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


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