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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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

年輕的和年長的對話

Conversation last night:

我:「媽,我這幾天在想,我好希望我現在的人生裡有幾個重要的夥伴-資助我完成夢想的金錢夥伴,和我一同打拼事業的工作夥伴,以及伴隨在旁相互鼓勵的人生夥伴。」

媽媽:「我理解。」

我:「可是,我現在是三者皆空。」

媽媽:「 ... 」

我:「更可怕的是,这三者是相互影响的。因为没有志同道合的工作伙伴,我的工作不顺。但是我工作不顺的另一部分原因在於我没有一份稳定的金钱来源或支柱。然后,因为我的金钱来源和工作性质不顺不稳定,我必须花更多的时间去为生计操劳。其结果是,我没有任何剩余的时间去寻找那人生的伙伴。」

妈妈:「 ... 」

我:「如果當年31歲的你站在今天在我這個處境的話,你會怎麼做?」

媽媽:「... 我不知道。」

我:「那今天66歲的你若是在我今天這個處境,你會怎麼做?」

媽媽:「我還是不知道。」

我:「一位66歲的人都不知道了,一位31歲的人又怎麼能知道?」

媽媽:「媽媽很抱歉,媽媽真的不知道。但是媽媽還是那句老話 -- 有理想的人,總是要受點苦的。」

-----

Conversation tonight:

C's Dad: 「我去幫你們做簡報的時候,所有的評審委員都非常吃驚。They thought this whole team is too good to be true,好像天上掉下來了一個超級團隊,居然能奉獻一個月的時間給他們。」

I: "Because we really just wanted a free ticket to the U.S. badly, 'cuz none of us can really afford one right now."

C: "And because all of us are semi-unemployed!"

I: "Or employed with peanuts-like salary!"

C's Dad: "Anyhow, thank you guys for all the hard work".

C: "Thank YOU dad, for paying for my very expensive Harvard education so that I could win this bid that supplements my currently very poor life."

I: "And continue on with this poor life b/c of the idealism raised by this very expensive education ..."

-----

「有理想的人,總是要受點苦的」

In the end, the older is still the wiser one, even though she cannot fully explain why that statement bears truth and how one may ease the burden of that truth ...

梅ちゃん at 3:43:00 AM

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

孤寒

Yesterday a student came to my office hour and told me that another professor in her class shared about my 8-month-long battle against the school over delayed salary payment and unfulfilled work promises.

"When I heard about that, my heart was filled with sadness; some girls even cried after class, Prof. Shaw", she said.

"And suddenly I felt there is sense of '孤寒之感' in you," she said. "As if you've suddenly turned even slimmer than before, carrying so much weight and burden upon you.

「孤寒」- I guess I'll leave it like that, for I suppose this is no other English equivalent that could truly capture the essence of this Chinese word.

By the end of the office hour, she gave me a handwritten note that she wrote that day when she first heard of my story.

"I've thought about typing it out to you since I sort of just scribbled it down and wanted to make it more organized. But now I feel that it is perhaps best to give it to you as what it is, 'cuz it truly captures the immediate feelings of mine after I first heard about your story."

This morning, I received another email from a student, who wrote the following:

"Every time after your class, I leave with a heavy heart, because your class gives me a lot of quesions I have never thought about, and these questions are always very heavy ones. But anyway, your classes are a kind of enlightened education for me; you remind me that I am an adult, and I have the responsibility and ability to think about something, and nothing can't be discussed. Thank you, my teacher!"

Thank you, my dear students. You have no idea how much your genuine sharing really means to me.

梅ちゃん at 4:46:00 PM

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Thursday, May 05, 2011

「這是個拼爹的時代」

I suppose anyone in the teaching business has one of those days when you just drop down to nothing but this single doubt if anything that you do would really make a difference in your students' life. And you feel that you are that one last fool on earth who still clings on to that possibility there.

Today happened to be one of those days.

In the end, the issues may not be the students per se but the system. This system that has brewed so much disinterest, disillusion, and disbelief in them and in what you once believed in so deeply and cherished so highly as a young, 20-something-old-year, waking up in your dorm room and treading down that morning light to go to your Japanese class, political theory class, prayer meetings, ethics debate - in full eagerness and excitement, knowing that you are going to learn something new and inspiring today.

Worse, you feel completed robbed by the system - ROBBED, down to your bone.

Not just b/c the system has robbed your students away from you, eroded the impact of your dedication and passion, or taken away the possibilities for them to see what you had seen and experienced - that simple eagerness to wake up and just soak up and soar, like a free bird and an enlightened soul.

More than that, b/c you feel that the system has even robbed you from what has meant the most to you - your very ability to "believe" in those good days and the possibilities of re-creating those days at a different place, a different time, to a whole new generation of students.

The system has robbed your past - this past that has made you who you are today through the teaching of this one simple ideal - the ability to make a difference, and the belief that that difference will happen.

I can almost hear the system sitting there, in the dark, poking its invisible finger at you, mocking you, and just waiting very patiently for that day to come when you throw in the towel and say -

I quit too.

Leaving the system the only player in the field.

-----

Today, one of my students told me this in class - Prof. Shaw, there's a famous saying in China nowadays: 「這是個拼爹的時代」

Namely - "We live in a day and age where we compete to see who has greater dads (not how hard we work or how good we are)".

She's merely a sophomore in college.

Then, at lunch, another student told me - this past semester, the business school hired a returnee, a Stanford graduate. He was a great professor, and they loved his class.

Sadly, the school - pulling its all too familiar old tricks - failed to keep up their words. And the last thing my student heard was - this professor has decided to quit, having not even finished a full semester.

這不僅是個拼爹的年代,還是個耍人的時代。

8 months into my new life in China - I've not only got my financial security robbed away from me, students of great potentials and ideals robbed away from me, the prospect of having "the great next chapter" in life robbed away from me. Worse, it has robbed one more thing from me -

My long-held belief that yes, one can make a difference, one should make a difference, and yes, one of the most beautiful things about life is the very fact that one has the ability to "believe" in that possibility and never give up.

Maybe today is just one of those days.

Or maybe this is just the current reality of China.

Either way - I got the combination of both today. And the combo ain't going to disappear anytime soon.

I'm not sure if I should envy the courage of that Stanford doctor who decided to quit, or encourage myself for more courage to stay.

Interestingly, "The Soloist" - this amazing film that brought me to tears tonight - left me with this one final quote:

"I've learned the dignity of being loyal to something you believe in. Of holding onto it, above all else. Of believing, without question, that it will carry you home."

梅ちゃん at 1:53:00 AM

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