Romans 12:20-21 tell us: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

What if your enemy is neither hungry nor thirsty. Rather, your enemy is the main perpetrator who deprives your and others' means of food and water, rights for dignity and respect?

"Ain't you tired, Miss Hilly? Ain't you tired?" When Aibileen is at last fired from her job, she looks into the eyes of her perpetrator and leaves her with these final words.

"God says we need to love our enemies. That hard to do. But it can start by tellin' the truth. No one had ever asked what it feel like to be me. Once I told the truth about that, I felt free. And I got to thinkin' about all the people I knew, and the things I seen and done. My boy, Treelore, always said we gonna have a writer in the family one day. I guess it's gonna be me."

For Jesus, he overcame evil by bearing the deadly consequences of evil and dying on the cross to set those who believe in him free.

For us humans - if bearing the consequences of evil isn't what we are able to do, perhaps telling the truth, and encouraging others to do just the same, is somewhere to start?

I am tired, extremely tired. But perhaps the enemy is more tired than me. In the end, there is nothing more tiring and frightening than not being able to face up to one's own soul, own conscience, and the higher being above.

梅ちゃん at 2:10:00 AM

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Hello Dalian, Goodbye Dalian

If human relations aren't meant to stay permanent, if more than half of your life is spent on being a passenger in someone’s life or having others being mere passengers in your life – what, do all such encounters mean?

Dalian reminds me of many of my other locations of temporary dwelling – driving along the seaside road, I thought of the mountain ranges in Nikko; walking up the stairs towards the giant soccer ball inside the Labor Park, I recalled a similar hill-climbing in Seoul. The frozen lake and the packs of elderly playing cards nearby brought me memories of Jingshan Park in Beijing (and the day after a big snowstorm when I was too scared to walk down the icy, slippery slope); I too thought of Boston Common, the willow trees by the pond and the conversation that Robin Williams had with Matt Damon in “Good Will Hunting”.

I thought about Harbin and tried to recall that very cold night when we had Russian food at a hole-in-a-wall place by the roadside – never had my legs and toes tasted such coldness before. I thought about all the landmarks/monuments that I’d been to in all the 2nd- or 3rd-tier cities in China – after awhile, all the “people square,” “labor park”, and “walking/cultural street” in these cities start to blend and look alike. I thought about all the dolphins, penguins, beluga whales I’ve seen or even swum with – some of them live in cleaner water; some of them have better trainers. I also thought about all the ocean views I’ve had, on top of a mountain, mid-level on a hill, or sea-level with my feet ducked warmly under a pile of beach sand, toasted in the mid-afternoon sun – the turquoise blue sometimes amazes me, the tranquility calms me, the distant waves give me a chill just thinking about the unpredictability of the mother ocean.

Some of those moments were accompanied by people; many of those were spent alone. In community and solitude, with loved ones or not - I’ve had them all. But never for more than a few days, if not even another chance in life.

Yet in the end – people come and go, memories refreshed yet fade away again. Nothing stays permanent. You grow and mature, you learn a few lessons; you cry for a few nights, then the next day you wake up and get on the road again. Some of the walks are long, some of them short; some joyfully unexpected, some painfully challenging and hard. Yet even the hardest moments don’t stay forever, just like even the longest rainy season (like the one we have been having here in Shanghai) is bound to see its end, somehow, sometime.

On the way to Dalian airport from downtown, I popped in my earphones and for whatever reason, “Both Sides Now” from Ann Sally’s “Voyage” album began to flow. I listened to it, put it on repeat, then listened to it again, passing through 3 car accidents on the highway in the meanwhile and seeing the last glimpse of daylight fading quietly into the far, dim sky --

Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I've looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way
I've looked at clouds from both sides now

From up and down, and still somehow
It's cloud illusions I recall
I really don't know clouds at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say "I love you" right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I've looked at life that way

But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I've changed
Well something's lost, but something's gained
In living every day

I've looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all

I've looked at life from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all


Hello Dalian, Goodbye Dalian. It's not just Dalian, but all encounters and people in life.

Hello, Goodbye.

And the journey continues.

梅ちゃん at 5:40:00 PM

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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Wait, Work and Have Faith

I made a mistake not wearing long-johns today, totally deceived by the partially sunny weather after 2 days of nasty cold rain.

Didn’t somebody just remind me that we’ve just passed “立春” (3 days ago to be exact), traditionally the mark of the beginning of spring according Chinese lunar calendar? Where in the world is the sign and scent of spring?!? Not a slight sight of it at all I can assure you …

Yet another day of typical Chinese busyness – morning conference call, followed by a emergency request for a bio write-up and fixing of some power point slides. I thought working for a MNC would resolve the prevalent problem of last-minute requests and change of plans, but I guess nowadays, anything that has the slightest relations to do with work/training/personnel in China here cannot avoid this stressful firefighter type of work-life style, even for the MNCs.

Then the grading begins. There are always great surprises and joys in reading through my students’ essays, but there are also the same old, repetitive grammatical mistakes and writing problems that I can never finish correcting. “What is your thesis?” “What is your main point?” “Could you make a better argument around the facts/statistics that you’ve gathered?” “Please give me your sources and citations otherwise I’d have to consider this a plagiarized piece!!!” These comments have to be written, over and over again.

“教學相長”, as the old Chinese saying goes (= to teach is to learn; teaching benefits the one who teaches and the one who learns just as much). Over this past year, again and again I see the truth to this saying. It is often through the eyes of my students that I see the innermost part of their thoughts and mentality. More than plenty are the aspects and experiences that I thought I did know but in fact I did not. Never have I recalled such vivid details and felt such a deep sense of longing for all the long-forgotten people, resources, the beliefs, passions, and visions that constituted the core of my own undergrad and grad education.

I’ve been given the great privilege and fortune to be educated in some of the best educational institutes in the world. It pains me to see the grave distance between what I had before and what my students are currently getting from the university here. And regardless of how hard I try to recreate a similar educational experience in class, I only have 24 hours a day, 4 classes a term, and a capacity to teach 150 students max a semester without any TA or admin support. There remain too many factors outside my control and power that I know that some fundamental changes can only be patiently waited for and step-by-step built towards.

Education is so much about faith. Faith for not knowing which portions of the seeds that you spread are going to bud and grow, flourish and prosper, yet also faith in knowing that a number of them – as small as it may be – will for sure rise to become, again, a number of the very few who make a number of very monumental changes for a better world tomorrow.

I’ve got friends who told me they don’t miss any teachers they’ve had or recall any teacher who’s made a difference in their lives. But I can recall every teacher/professor who’s opened my eyes to see the wonders of this world and the beauty of humanity, and I think I’m very lucky because I need at least both of my hands to count the number of teachers who’s created that impact in my life.

Thanks to them, I’m able to continue what I’m doing today, everyday, and believe in the ultimate value of it.

30 years, though, I estimate, for this land to finally offer to the next generation what I’d enjoyed and been blessed with during my past 30 years of educational experiences.

At least I’ll just be around the age of retirement. And I hope I’ll be able to retire in peace, knowing that I’ve contributed a small or large piece of what that 30 years of development may need.

Let’s wait patiently while work diligently and have faith in what is yet to come.

梅ちゃん at 11:26:00 PM

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For the Sake of Cocktail Party Jokes and Ice-breaker Stories ...

A friend is visiting town and considering a job opportunity in China. Thought it’d be nice to introduce him to those who work in the similar field so that he may get a sense of what the industry people think. There went 2 hours of grand feasting over Yunnan food, and a flood of stories on each of our respective China experiences.

K’s story, for instance --

“We ordered those beach bags to be made in the shade of ocean blue, but got Barbie pink.

‘What in the world? This wasn’t what we ordered!’

‘But our factory ran out of fabric and Barbie pink is the only thing we have left …’

‘Ok, but this is for the presentation in front of our big client, and this isn’t what the client wanted …!’

The next time the bag came, they came in purple!

‘What in the world? We said ocean blue!’

‘Yeah, but we really do think purple is a better color for the bag than ocean blue …’”


For another instance, M’s story --

“Sorry that the playground facility in this picture looks so complicated (showing us a picture of what he’s designed) … This is what they had asked for because they thought the more complicated, the better. Even though I told them a rope is a rope, and the child can climb on top of it or underneath it, doesn’t matter. No need to make it so complicated …

But of course they aren’t going to listen because they think they know everything and their taste is best. So why bother hiring a designer when you don’t listen to the designer, but when the product is done still complain that it doesn’t match up with a cool designer brand?

Or you showed them something 6 months ago and said this is the trendy design of the day and they ignored you. 6 months later when the competitor came out with the same design they came back to you asking for the same thing. You asked them why they didn’t listen to you 6 months ago, and they turned their heads, made blank faces, or just pretended that they didn’t hear what you said.”


Plus some of mine --

“I’ve been in so many meetings where I sat there translating all the flaunting, boasting, and bluffing that all my ling3 dao3 (=leaders) tried to dash out in front of our foreign guests – every word, every sentence of it!

One time the VP was sitting there telling our foreign guests how the district where our school is located used to be the center of major economic activities for Shanghai … that the district government is very ambitious about setting up multiple creative art/culture parks, while he is the top guy heading one of them.

All this – I thought to myself – was BS. And everyone else in the room knew it as much as I do! Still, I had to sit there, translating EVERY word, EVERY sentence of what he said … And seeing the foreign guests smiling, nodding, and being impressed … I can’t tell you how furious I was.”


All in all, my poor friend in town – while he probably accepted an invitation thinking that it’s going to be a casual gathering over some good wining and dining (this part of it was true, though, I can assure!), instead, he was sitting there witnessing all the bitter hearts, teary eyes, acquired sarcasm/cynicism/angry words towards rampant social injustice that make up the majority of our daily lives.

So why are we still here?

“I can just imagine you sitting here, a year from now, joining us in the bandwagon of laughing while crying over all these bitter-sweet’s in China,” I said to my visitor in town.

“And I can also see myself sharing all of these real-life stories with my children 20 or 30 years from now, shocking while amusing them with all the seemingly impossible events and encounters … Just like how my parents used to amuse me with the stories of incredible backwardness in Taiwan when they first went back to that island in the name of and belief in ‘serving the country’”.

So perhaps to adopt some sense of humor, learn to laugh at the situation, or acquire the skill of self-mockery should have been our last parting advice to my friend in town tonight. For without those, not only would his everyday business in this ever so changing and ever so developing country a real ordeal. More importantly – without these hard-lived experiences, so many more people would just miss out on the chance to be entertained by incredulous stories at a random cocktail party. We too would lose a pool of impressive ice-breaker’s to start a conversation when we meet a stranger from another continent.

So conclusion from the night – Persevere! For we will never be short of impressive cocktail party jokes and ice-breaker conversations to come!

梅ちゃん at 2:30:00 AM

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Thursday, September 08, 2011

That's What I Call Education

Since early this year, I've been tutoring 2 teenagers who attend one of the international schools in Shanghai on English writing. It started off as a side job that supplemented the 8-month income absence from the university. But now, I'm keeping it because it's been such an enlightening experience on how young kids grow and develop their selves, and an important reminder of the kind of education that I once had and made me who I am today.

For example, tonight, M and I had a great conversation about what may be the "attributes" of a Greek hero.

"A Greek hero is someone who's willing to seek death as a way to take responsibility for the crimes that he's committed," M said.

He was referring to Oedipus the King who is fated to murder his father and marry his mother, and later gouges out his eyes and asks for banishment from his kingdom for the "unintentional" - yet alas "fated" - crimes that he's committed.

"Even though he 'unintentionally' does so or is completely 'unaware' of his committed crimes at the moment of doing so?" I asked.

"True, but ... (pausing for thoughts) that's what makes him heroic!" M said.

"So what you're saying is that what makes Oedipus 'heroic' is not because he actually salvages the citizens from the spell of Sphinx but because he's willing to be punished for the crimes that he didn't have the intention of committing?" I asked M to clarify.

"Right, it's his 'honesty' and 'shame' that propel him to seek such a tragic ending," M defended his position.

"You said 'shame' ... Tell me more about what do you mean by that. Why should someone who asks for punishment out of shame be considered a 'hero'? If he's asking for punishment not out of complete self-conscience but simply out of 'obligation' to rid himself of other people's ridicule, could he still be considered 'heroic'?" I probed further.

After a few seconds of silence, M answered again - "Well, I guess what I mean by 'shame' isn't 'shame' seen through other people's eyes but through his very own ... The fact that he couldn't stand the sense of shame that he feels after realizing the horrible things that he's done, he has no choice but to gouge his eyes out and banish himself from the kingdom. It's his way of finding peace and being responsible for what he's done," M responded.

I gave him a smile and a look that hinted at the fact that he was getting somewhere intelligent.

"I think I've got my thesis!" M yelled out, with an exhilarating smile on his face.

-----

This kind of conversations - discussions on human love, hate, shame, guilt, feelings of sorriness, loneliness, iniquity, and triumph - dominants my tutoring experiences with these 2 kids. With M's sister this semester transferring from a local public middle school to the same international school that her brother attends, she too is beginning such conversations with me. Tonight, for instance, she's asked to choose a photo of her own preference and write up a short paragraph that describes the elements and mood of the picture without actually "naming" all the objects in the photo (e.g. instead of writing, 'There is a big cloud in the blue sky', one writes, 'I see a puffy, white cotton candy set against a landscape of blue'.)

"So why do you think your teacher is asking you to complete this creative assignment of describing a picture without using concrete words/phrases?" I was curious.

"'Cuz we are going to Yangshuo during the Oct 1st holiday, and I guess he'd like us to practice expressing our feelings and emotions about this beautiful place with creativity and authenticity," P the little sister said.

Ah-hah, an assignment that develops the creative side of the student's mind!

"And you guys are going to Yangshuo because?" I was even more curious now.

"We have this thing called the 'interim' period at school where students are taken on trips to participate in all sorts of projects - history projects, arts projects, service projects, etc. One project, for example, is to take students to Hiroshima in Japan and Nanjing in China to discuss 'war atrocities' from two different points of view."

Yes, the philosophy to educate kids not just through books and classroom learning but actual touching, feeling, experiencing, tasting different things in life that books sometimes fail to capture.

THAT'S WHAT I CALL - EDUCATION.

Every time I look at their essay topics of the week, the books they are devouring, the novels and memoirs and short stories that they have to read through the semester, I am brought to total, total awe.

An education of quality even for an 8th grader, yes. An 8th grader whom most teachers in Asian educational system consider too young, too immature, too mischievous to handle a complex question on what is an attribute of a hero or what makes a noble person flawed.

An education that already begins to treat kids as "little adults" and trust in their capability to think (and think on their own), to wonder (with much greater imagination and creativity than us jaded adults), to raise questions (because they are entitled to not know so much), and to speak for their own, defend for their thoughts, receive a challenging probe and learn to respond to that probe with courage, grace, and wisdom.

And such solid guidance by diligent teachers who provide a long yet well-thought-out reading list for the students WHILE allow for such spirit of freedom and individuality to shine in each assignment. The passions of the teachers and their own creativity are impossible to miss if one just takes a look at the class websites that they create for the kids, with all sorts of detailed instructions, sharing, and posting of further reading lists and book recommendations.

THAT'S WHAT I CALL - EDUCATION.

-----

Having undergone an educational system like the one I just described above, last week, I was at the brink of shooting myself to death (multiple times) when I was "required" to attend a 7-day new teacher's training program at the university.

7-day of plain non-sense and BS, period.

I literally thought I could end my misery faster if I shoot myself to death rather than sit through the 7-day program because I came to realize that NEVER, EVER for once since I transferred to the American educational system at age 15 that I'd been forced to take a class, sit in a lecture, or go through complete meaningless academic exercises AGAINST MY WILL. Yes, I did have required courses that I had to fulfill, but there was always some kind of choice presented to me (e.g. picking one class out of 3 offered courses to fulfill my quantitative reasoning requirement). Or the school would at least make sure that they don't assign the most incompetent teacher to teach the most propaganda-filled curriculum that wastes not only the teacher's time but the students' as well.

As such, my little "privileged" upbringing led to such plain misery last week when such non-sense requirement was thrust upon me. But because of that, my little naive, way-too-privileged soul began to contemplate on whether or not my privileged education came strictly because of a privileged stroke of good luck of having parents who had the vision and the financial means to support me through such privileged education.

In other words, is it possible to offer such privileged education (that is mostly private and affordable only for those on the top 5% (if not less) of the social/economic strata) FREE if not at a very minimal charge to the public at large?

(Yes, and that's what we called "public schools", I know. But I also know that on average, a public school education just isn't gonna compare with the standard, quality, and style of an ivy-league, elitist education that costs 30,000-50,000 USD a year.)

And that has slowly yet steadily become one of my distant dreams or lifelong mission if you could call it after a whole year of working in and struggling with a soul/ethnics-lacking university - to be able to provide some kind of ivy-league-quality education to students who are just as intelligent, hard-working, and dying to learn at a minimal and affordable charge.

Because in the end, I may not have the money to afford an air-considered classroom equipped with multimedia fancy that ensures that every lecture may be done in PowerPoint or other state-of-the-art technology. But I do know that my brain, mind, and soul enlightened by such privileged educational experiences do go wherever I go and stay wherever I am.

Wherever I go, with a book, a piece of paper, and a pencil for my students, I can always discuss the heroic attributes of Oedipus the King, the flaws of even the most noble king, or how to turn a photo of beach serenity into a creative piece of writing on a chocolate cake with white frosting.

No?

梅ちゃん at 12:40:00 AM

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Might As Well Go Home and Flip Burgers?

Can I ever escape the spell of academia?

An invitation to apply for an academic post - a serious one, not at some pseudo institutes like the one I've been working with this past year - has come and stirred in me the much feared question above.

The truth of the matter is - I still LOVE the pursuit of knowledge and the joy of learning. I love the unique scent of the paper when the first page of a new book is opened. I also enjoy all the good laughs, the heartfelt cries, the mental confusions and the hysteria experienced when all confusions come to a breakthrough during reading and re-reading, contemplating and digesting. This has been true throughout my life, even as early as middle school back in Taiwan when the standard of education really didn't amount to anything inspiring or uplifting. Still, going to school everyday and seeing myself learning something new - even if it means just one period of history taught or one short poem recited - and expressing myself today better than the day before made me feel like there's always something to look forward to, something that deserves one to wake up in the morning.

Such love for learning about new things, curiosity towards this vast and diverse world, and the eagerness to decipher all the mysterious and unknowns of the universe still remain in me and remain strongly. Yet, 6 years of Ph.D. studies in one of the most prestigious academic institutions on earth, plus 1 year of immense struggle in one of the most problems-ridden academic institutions on earth, have yielded me completely paralyzed in face of this profession that - supposedly - prides itself on the bettering of human souls, empowering of the next generation, the cultivation of free minds and spirits, and the attainment of truths.

Because in the end, what have been presented to me are nothing but two odd ends of the spectrum. One consists of world-class masters whose academic dedication and achievements are so daunting that in front of them, one feels nothing but minimal, insignificant, incapable, and utterly elementary. The other, on the other hand, reveals nothing but the darkest and most self-interest-driven souls sugar-coated in the name of intellectual endeavors and research building.

Yuck!!!

Could there not be any other possibilities, any other role models, or any other forerunners who could show me an alternative path that does not require the compromise of one's soul or conscience while not erode one's core identity or value even if he/she fails to achieve the same, world-class research standards or a 10-page CV list of SSCI articles and university-press publications?

In the end, can and should academic accomplishments - regardless of the soulless or truly achievement-based - really define who one is?

If not, why am I so weary of academia?

7 years, I feel like I've advanced so very little, in my endeavor to find the right place for myself in this grand institution and profession. Or is this drawn-out process of identity searching in academia enough of a sign that cries out loud one simple message - It is time to let go ...?

A friend of mine who too struggles through the same issue over the course of his graduate life once told me a real-life episode. The episode goes something like this - at an academic conference, he overheard a conversation between a professor and his colleague. The colleague mentioned that one of the professor's students was wavering between applying to a prestigious job opening or going for something else after graduation.

"What? What does she want to do? If she isn't going to apply, she might as well go home and flip burgers!"

Perhaps professor might as well go back to his ivy tower and compose more SSCI articles on the study of bacterial infection on undercooked burger meat?

梅ちゃん at 11:51:00 PM

1comments

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Reflection of a Gambler

Sometimes I’m not sure how much longer I can go through my current lifestyle - 14-hour, 16-hour, 18-hour days; 4-hr, 5-hr, 6-hr sleep with restlessness that wakes me up in early morning even when there’s finally a free morning to sleep in and rest.

So what has sustained me through this incredibly challenge-filled year?

Faith.

Faith convicted by the Lord who’s shown me what it means to put oneself down and lift others up for the sake of love and love alone -- “We love because He first loved us”.

Though I’m in nowhere close to the perfection of such love, for each and every day I face the limitation of my physical strength and the failure of my mental will. Yet, the Lord has given me a picture and an ideal to pursue after, even if it means taking up my whole life to pursue yet not being able to fully achieve what He has set out for us.

Faith spurred on by others who also hold similar beliefs and convictions – not necessarily in the “definite” certainty of a better day tomorrow but the “possibility” of a better future for the generations to come.

In the end, we crazy idealists are not so different from addicted gamblers. We’ve turned all of our days and life into perhaps a gigantic gamble in life – a gamble that might cost not only our own youth, wealth, comfort, and life itself, but also the peace and well-being of those who are close to us and stand by our side as dear friends and families.

And just like any other gambler, if we are fortunate enough to see our ideals and pursuits realized, it could be the best thing ever happened not only to us but to those around us as well. But if we lose – well, we might lose it all.

The intriguing thing is, as much as gambling requires talents, and skills, and sometimes a “chance” beyond one’s control, our idealistic pursuits too require nothing less and nothing more. They too require us to have a certain skill sets, talents, visions, and courage as our initial capital to enter the game; yet whether or not the game turns toward our favor in the end, that is often left to nothing but a pure “chance” and a stroke of incredible good “luck” to decide.

But I’d like to think that I am actually betting my “chance” and stroke of good “luck” upon something much more solid and assuring than those for a regular gambler, for I believe that such a “chance” and “luck” is bestowed upon me by no one else but the Lord, IF and ONLY IF this indeed is the gamble that He’s called me to enter and to offer up my best.

So the question is – if He pretty much knows the result of such a gamble and has full control over it, why bother even calling me to go through the incredibly exciting yet sometimes immensely difficult and roller-coaster-ride-like process?

I don’t have the perfect answer to that, as daily I still wonder if He really is calling me to enter this frighteningly exciting yet challenging game. But one thing that has come clearer to me lately is that in the end, it’s really not about the result of the game itself – for He who’s set the game and the rules will carry out the result and determine the biggest winner of all eventually – but about the player involved.

In the end, the gamble is a like a process through which the player comes to realize who he/she is, what this game is all about, and making that constant decision to commit to the playing of the game till the very end.

For what? For the building of character and faith, hope and endurance. And for the refining of one’s visions and perspectives, the affirming and reaffirming of ideals and dreams.

Can I choose to determine the nature, the rules, and the outcome of the game? I’m afraid not. But can I choose to be faithful to the calling to such a game and the commitment to the playing of the game, as best as I can?

Yes I can.

The harvest is up for Him to reap but the labor is on me to bear. Till He reaps all the harvests and the treasures, I could only focus on being a faithful servant who says – Master, I’ve played a good game.

梅ちゃん at 2:57:00 AM

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Till the Finish Line

I've come to realize that we all are endowed with some gifts in life while restricted and challenged by the missing pieces.

In other words, the playing field could be more equal than we thought. And it's all about how we are going to go out and make up for the un-endowed gifts that we don't have by finding the right people who could complement for what you don't have yet together work as a strong team with aligned passion, dreams, and visions.

My endowed gifts come from my academic pedigree that runs deep in the family. After getting my Ph.D. degree last summer, it took Mom awhile to get used to receiving phone calls that asked to speak to "Dr. Shaw". I suppose it never occurred to her that her little daughter - forever little in her eyes, of course - could now be given such a title by people who are decades older. Several times she literally told the caller that Dr. Shaw is not in the house, only realizing suddenly - triggered by the puzzling "huh?" on the other side of the phone line - that "Dr. Shaw" by others is who she refers to (and forever will refer to I suppose) as "Mei3 Mei2".

In fact, the academic pedigree runs so deep in my family that ever since I could remember things (shall we make it age 5?), regular dinner conversations at the table consist of topics such as the May Fourth Chinese youths and their dying spirits to save the country; how the KMT lost the civil war to the Communist party and how China could be at a much better place today had the intellectuals not turned themselves leftist. To live up to your talents and gifts for the well-being of the underprivileged was a once-a-week if not once-a-day reminder; and what it means to be a true public "servant" to one's country and society was repeatedly brought up whenever news on TV showed another government official exposed of some corrupt, moral failings.

And the fact that topics of money, savings, real-estate investment, tax reductions, and pension funds were virtually non-existent has become enough of a reason (or excuse?) for me to stay financially ignorant and savings-less today.

"要雪中送炭,不要錦上添花" - "one should offer hot coal to the needed ones in winter snow; there is no need to add more flowers to already pretty ones" - is the family motto that Dad still repeats over and over again every time a phone conversation takes place across international waters.

Recently, Dad even likes to recite the following - "Count your blessings, don't count your misfortune - 99% of the people in the world would still like to trade places with you if they can".

("Wanna bet, dad?" - my immediate rebuttal with respect to the trading places part the first time when I heard that. "8 months without salary?")

Yet even with such great academic pedigree under my belt, I am still far far far from what I'd like to achieve.

To achieve what I want to achieve - to start a school/organization that works towards teaching the right morals, the right etiquette, the right mannerism, or to found a social enterprise/foundation that works towards fostering the liberal arts spirit, exciting the young people's minds, developing an independent soul and heart in them, and stirring up greater passion and compassion for the people around them - all of such grand tasks require way more than just good academic pedigree and credentials.

I still need money - lots and lots of money - as well as credibility, connections, social resources, partners and teammates who believe in the same dream as firmly and as strongly.

Yet after 9 months of starting my first major career move - I've got no money, established little credibility, and spent literally all my time, energy and emotional sanity on fighting off uninvited troubles, unwanted attempts, and unlike-minded people.

So by the end of this very long 9 months, one lesson learned - it's not about how much harder one needs to work, but it's about finding the like-minded people who could make up for the missing pieces that we all inevitably carry with us and help one another walk closer towards that finishing line.

That means, new goal for the next 9 months to come - to search for the like-minded and the kindred spirits.

It is just too lonely to run a marathon alone. And it's too hard to go through life without people who could stand by you not just as cheerleaders but as running companions as well.

ALL THE WAY until the finish line.

梅ちゃん at 3:26:00 PM

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