Monthly Archives: March 2008

Our Response to Failure

March 23, 2008

The first thing I saw when I opened the newspaper yesterday was a photo of the young Japanese figure skater, Mao Asada.  It was not a pretty picture.  She was sprawled on the on the ice, just after falling while directly in front of the panel of judges at the World Figure Skating Championships in Goteborg, Sweden.
At high speed, leaping into a triple axel, it was quite a spectacular fall (a YouTube link to her performance is HERE.) 

According to the newspaper report, “the audience groaned in synch” when Asada crashed during her attempt at a triple axel in early in her short program (  The photo, in the International Herald Tribune, showed the 17-year-old just after she “slipped and slid into the boards to the accompaniment of Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu”  (  Just behind Asada, the concern on the faces of the judges is evident, their mouths gaping with shock and concern.  Asada herself is quoted by Goldsea as saying,  ”My heart also stopped.”

Imagine if you or I had been the skater in this competition.  If you or I had fallen, what would yours or my reaction have been?  After the initial heart-stopping shock of the fall, how would we have fared through the rest of the program?  How did Asada fare? 


From my experience of performing as a musician on stage, I have personal experience with the psychological battle that occurs when a performer makes a highly visible error.  When one is literally in the spotlight in the middle of a performance, it takes every bit of focus that one can muster to put the failure into the past, recover one’s composure, and move on without missing a beat (literally).  How do you do that?   Is the ability to move on after failure a skill that can be learned?  In my view, failure – and how we respond to it — is a topic well worth discussing.  Sooner or later, everyone must deal with failure.  The big issue, I think, is not whether we might fail sometime, but to decide how we will respond to it when it does happen.


Indeed, I hope that failure happens!  Is this a strange thing to hope for?  I think not. 

The first psychological battle is to dare to aim high enough in the first place.  I suppose it’s possible to live a life with no failure, but only if one makes a decision never to take risks.  A decision not to risk failure is also a decision not to risk the corresponding chance for achievement.  If a person never acts on their dreams, the saddest risk is that they will end up with a life of regrets and wondering "what if":  What if I had taken that risk to do x (here fill in the blank with your personal dream)  ______________________, what could have been, if only I had tried? 

Yes, Asada missed the triple axel.  On the other hand, she also took the remarkable risk in the first place.  In 2004, at age 14, she was the youngest female in the world to ever perform the triple axel jump in an international competition ( So, first of all, she tried.  She’ll never have to worry or wonder, "what if". 


The second psychological battle, in my view, is to conquer fear of failure as one races headlong to take the leap.  It takes courage to propel one’s self to top speed and then take a flying leap that might land one onto the slippery ice of failure, in full public view.  My most acute familiarity with highly visible failure comes from my days, long past, of performing as a soloist on the French horn.  There’s one particular passage I remember, the part of Puck in Till Eulenspeigel.  Puck’s exuberant call, in this case my solo,  goes faster and faster and higher and higher until it ends in a frenzied and ecstatic run up to a high C.  It is only possible to reach the note if one runs confidently and without hesitation, with gusto, up into the heights of what is possible to play on the instrument.  If one hesitates for a moment, being distracted by even a moment of doubt about whether one might reach that one, soaring note, the momentum to get there is lost.  Once momentum is lost, all is lost:  the fear of failure itself becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, for without the acceleration and recklessness to fly for the challenge, the player will never leap into the stratosphere.  If a player fails to risk it all, fails to put everything on the line, failure is guaranteed.  He’ll never reach the mark. 


And then there’s the third, and perhaps most crucial, psychological battle when it comes to failure:  how do we respond to failure after it happens.  How does one cope with the humiliation and distraction of a high profile, highly visible failure?  In my own case, I remember such a failure one time during a solo performance.  I still remember how, as I played on after missing a note, I struggled to control self conscious thoughts and fears of doubt — as I continued to play in the performance — about whether I might make another mistake.  Instead of focusing on shaping the musical experience of my audience — hearing in my mind what I wanted the sound to be, aiming for the bar of the high jump, and taking the leap — I found myself far too distracted by focus on details of mechanics and fear of imperfection.  Fear, that self conscious absorption of stage fright and worrying what critics in the audience might think, caused my palms to sweat.  Even this made the brass instrument slippery in my hands.  The resulting insecurity of my grip on the instrument only heightened my fear of missing more notes.  Fortunately in that case the music was easy enough and well enough rehearsed that I could finish with a solid but unremarkable performance.  But that singularly self conscious brush with stage fright undermined my performance to such a degree that I became profoundly aware of the psychological component of performance, whether that performance is in sports, in music, or in life. 

So how did Asada perform, after her spectacular failure on the ice?   Did she collapse under the weight of self consciousness and fear of failure?  No!  It’s reported, “the error was soon forgotten as she completed six triple jumps, a double axel-double loop-double-loop combination and, in the final seconds, a double axel” (  In other words, she didn’t miss a beat.  

Here’s what she told a reporter of her thoughts:  ""Never give up, that’s what I’ve learned," smiled Asada, “This year, I missed my opening triple Axel again, but I learned that if I don’t give up on the rest of the elements, I can make up on the mistakes” (China Daily  Asada, the newspaper reported, “quickly regained her composure and produced an otherwise flawless routine, beating short program winner and European champion Carolina Kostner into second place.”  In spite of the breathtaking crash, she went on to win the gold medal. 

She set her goal, she maintained her focus, and she didn’t give up.  Truly, it’s not failure that matters in life, but how we respond to it.  No wonder, then,  that in World-Class figure skating, Mao Asada is the girl to watch!  

In our own lives, what standards will we set, what focus will we have, and what will our own response be when we fail?  I suggest the proper focus is not on the possibility of failure, but instead that we focus on that which is beyond possible, in order to reach what we otherwise could only dream of.  "For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of self control" (2 Timothy 1:7).  Those words had not yet been written on the first Good Friday.  But fortunately for us, someone had a dream that extended beyond that ultimate, public, humilating failure.  HAPPY EASTER! 


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Churches in Guangzhou (Catholic and Protestant, with addresses)

March 2008

Easter 2008 is approaching! 

My blog is getting a lot of hits right now from people searching for English language churches in Guangzhou (both protestant and catholic) and for Easter Egg Dye. 
Here are addresses for some churches in Guangzhou: 
Sacred Heart Cathedral (Seksat Church)
Address: 56 / 57 Yide Zhong Road (Yat Tak Road)
Yuexiu District, Guangzhou  510120
Tel 20-8333 6761
Bus: Line No.8, 40, 58, 61, 82, 194. Near the Yide Road Stop.
Sunday English Mass

Opening Hours: 7:00 a.m.-10:00 a.m. every Sunday

Shamian Catholic Church Our Lady of Lourdes
Address: 14 Main Street, Shamian Island, Liwan District, Guangzhou
Bus: Line No.1, 6, 9, 25, 57, 66, 75, 217, 55. Near the Shi Zhongyiyuan (Guangzhou Hospital of Tradition Medicine) Stop. After getting off bus, cross bridge to Shamian Island and look for address.  Main Street is the Street in the center. 

Worship Hours: 9:30 a.m. every Sunday

Protestant Churches: 

Protestant Church on Shamian Island
From front (north) door of White Swan hotel, turn left and walk toward
U.S. Consulate Tower.  Church is on right. Meets 10:30 AM sundays
Sunday morning service is bilingual English and Mandarin
Bible studies in afternoon are Mandarin and Cantonese
Guangzhou International Christian Fellowship  (GICF)
Meets at Jingxing Hotel (Star Hotel, near East Train Station)
3/F, 89 Linhe Xi Lu, Tianhe District
Tel 8755-2888
Sunday mornings (9:00 — 11:30)
Guangzhou International Christian Fellowship is only open to expats, spouses and their fiance’s by virtue of PRC laws. 
Henan Christian Church

Address: No.23, the 5th Lane, Hongde Road, Haizhu District, Guangzhou
Bus: Line No. 9, 10, 31, 59, 75, 79, 239. Near the Hongde Road Stop
Tel 20-8442-2935
Service is in Cantonse but visitors are welcome

 Dongshan Christian Church
Address: No.9 Sibei Tongjin, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou
Worship Hours: 12:30 p.m.  every Saturday, 10:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m.  every Sunday
Service is bilingual in Mandarin and Cantonese (no English)
Visitors are welcome

Christian Church of Our Saviour

Address: No.184 Wanfu Road, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou
Bus: Line No. 7, 36, 188, 194, 264, 519. Near the Wanfu Road Stop
Worship Hours: 9:00 a.m., 7:30 p.m. every Sunday


Zion Christian Church

Address: No.392 Renmin Zhong Road, Liwan District, Guangzhou
Bus: Line No.4, 31, 38, 102, 103, 134. Near the Renmin Zhong Road Stop

Worship Hours: 12:00 p.m., 7:30 p.m.  every Sunday

The above photos, Chinese addresses, and opening hours are sourced from :    

Some of the churches have Good Friday services as well, call in advance to inquire. 
If you are looking for Easter Egg dye, I think the best bet is to look at Aussino’s or Corner Deli.  Rarely, Olivers and David’s have it as well.  Metro, Carrefour, Trust Mart, and local stores most often do not have it.  I saw some at City Super in Hong Kong just this weekend.  You will not find the fancier types of egg dyes here (swirl paints etc).   The best you will do is McCormick packets of food coloring.  Use wax crayons on hot eggs to make designs. 
David’s at Oakwood usually has some nice chocolates and chocolate bunnies.  Metro likewise usually has seasonal items such as chocolate bunnies.  Corner Deli often has them as well.  Easter Baskets can be obtained at Haizhu wholesale market. 
If you are looking for a nice cut of meat for Sunday dinner, many people enjoy the ham from the China Hotel Marriott Deli.  It can be ordered by the kilo.  Metro also has western style hams and other types of meat, albeit very expensive. 
Turkeys can be obtained from Aussino’s, Corner Deli, or from wholesale shops near Yide Lu.  Sometimes your houskeeper can be of great assistance in locating these items, particularly if she calls around to other housekeepers employed by expats. 
Different subject
Perhaps you are Jewish.  There is at least one congregation in Guangzhou.  Here is the web address:
There is of course a large Muslim community in Guangzhou.  I read that the oldest Mosque in China is here.  While it is now well inland and does not welcome visitors, it used to abut the banks of the Pearl River.  Traders could sail their ships up to the dock, debark from their boat, and proceed straight to prayer.  Life of Guangzhou web page also links to two Mosques:
Huaisheng Mosque

Address: No.56 Guangta Road, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou
Bus: Line No. 56, 58. Near the Guangda Road Stop.

Dongying Mosque

Address: No.1 Xiaodongying, Yuehua Road, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou
Bus: Line No. 6, 193, 264, 265. Near the Yuehua Road Stop.

If you have any particular questions, send me a message or leave a comment.


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Talking about Scam warning!

  My online buddy Nick posted this, and I thought it worth passing along


Scam warning!


I thought I should warn you of this scam going on at the Home Depot.  Over the past month I became a victim of a clever scam while shopping.  Simply going out to get supplies has turned out to be quite traumatic.  Don’t be naive enough to think it couldn’t happen to you or your friends.

Here’s how the scam works:

Two seriously good-looking 20-21 year-old girls come over to your car as you are packing your shopping items into the trunk. They both start wiping your windshield with a rag and Windex, with their chest almost falling out of their skimpy T-shirts.  It is impossible not to look.  When you thank them and offer them a tip, they say ‘No’ and instead ask you for a ride to another Home Depot.  You agree and they get in the back seat.

On the way, they start undressing.  Then one of them climbs over into the front seat and starts crawling all over you, while the other one steals your wallet.

I had my wallet stolen on February 4th, 9th, 10th, twice on the 15th, 17th, 20th, & 24th.  Also on March 1st, 3rd, twice on the 7th, three times just yesterday and very likely again this upcoming weekend.

So tell your friends to be careful.

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Parallels and Divergences

March 2007
For those who keep up with current events, I notice more than passing resemblance between two Buddhist countries that recently had clashes between monks and police. 
In both instances, the monks were unarmed.  In both instances, the monks were protesting on behalf of the people against unjust economic conditions.  In both instances, the monks were fired upon by police.  In both instances, civilians became involved.  In both instances, foreign journalists were restricted from access to or reporting on events.  In both instances, official accounts of casualties seems grossly underreported (a former general who defied orders to fire on monks last September reports that about 2,000 bodies were dumped in the jungle). 
Now, here’s something that leaves me somewhat incredulous:  In both instances, state controlled media claimed that the protesters were actually undercover guerillas who had infiltrated the monastaries.  In September, the police also claimed that the ordinary civilians who had surrounded the monks were also guerillas who had dressed in civilian clothing.  In both instances, this lie was then used to justify beating and shooting unarmed people as well as raiding and searching monastaries and evicting all their residents. 
Thankfully, in both instances, the world is watching and hoping.  One glimmer of hope comes from the fact that some of the things which are necessary to enable commerce — telecommunications, internet, and economic ties — also enable reporting of facts and are not easily silenced.  There have been plenty of instances in recent years where government denials of atrocities had to be recanted after contradictory photos were produced which had been snapped by cell phone cameras.  Thank goodness for citizen surveillance!  It’s just a bit harder these days to make factual claims that are 100% false. 
This last observation is the reason I made the difficult decision not to boycott travel to Myanmar.  Observers bring at least awareness of accountability and make it slightly more difficult to engage in doublespeak.  For the same reasons, I also think it’s hypocritical to boycott one country while buying goods made in the other.  My view is that more good than harm results from a policy of economic engagement (though capitalism in its purest form, disassociated from the values of the humans who manage capitalist companies, certainly places no stead on any non-economic or human rights considerations).   And it’s not as if a trade embargo stops commerce.  All it does is stop commerce by scrupulous people.  There are still plenty of countries and companies that don’t have the same scruples (an issue in itself) doing business. 
We’ve all known the circumstances in the Himalayas which have led to leadership in exile and sporadic protests since 1959.  Though the world has a short attention span, abetted by a media bent on sensationalizing the news of the moment for commercial gain, was the crackdown this week any surprise?   The only surprise for me was that the protests happened, anywhere.  I know I’m not crazy enough to throw rocks at guys carrying automatic weapons!   
The other big surprise for me, in recent months, is that the world actually seems to take itself seriously in its demands that China join the rest of the "free world" in pressuring rogue nations to eliminate human rights abuses.  In light of history and the well known position of China regarding its own civil liberties and territorial acquisitions, how could China have any official policy other than "non-interference" with the political affairs of other countries?  Did the USA really believe last fall that China could ever be persuaded to protest against the crackdown on monks in Burma?  In the case of China, the phrase an "eye for an eye" could be modified to the phrase, "I’ll turn a blind eye in exchange for your turning a blind eye."  If China had protested last fall during the military crackdown in Myanmar — one of its significant trading partners — how could it have protected its own military from the rock hurling crowds this week? 
Indeed, the only shocker, for me, is not the reaction in the T place nor the lack of reaction in the M place, but the ripple on the diplomatic waters in the S place.  I’m surprised that China has put any pressure whatsoever on Sudan.  I surmise that, like a complex game of chess, a political calculation must have been made that there was no similarity between the two situations that could be used to hold China’s feet to the fire of any similar standard in the future.  And, corollary, China must have also concluded that protests wouldn’t hurt ties badly enough to disrupt the flow of oil:  either Sudan would realize the protests were only for show and would change nothing, or else Sudan is so engaged with China that protests by China would not harm the economic relationship that enables Sudan to use China-originated oil revenue to finance weapons intended for use on its own population.  Or, would it be hoping too much that someone would actually be responding to overwhelming, in-your-face evidence of genocide? 
Just as the ruling junta in Myanmar has now proposed a constitution that would prohibit the elected leader from running for office and would ban her political party from conducting any public campaign, the Sudanese government can likewise make some conciliatory gesture such as perhaps not aiming weapons directly at but perhaps just in the general direction of unarmed civilians?  At least the political hero in Myanmar is alive, probably saved by fears that martyrdom is more dangerous than house arrest.  In Sudan, most potential leaders are dead.  And in the T place, most serious leaders who object to the economic and cultural displacement of natives by Han Chinese are either in exile or now will be in prison for re-education. 
I recently read that the Japanese justify whaling because it was western whaling ships that first brought about near extinction to the whales:  the westerners had their good turn, so the Japanese must not be deprived of that good turn as well.  Similarly, China and India are embarking on paths leading to exponential growth in energy consumption because the west had its turn at development, and now it’s China and India’s turn to develop.  It could be argued, along these lines, that the cultural extinction which accompaniess Han Chinese influx into the high plateau is merely a modern day parallel to the displacement of native populations in the American West.  There’s just one fallacy with all of these arguments:  two wrongs do not make a right. 
It’s far too easy to blame social unrest on outside forces rather than admit to policy failures or the existence of issues that warrant correction.  Honesty, along with full and fair evaluation and changing of course, is much more difficult medicine than name calling, blame shifting, cartoons and caricatures.  One of the weaknesses of America’s national religion, Democracy, is that the public is far too enamored with hearing what it wants to hear than in facing the true issues and hard facts and swallowing the bitter medicine (witness the current American political and economic scene).   A command – based government has no such excuse.  If this government says, "Let’s build a modern city," then by golly that city will be built and it will be inhabited by people (witness Shenzhen).  If this government has the political will to address an issue, then it will be addressed.  All that is needed is wisdom, courage, and senstitivity.  Fortunately, I believe the Chinese government is capable of this political will, if it will allow the door to open to the idea. 
If that happens, then economic engagement will not have been a failure in the civil humanist project. 

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Freedom of Religious Exercise . . . priceless

International / Asia Pacific
Chinese Police Clash With Tibet Protesters
Published: March 15, 2008
Violent protests erupted Friday in a busy market area of Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, as Buddhist monks and other ethnic Tibetans clashed with Chinese security forces.

Something that won’t be covered in the local press, for sure! It clashes with the idea of the economic liberators bringing modern lifestyles to the natives who need the influx of cash and tourists.  For instance, I just read one web page that claims that in the last 50 years the life expectancy of Tibetans has doubled, increasing from 36 to 67 years of age. 
Hmm.  I wonder if it’s possibly more complex than this? 
Even though this article is almost ten years old, it seems particularly insightful: 
Tibet Through Chinese Eyes
by Peter Hessler
Published in The Atlantic, Feb 1999

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What’s In A Name?

A lot. 
A Chinese person’s name is very important.  It means something.  My daughter’s Kung Fu master gave her a wonderful name. In ancient Chinese, it means "beautiful poem with a long history".   My Chinese teacher’s name means something like "beautiful white snow in the forest".  In my family, names mean something as well, but in a different way.  I think — in my family at least — we listen to the sound of the name (notice that all my children’s names end with an "ah" sound), think about the history of a name (e.g. is it a Biblical name?), and who has the name been associated with (a president? a prophet?  a favorite uncle?). 
A Chinese person’s surname is listed first, and it’s proper to call someone by their surname.  For instance, if I meet someone, they might say, "Wo qing Chen."  This is pronounced in American English like:  "Woe Ching Chun".  This means, "My surname [qing] is Chen."  If a person is introduced to me this way, then it is proper for me to call them "Mr. Chen."  In Chinese, I do this by calling them "Chen Xiansheng," the word xiansheng meaning "Mister".  If they are female, then I would call her "Chen Xiaojie," the word xiaojie meaning Miss.  (A Chinese woman does not change her surname when she gets married, and the word doesn’t change according to marital status.)
On the other hand, I’ve found Chinese culture to be more informal than what the books say.  When I meet someone casually, they almost always instruct me to call them by their given name rather than their surname.  There is a different way to refer to this name.  Whereas the word "Qing" means "My surname is x," the word "Jiao" (pronounced in American English like "jaow") means "I am called x".  So a person might say, "Wo jiao Xiao Fang," which means "I go by Xiao Fang."  A person may be even more specific than this, and say, "Wode mingze jiao Xiao Fang," which means, "My [given] name is called Xiao Fang."  In this case, I know that the person’s family name Chen and that their given name is Xiao Fang.  Thus, their full name is Chen Xiao Fang but if introduced in the more casual way I am allowed to call them just "Xiao Fang".  But if ever in doubt, I would refer to them by their full name, Chen Xiao Fang.  But suppose the person also tells me that she has chosen the name Sophie as her English name (i.e. Wode Yingwen mingze jiao Sophie).  If I translate this into English, I would call her Sophie Chen.  (In other words, she is Chen Xiao Feng, a/k/a Sophie Chen. )  
As a foreigner, sometimes the particulars of a person’s name are difficult for me to catch.  In earlier blog entries, for example, I’ve spoken of the difficulty I had learning even to hear the sounds in our driver’s name, Cai Yong Fu.  If the tones, as well as the sound of each consonant and vowel, are not said correctly, the name is not pronounced correctly.  Add to this that the name may be meaningless to me (perhaps since I don’t know that it means "beautiful poem with a long history"), and so it’s just a sound to be memorized.   Such a name, with no cultural or meaning context associated with it, and with sounds I’m not used to, to boot, can feel difficult to hear, understand, and pronounce.  As such, Chinese people often think that Chinese names are too complicated for the simple western mind. 
I can relate.  I remember how I felt when my band director could never remember that I didn’t go by Elizabeth (my first name), even after I had played in his orchestra for seven years.  I also know how I feel when someone continues to call me "Jan" after having known me for two years or so.  At some point it begins to feel awkward and hopeless to correct them.  I don’t want people to feel this way when I say their names, and so I often opt for asking my Chinese friends to tell me their English names.  It’s much easier for me to get a handle on, and remember, someone’s English name.  For instance, yesterday a met a man whose English name is "Mouce," pronounced like "mouse".  He explained to me that his friends began to call him mouse when he was in high school, because he played sports so well.  He was smart, small and quick on the playing field, just like a mouse.  Later, he changed the s to a c because he liked the spelling better.  He thought it was more interesting.  Well, this gave me a handle and I won’t forget his English name.  His Chinese name, however, is a different story for me.  I’ll have to study it in order to remember it. 
Most Chinese people who deal with foreigners have studied English and have adopted an English name.  Sometimes it’s a name that sounds a bit like their Chinese name (like my friend Xiao Fang who adopted Sophie as her American name), other times it’s a name that strikes their fancy (like my friend who adopted the name Dolphin because he liked dolphins).  And sometimes it’s a name just for fun.  Like my friend whose girlfriend in school gave her the name Yo Yo.  (By the way, could you guess that in China a famous cellist is known as Ma Yo Yo and a famous director is known as Li Ang?)  Most often, a teacher in school assigns them or lets the children choose from a list of western names.  The list must be very short, because there are a lot of boys named "David" and girls named "Sophie"! 
The other day, I met a woman who told me her Chinese name was "Doo Doo."  She gave me her business card, and it was spelled "Dodo".  I asked another Chinese friend yesterday, should I tell this woman that her name is not a good name?  The Americans reading this will immediately understand why it’s not a good name.   For others, I may need to explain:  "doo doo" is a colloquial name for feces, and "Dodo" is a silly way to refer to a person who is stupid.   So both the pronounced and written versions are bad.  I mean, I wouldn’t give this name to my dog!  My Chinese friend suggested not to tell the person.  He said that Chinese don’t take their English names very seriously anyway.  They have less hesitation about changing them, as well.  When my friend Dolphin needed to take on a more serious, professional role, he changed his name to something a bit more serious. 
This advice that Chinese don’t take their English names as English speakers take their own English names is in keeping with feedback I’ve gotten from another Chinese friend.  Several months ago, I wrote on this blog about the American-produced Danwei internet TV series called "Sexy Beijing," and specifically about the broadcast "Lost in Translation," a humorous segment about English names adopted by Chinese people. (This is archived in the Entertainment category of my blog entries, but I will quote the relevant portions of the entry at the end of this blog entry, below.)  I asked a Chinese friend to look at this segment and tell me if she thought it was insulting or not. 
Her response was first, that the name "Sexy Beijing" was humorous in itself, because it’s an obvious, punned reference to the series "Sex in the City."  Her response to the "Lost In Translation" segment specifically was that while Americans might think it strange that a Chinese man would choose a name like "Frog" for his English name, we English speakers need to understand that for the person choosing a name, it’s not such a serious thing.  English names come and go and it’s acceptable to choose one that is intended lightly or humorously. 
It plays both ways.  I haven’t given serious, intense thought to my own Chinese name, either.  I have not one, but two, Chinese names. That’s because one friend gave me a name, but I didn’t know how to write it.  A second friend heard it, misconstrued it, and gave me a different name that’s pronounced the same way but written differently.  Both names are good.  But not phenomenal.  I’m still in the market for a phenomenal Chinese name.  And our surname, "Shi," is completely random.  When our daughter’s kung fu master wrote her name in calligraphy for her, he assigned her that surname, and now we’re stuck with it (or my husband is, at least) because it would not be appropriate for him to have a different surname from his daughter!  So, these things that have very great meaning for a person who resides within the culture, have less import for someone who is not so deeply embedded in the culture. 
In the meantime, one of my Chinese friends asked me to help her find a truly excellent name for her son, whose Chinese given name is Zhi Ling.  What a serious task!  I ended up coming up with a list of about 20 names, with an explanation beside each name of its history and what it meant.  I tried to find a name that captured some of the sounds of the name (particularly the Z sound), but of course the Z names in English are more unusual, so I also found some options from more traditional names that weren’t too common but not too unusual and had nice meanings.  However, I think she ended up choosing one of the more common names.  I don’t really know!  I call her son Zhi Ling! 
Here is the excerpt from the previous blog entry: 
[I recommend ] 

But for starters, I recommend "Lost in Translation."  If you like it, you can use the above link to find more videos. 
Here are links to two web sites where this five minute video can be viewed: 
For North American users and speakers of English, I recommend the You Tube site:
For Asian users and speakers of Chinese, I recommend the Toudou site: 

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The Chinese Mindset

In light of comments below, maybe I stand corrected.  Somebody says I’m in for a real culture shock next time I’m in the USA.
Orignal entry:
This is just an example, but it seems "so China" to me.
Today I went shopping at METRO.  It is a German brand company operating in China.  Here are two web pages about the company: 
At one time, I was told that Metro had an expat manager.  The store had lots of wonderful goodies we couldn’t get other places.  Sour cream, salamis, cheeses, olives, wines.  But I’ve noticed a bit of a slide in the last year — certain things are no longer on the shelves.  This is to be expected, as the company sorts out what the local market is seeking and drops items that don’t sell.  But all in all, METRO is still a good place to purchase "foreign" food.  For example, it doesn’t always stock non-sweetened yogurt, but there are only two food stores in Guangzhou where I’ve ever seen it and this is one of them.  They have a few things that nobody else has. 
Additionally, about half of Metro’s stock is durable goods: cookers, grills, pots and pans, bicycles, etc.  It is name brand and good quality.  In fact, if one has a receipt one can actually return defective goods.  Because of this quality, and after having been burned by purchasing what turned out to be a counterfeit and defective HP Printer from a local computer store, I purchased a genuine HP Printer from METRO last year.  In almost every respect, it is a great little printer.  It cleans itself, never jams, even tells me when my inks are running low.  It brainlessly scans, faxes, photocopies, and prints great photographs.  There is just one problem with the printer.  It uses six ink cartridges, the ink cartridges are outrageously expensive, and (more or less) I can only get them at Metro.  
I have on occasion found Metro to be out of stock on certain colors, which is not very convenient when these cartridges are so hard to find.  One time I had to wait three weeks to get a replacement red cartridge.  Additonally, it’s quite a hike to the store and not always convenient to go, so I’ve taken up the habit of always keeping a spare of each color.  Whenever I find the cartridges low in stock, I can point it out to a clerk and the new ones arrive before I run out.  Today, I decided to restock my spare cartridges before there was a crisis.  I needed four of the six cartridges:  black, magenta, light blue, and pink.  The METRO store was out of stock in the pink color, so I asked the floor clerk to order one.  She called the Manager over.
The Manager (who did not speak English) proceeded to explain to the store clerk that I didn’t need all those colors, that I only needed three colors for my printer:  blue, yellow, and magenta.  I persisted.  Yes, I did need them, I explained. 
I thought he didn’t understand, so I walked over and showed him the box that packages one of the unsold printers.  The box clearly states what colors are needed.  Six of them.  I pointed to the colors.  See, six, and I named them in Chinese.  He still insisted that I did not need but three colors. 
I persisted.  I went to a floor model of the printer out on display, opened the lid, and showed him the six cartridge holders.  In my experience, the printer won’t work if any of the cartridges are missing. 
Finally, after a very long time of his explaining to the clerk how I didn’t need them, the truth came out.  He said that because the cartridges are so expensive, most people only use the three primary colors:  blue, red, and yellow.  So he now only orders those three colors. 
I persisted again.  "Would those three colors produce good quality photographs," I asked?  He hesitated.  Then he said that it would take ten days to get the pink cartridges from his supplier in Shanghai.  If I would agree to purchase them, he would order them and call me when they arrived.  I agreed.  I told him I wanted to purchase three of each color.  He took my phone number. 
My thought was, "This is so China!"  But, I wondered, what makes it so?  Our family discussed it at dinner, as we ate our beef purchased at Metro. 
My first response in answer to the question "What is so China about this," is that the Chinese customers are so driven by cost that they will sacrifice a major feature of their expensive, state of the art printer.  Namely, they sacrifice the capacity to print really excellent quality photos or other materials.  I can’t fault the store manager for responding to his market. 
But there’s another aspect to think about that may be less obvious.  The manager failed to anticipate that some of his customers do, indeed, care about having all the colors available.  If that were not so — if nobody at all were buying the cartridges — he wouldn’t have run out of the pink color in the first place.  It’s simply a matter of good customer service to have some in stock and to restock it when low, even if on a different schedule.  Secondly, he also failed to appreciate that it wasn’t necessarily that his customers don’t want the colors, there’s also a possibility that perhaps the printer itself simply uses less of the more subtle colors. 
I can’t imagine an American manager making a decision not to stock the recommended colors just because he thought it was cheaper for the customer.  The American manager may not think about why he is doing it, in a theoretical sense, but he will stock what the company recommends for restocking the ink.  Because that’s the right way to do it.  I don’t mean "right" in a moral sense.  I mean that he will follow the rules about how to use the printer and what is needed for the printer, including stocking the proper ink.  A second difference may be the consumer himself.  If an American customer doesn’t need to print good quality color, then he wouldn’t choose that printer, which is significantly more expensive than more strictly utilitarian models.  He would feel free to choose a cheaper printer even if it were not the very latest and greatest. 
And in closing, I wonder what the Chinese manager is thinking about this:  will he stock the colors in the future?  At the conclusion of the exchange, the girl who spoke English said that she remembere me from when I complained about a broken item a few weeks ago.  I guess I was being labeled as that troublesome foreigner.  I told her that though I shop here frequently, everything I had ever purchased at Metro was of good quality and that I had never returned anything.  I hope it’s not just perceived as the troublesome foreigner, but somehow I think I may be hoping too much. 


Filed under Cross Cultural Issues

Myanmar Day 9: Inle Lake

Well, on the first morning of our time in Inle Lake, I was sick.  My Lonely Planet guidebook says that 60% of people who visit Myanmar get tummy upset, and I did not escape that statistic.  There was one nice benefit of being up a lot during the night.  I got to see a most lovely sunrise.  The sky was a robin’s egg blue, with lovely pink puffs of cotton clouds layered in the sky, and all this was reflected in the crystal clear water of the lake just outside our door.  Beyond the boundary of the water was a long stretch of green marsh, then mountains on the near horizon.  It was really lovely.  Unfortunately, it was also cold, I didn’t know where the camera was, and I didn’t want to wake up David.  I decided to wait until the next morning to get a picture, but the next morning my alarm clock failed to wake me in time.  I missed the photo op!  Oh well. 
By the time Koh Zan arrived at 9 AM I was feeling better and very tempted to go along with the family, but it would have been risky since we were scheduled to spend all day in a longtail boat out visiting places on the lake.  Thus, my family went to the famed floating market without me.  I, instead, took both western medicine and also the traditional, tribal medicine that Koh Zan instructed me to drink.  I thought to myself, "When in Burma, do as the Burmese do."  The medicine was a bitter powder that one mixes with water or juice.  I just put it in as small an amount of water as I could and gulped it down.  I wasn’t sure that my tummy would accept it, but it did.  Koh Zan later told me that it’s what one takes for "poison".  He also gave me some electrolyte drink, but I wasn’t actually all that sick and didn’t feel I needed it.  I just didn’t think I needed to take a chance of being out on the water a very long time. 
The family really enjoyed seeing the floating market.  They told me that it’s a primary social outlet.  The market moves to a different village around the lake on each day, so once per week people come from all around that vicinity to sell their produce and fish, buy things, get their hair cut, or catch up on the gossip.  David told me that the ground around the hair dresser chair was thick with black hair.  It has a reputation of having become touristy, and David says it is touristy if you only stay on the outside, but if you go inside the market, past the tourists, it becomes more local in flavor.  David also bargained for a couple of little items — a silver necklace for Munchkin and something else to surprise Sarah later.  The prices there were better than any we could negotiate later during the week.
I would put photos to go with this blog entry, but I’m afraid they are making the blog really bulky to load overall.  Therefore, I’ll create a separate photo album just called "Inle Lake" and you can look at the photos there.  I think in that way the blog loads much easier. 
At lunchtime, my family came back to get me.  The rode in the boat just over an hour, and disrupted their itinerary for the day to do this.  I felt pretty bad about that.  But I was surely grateful to be out in the boat, on the water, under the sunny, blue sky.   The sky was just so wonderful, and the weather so perfect.  We wore sunscreen and got a bit burned even with that, but it was nice just to see sunshine again after living for so long in the grey skies of a polluted city.
We went for lunch to a restaurant alongside the lake, and then to a shop where a family of silversmiths were making jewelry.  They demonstrated the method they used of heating the silver over a hot fire, then pouring, pounding, and finally working it into intricate jewelry.  I was amazed at the intricacy of some of the designs and chains.  Clarissa got a little silver necklace with matching earrings, which she really loves.  It’s her main souvenir from Myanmar.  There were happy children playing games outside, and David tried to get a picture of them, but as soon as they saw him taking their picture they became more interested in him than in playing their game.  Too bad. 
One thing that struck me about Myanmar is how happy the children seemed, in general.  I saw a lot of children playing.  As Beatrix Potter described Tom Kitten, Mittens and Moppet, they were "playing in the dust."  We saw many children playing in their dusty yards, with very little in the way of toys, but playing happy games with each other and having fun.  Likewise, we saw many games of soccer (football) and volleyball being played among the teens.  As we passed by many schools during our trip, with children studying in them, we asked our guide about them in each place.  He said there was universal public education.  Another notable thing I will mention is that I did not see children with the malnutrition symptoms of marasmus or kwashorikor.  I’ve read that one child in six in Myanmar does not reach her sixth birthday.  I’ve read that counterfeit drugs are prevalent and that there is lack of access to adequate medical care.  I realize that I only saw one side of four distinctly touristed locations in Myanmar.  However, we had no difficulty gaining access to medicine.  Another notable thing was that I saw many, many women breastfeeding their babies.  What a lovely sight and hopefully indicative of / conducive to maternal and infant health. 
But on with our journey. 
After leaving the silversmith shop, we went to a shop staffed by "long necks" (the Pa-O tribe?).  These women begin putting copper coils around their neck at puberty.  They say the neck doesn’t get longer, but actually the shoulders get pushed down more and more.  The appearance is of a very long neck.  At first I felt a bit awkward going to this place, because it seems as if tourists go there to gawk at them, but then I realized that they don’t feel this way at all about it.  This is their culture, and they are happy to share just as I enjoy sharing my culture.  In the end, two women offered to pose with us for photos, and we accepted.  The lady in the photo with us, the one I have my hand touching, is 65 years old.  She showed me the copper foils and how heavy they are, and let my children handle some of them.  The legend behind the origin of people lengthening their necks this way goes thus:  there once was an emperor (or king?) who went around the kingdom choosing brides from among all the most beautiful young women in his kingdom.  One man couldn’t bear the thought of losing his beautiful daughter to the king, and so he put this copper foils around her neck to make her appear odd.  Sure enough, the king passed her over.  Thereafter, this habit was adopted by all the people in the village.  These people were the Pa-O people.  Interesting story.  When we asked the young girls why they chose to wear the jewelry, they said because it was their custom and because it was beautiful.  They also wear copper foil jewelry around the tops of their calves, along with a distinctive dress.  During our time at Inle Lake, we saw members of this tribe at various locations going about their daily business.  In Myanmar, people mostly dress in whatever distinctive tribal dress they prefer. 
Well, my family had spent an hour going to get me, and then an hour getting back to where they were.  There wasn’t much more time left in the day before sunset.  We headed back to the hotel, very much realizing that we were a captive audience for their restaurant food.  Fortunately it wasn’t too bad.  The main irksome point was that they stated prices in U.S. Dollars but we didn’t have any U.S. Dollars, having exchanged them all for Kyet, and they gave an "exchange rate" of Kyet to Dollars that was about 10% less than what we had gotten in Yangon.  Other than this little sleight of hand, we were happy with our hotel.  The service and staff at all of our hotels in Myanmar was excellent. 
For dinner that night, we abided by the lessons learned the night before.  I refrained from eating the tomato salad (I was told this was likely to be what made me sick, because the tomatoes had not been peeled).  Munchkin refrained from ordering spaghetti bolognaise (her favorite, but she learned the night before that it was awful at this restaurant).  We enjoyed sharing fried rice, a fresh fish, and the local specialty, vermicelli in soup, finished off by some fresh fruit.  Then it was grab your hot shower while the water is still hot and get in the bed before the electricity goes out.  From the night before, I had learned that I would need both blankets on my bed.  I nestled in and slept very well, but not until first admiring the stars on the clear, moonless night. 

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The Next Tragedy of the 21st Century

Regarding the next 21st Century Genocide: 
"Who Is My Neighbor?" 
Op-Ed Columnist
Africa’s Next Slaughter

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