Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Alice in the Mission Land

Mom likes to say, “沒有經歷過長夜痛哭的人,不足以道人生” (Those who haven't experienced long nights of weeping cannot speak about life).

Having been in Shanghai for a few months, I can't say I've gone through that many long nights of weeping, but I have certainly had my share of long-night thinking and contemplating.

From such late-night thinking and contemplating, I've come to realize one thing - I am here for a cause, a cause that is beyond what the worldly pursuits are interested in or what the worldly standards define as success. Sure, it isn't like there are no physical/financial rewards that come along the way, but they hardly amount to anything significant in this ever transforming, ever transitioning city called Shanghai.

It's like I am living a life of a missionary without even realizing that I am living one or jumped myself into one. It's like Alice falling into the wonderland and suddenly, with every possible aspect of your surrounding begins to change and your own version of reality begins to disentangle and dissolve, you realize that while you simply made a careless fall, now you have no choice but to keep on walking, until you find a way out of this wonderland (or until the wonderland is done with you and finds itself out of you, perhaps).

Not necessarily missionary from a religious sense but missionary from the perspective of running upon some kind of literal "mission" that seeks to challenge the mainstream, go against the tidal wave of monetary allure and addiction, overturn the established mindsets, and inspire the simple yet long-forgotten awe in the geniuses of a free and independent human mind, the better side of humanity, the beauty of physical and human nature, and the core elements that allow such nature or humanity to sustain itself and not fall into the other side of the equation - elements such as respect, consideration, compassion, and love.

But a missionary needs to eat, and a missionary needs to sleep. Just like anyone else, a missionary needs a firm roof over her head to rest, a safe shelter to retreat to, a drink to de-stress and relax, a good movie to laugh or cry for awhile for, a fresh meal to fill the stomach and refresh the palate.

Or at least she wants to.

And all of such still require monetary means in order to sustain and support.

Or perhaps not? Perhaps I haven't fully understood what it truly means to be a missionary?

Or maybe that too is part of the mission, the letting go of what you think you cannot live without, the stripping away of all that you used to cling onto for security and happiness so that you may finally realize what such mission that you are running after really is all about?


So yes, tonight, I wept, at last, not for a long night but for a long while, hoping that all such hot and salty tears could wash away my sense of utter frustration and release myself from this sense of control and composure that has been out-stretched and finally reached its breaking point.

So that I may go out, return, and fight the same battle again.


After I finished this entry, an email came and reminded me of the following:



梅ちゃん at 2:31:00 AM


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sorry Teddy Bears, but You are Illegal.

Got dropped off at the intersection and was waiting for the red light to turn green. Suddenly, I saw this lonesome old man dragging a large cart of giant-size teddy bears across the street.

Sometime ago I read form somewhere about the Chinese government putting some actual regulation on the size of teddy bears/stuffed animals sold in the market. For whatever reasons I've forgotten, but I did remember the article saying how as the Christmas season is fast approaching, nowadays people may very likely find giant-size teddy bears dragged down the street on a cart by black market vendors.

And I saw one right there, across the street tonight! And that scene could not look any more sad to me.

It's not just because the cold rain was drizzling. It's also not just because I love stuffed animals and seeing them drenched in rain makes me want to call the vendor over and give all the plush teddy bears a big hug. But I was just wondering -- why in the world would Chinese government, supposedly so busy already with so many problems in this country to solve, would want to to bother to start limiting the size of something so trivial as teddy bears?

As if the freedom to have a big, warm, plush teddy bear to hug at home or to bring up a beautiful smile from a kid also has to be watched out for now or taken away from the people? For what good reasons?

The light turned green and I walked across the street in great dismay. I wonder how much the old vendor is actually making a night -- especially on a rainy one like tonight when all his teddy bears are getting polluted acid rain all over them. And what is he going to do when the Christmas season is over? Wait for the Chinese new year or Valentine's Day to come in Feb? And then wait for the May 1st holiday to come?

Everyday, I encounter this urge to just sit someone down and have him/her explain IN DETAIL the logic behind a certain things here. Tonight, that urge was experienced again.

Somebody, explain the logic to me, would you?

梅ちゃん at 3:08:00 AM


Monday, December 13, 2010

'Cuz We Are Born Fighters?

I spotted a MUJI store, a Segami drug store, and Franc Franc at the basement of Metro City yesterday while browsing around and waiting for a student to arrive. While totally excited about such sight at first, in a few seconds, I started to hesitate.

To enter or not to enter?

It was like the feeling of running into an old-time lover out of the blue. While you may have been dying for the longest time to see him once again someday, when the moment finally arrives, your whole heart and soul quiver, and suddenly, you are at lost as to whether you should just go up to him to say hi, or turn around and walk away.

'Cuz you are just not so sure how you are going to react, or if a flood of tears will just begin to drop with no end.

That's how much I miss Japan. And even as I am typing this sentence out at this very moment, I can already feel the well of tears circling around the corner of my eyes.

Tokyo never requires a fight, and I was never a fighter there. The streets are clean, air is crisp on a cold winter day like today, and 9 out of 10 times, the sky is stunningly blue. Everywhere you go, the aesthetic beauty of the tiniest details in life overwhelms you, if you are careful enough to see. People are smiling, they greet you politely, and even in the most local mom-and-pop store, the energy and professionalism carried by the store owners or part-time workers always fill the air. 9 out of 10 times, melodies of jazz or bossa nova are even played in the store.

Sure, people work like crazy and there are probably more than 5 cases of successful suicide attempts a day over the train tracks just within the 23 districts of Tokyo city alone (the number doubles if we include the entire Tokyo metropolitan?). But if you manage to seek the right balance between life and the workaholic culture, there are always rules, laws, and a sense of order to follow, and such laws and rules are never too stringent, and they are there so that the streets are that clean, air is that crisp, people have the incentives to work so hard, and the sky so blue 9 out of 10 days, even in the winter. It's a collaborative effort made possible through its amazingly hard-working citizens and civil servants.

Even so, I - my very self - made the conscious decision to leave that place, to say goodbye to all the memorable times and experiences, all the meaningful friendships and relationships - all of which are so so dear to my heart that in already many late hours of the night, I've wept myself to sleep, over a grieving sense of loss that I - ironically - have brought upon to myself.

All for the sake of what? For the sake of pursuing after an ideal, running after a dream, fulfilling a purpose that - I sincerely hoped and still hope - may be more urgent and more meaningful?

Even at the expense of living upon a salary package that is less than what I had gotten as a student on scholarship, a new standard of living that no longer allows me to afford most of the stuff in MUJI anymore? Not even a chapstick in Segami?

It is not easy, I'm telling you, this thing called "pursuing after one's dream". It is simply N-O-T easy.

Sometimes I wonder if the cost has to be so high. Why is it that in so many cases, those who have the heart, the will, and the fighting spirit to work on cases of social justice or charities end up putting themselves into situations where they themselves turn into border-line charity cases? Or perhaps that is a chicken-and-an-egg issue. Perhaps the reason why these people end up being charity cases themselves is because too few people care enough about what they do, while resources that supposedly could be redistributed for better social justice are too tightly tied up in the hands of those who care too little. And more often than not, it is only those who have experienced what it means to be on charity would truly understand how urgently important it is to start providing that charity cause for someone else in need.

While struggling with that thought last night and lamenting over the days in Japan gone by - the beautiful and memorable days whose end was put by my very own hands alone - an email arrived from my dear friend, C.

"You being in SH is like a big fish in a small pond that is near a lake, and part of your job will be to connect that pond to the lake. Being elsewhere, you would be a small fish in a big pond, but that pond is finite in size. It will be 辛苦 to dig that canal between the pond and lake, but let's face it; the victory will not taste as sweet without a good fight, and passionate people as we are, we are born fighters. We live on that adrenaline from a good fight!"

She may be right. We are born fighters and that character alone seals off any remaining discussions on why one would even want to depart from a life that is nice, comfortable, and still meaningful as long as one continues to be a law-abiding citizen, pays her tax dues, and works hard in whatever industry/field that she so chooses.

"We are born fighters", and in a nice, comfortable, law-abiding society where tap water may be drunk directly, air is as clean as it can be, sky is crystal clear and blue 9 out of the 10 days -- there is no need for fighters.

Interestingly, even 7 years ago I had already put myself in a similar situation once. And as if that experience wasn't hard enough -- a whole year without starbucks coffee and cab rides, while a 10-RMB watered-down coffee or 2-RMB ice cream at McD's was the luxury highlight of the weekend -- 7 years later, I bring myself right back to the same old battle, in the same old battlefield again, only that the battle seems so much more fierce now because the lure of money and the standard of success defined by nothing but money alone have exponentially exploded in this country.

Yesterday near the end of my class, I said the following to my students:

If this were a Harvard classroom, this is how I would conduct today's lesson. I'd walk into the class and write down one sentence on the board - "THE NATION IS DEAD". Then I'd turn to you and say, "Now, go and argue and debate. And come back to me and tell me if you think that statement is true or baloney, and why.

I saw some glittering sparks in some of my students' eyes, but not all.

But I was not in a Harvard classroom, nor do I know if I were to write down that statement in class, I should perhaps first make sure that the classroom door is tightly closed, and no party member in the class would possibly report me to the authority.

And precisely because I was not in a Harvard classroom, I had to focus on deciphering through two pieces of articles on the topic of "nation" to help open up a new way of thinking, a new horizon of thoughts, even thoughts that seem too new, too provocative, too unheard of to them. Even the example of cross-straight relations was mentioned, but mentioned under the "reminder" that it is put forth ONLY "as an example" to "test-prove" the theoretical reading that we had engaged in.

And that is the whole battle about. A battle about the mind and the freedom of mind. "They" are working on 思想工作,and so am I. Only that mine is a entirely different kind.

And until the day when I could finally walk into class and, with the classroom door and windows flung wide open, put down that statement on the board and ask my students to go and argue and debate in complete free spirit -- the battle will not be over.

"Until when, mom?" I called her up last night to talk about my lament over not being able to afford MUJI/Segami or a life that I used to enjoy anymore.

"Till ... (sigh) till that country is finally 上軌道了吧 (up and running)..."

I dared not ask her how many more years that is going to take.

'Cuz I was just too scared to hear the answer.

"But that's why you are there, right?" I only heard her say.

梅ちゃん at 2:24:00 PM