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.“


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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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