Staying in China and Facing the Dip

Keep focused

What may come as a surprise for some friends, family, and students has actually been a defining moment for keeping the last 7 years of my life from gathering dust. Originally, my 5 year plan saw me coming back to New England, finding a job, and perhaps marrying a Chinese Harvard grad! But since publishing that plan I realized that none of my plans would appropriately take advantage of my valuable experience in Asia. I have made a decision based on the realization that completely moving back home would not have been the best investment of my time, business relationships, and experience. Some might be thinking, “Where did this change come from?” or “Isn’t this a little sudden?” I understand that reaction, but have a different way of  looking at it. Since it might be a bit much to swallow all at once, I’ll just describe what has been going through my mind over the past three or four weeks.

“Don’t Quit” … “Be a Jack of all Trades”  … “Diversify” Continue reading Staying in China and Facing the Dip

What do you Wear to a Naked Wedding in China?

Naked Wedding
Naked Wedding

Naked weddings (裸婚) are the latest craze in China! They are so popular nowadays, especially among the younger generation. But why do so many people decide to go through with a naked wedding? Although most parents aren’t happy about this latest marriage trend, it is very difficult to avoid it. And if there is going to be a naked wedding, and you get an invitation, what should you wear? The answer might surprise you… Continue reading What do you Wear to a Naked Wedding in China?

Dou Ban Jiang (Chinese Bean Sauce)

Doubanjiang
Thick Dou Ban Jiang

Get ready to drool over this extremely fragrant and commonly used ingredient in Chinese food. I call it by its directly translated name, “bean sauce” (豆瓣酱), but it is also referred to as “Chile Bean Sauce” which you’ll notice in the first photo. The regular flavor is not spicy at all, rather it puts a fermented, savory soy bean flavor in your dish. There are a variety of bean sauces available at your local Asian market. If you see one with writing on it that looks completely Greek (or Chinese) to you, make sure to take clues from the photo on the label. The red hot chiles (peppers) are a sign you’ve found the spicy version!

Were you looking for Dou Chi, another fermented bean ingredient? Continue reading Dou Ban Jiang (Chinese Bean Sauce)

The China Guan: Shanghai

The China Guan

“The China Guan” is my way of calling this amazing 2010 World Expo pavilion that still receives thousands of visitors per day in Shanghai. The building is a tribute to traditional Chinese architecture dating back to the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC-467 BC). From this artist’s rendition you can see the “interlocking wooden brackets” which are the most important element of this kind of traditional structure. Although I hadn’t made the effort to visit the Expo in 2010, I felt it was important to see this pavilion before it gets torn down… or perhaps it will be the only building left standing in this expensive downtown location.

The China Guan really impressed me not only because of its unique outer covering, but mostly because of the video exhibit that you are shown in the first hall. After taking an elevator up one of the legs of this massive building you are led into a dome-like video area. The room is packed with people eager to get a dose of modern Chinese culture. The lights dim to black and the show starts. Continue reading The China Guan: Shanghai

From Chinese Public School to University to Workforce

Teacher Student Time

It’s common for us to praise countries like China, Japan, and Korea on their teaching methods. Of course, their math scores frequently deliver a spanking to American children and the future of American students gets even gloomier from there. The results are in the numbers and the proof is ample, but this educational success doesn’t come without a cost. As we attempt to compete academicaly, and globably, this cost has been (or is still being) experienced by American students with mixed responses from their administrators. At least the few administrator I’ve talked to were not full of praise about their new exam-based system. Continue reading From Chinese Public School to University to Workforce

Which would you choose? Dinner for $1.69 or $.79

Duck, Pork, and Cabbage with Rice = $1.69

Good food on a budget is a specialty not only in China, but across the developing world. In countries which have recently joined the world economy, or only within the past 20-30 years, local food traditions have stayed strong. And although Western food is becoming more popular in these countries, their preference for local traditional dishes is unlikely to change in the near future.

The one common remark that students studying abroad make about their experience is that food doesn’t meet their standards. For example, the pizza, pasta, sandwiches, and salads option that fill cafeterias in the US provoke a homesickness that is unavoidable. Looking at the common dish I had for dinner last night, could you blame them for missing home?

Right outside my apartment is the “Sichuan Room”, a Cantonese-style Sichuan restaurant which serves amazing food at a low price. Continue reading Which would you choose? Dinner for $1.69 or $.79

Pictures of Life in North Korea

North Korean Woman in Uniform

What is life truly like in North Korea?

We often default our answers to “full of misery and poverty,” or at least I usually do. It would be a surprise to see smiles in a place many Westerners consider to be a cold, unforgiving dungeon. But in this place which seems to be sealed off from the rest of Asia, and the world, glimpses of internationalism can still be found. Children play, common people go to work, elite students may learn English, and so, the Pyong Yang streets resemble a typical city in modern China.

Of course, the pictures you are about to see have been officially produced, censored, and posted in the news section of the most popular Chinese website, QQ.com (Chinese Link). I found them simply by signing into the 400 million+ member IM service and clicking their News pop-up. These are images that at least a few hundred-thousand people have seen within a few hours, and probably millions more by the end of today. This is the perception that Chinese have about North Korea.

So, what is life truly like in North Korea? Well, I guess it depends on which news site you prefer to read…

Click to visit slide show on QQ

The Chinese Way to Get Hit by a Cement Truck

Spun!
Spun around!

When someone says “I feel like I got hit by a speeding bus,” I now know what they mean from personal experience. Actually, it was a cement truck and it was attempting to slow down when it hit us. Our driver was caught off guard by a parked van in the lane for the off ramp and hit his breaks just in time… that’s when most people look around and brace for the second impact…. which I discovered was a truck… and its screech was deafening.

With a steely crunch, our taxi was sent spinning 180° and left facing oncoming traffic. Our trunk was smashed into the back seat and glass showered over us. I checked my friend for wounds immediately. Neither of us got injured, thank God, but we were trapped in the back seat for a little while because the doors were pinched shut. We were lucky and I was bizarrely calm while my friend was passing out. I agree with people when they say “it could have been a lot worse.” Continue reading The Chinese Way to Get Hit by a Cement Truck

Ben’s Five Year Plan: 2011-2015

Creating a New World...

The Chinese 12th Five-Year Plan (FYP) is being decided upon by the National People’s Congress this month; March 2011. It’s a tradition for centralized, authoritative governments to use this kind of policy making “plan”. Of course, The Party has drifted away from its soviet roots into the protector of the current socialist market economy. We’ll probably keep hearing about these plans in global news media for years to come.

Hearing this news got me starting to think about my FYP. My father often thought about our family plans in 5-10 year increments… especially when moving house. So how would I consider my last fiver years compared to my next five years?

I moved to China in 2005, but found the cozy city of Zhuhai in 2006.  Technically, I’ve been in Zhuhai for 5 years studying Chinese, exploring some website ventures, teaching English, and travelling around Asia. But the next five years are going to look pretty different.
Here are my tasks and goals: Continue reading Ben’s Five Year Plan: 2011-2015

Tibetan New Year in 2011

What we learned from our guide and how he perceives life in Tibet with the top 2 spiritual leaders in exile.

Tibetan man and Me in Lhasa

Talking to Tibetans about how they see modern Tibet is something I’ve wanted to do for quite some time now. I often discuss modern China with Taiwanese, because they also live in a politically sticky environment. Superficially, Taiwan is considered a renegade province of China but their license plates say “台湾省” (Taiwan Province). There are also noticeably squeamish times of the year when international sporting events encompass all of Asia. Taiwan becomes “Chinese Taipei” and their flag is often an Olympic symbol on top of a white background. And as Mainland China grows its clout around the world, it is fair to say that fewer and fewer countries will recognize Taiwan as they once did decades ago.

But back to Tibet! The Lonely Planet guide doesn’t recall the Chinese history of Tibet in as bright a light as Chinese history books. For the Chinese, Tibet “has always been a part of China”; for Western historians, Tibet has been fighting foreign powers for centuries to keep its independence. In fact, two separate dynasties of China maintained territorial control over Tibet, and that is why The Party claimed Tibet after the civil war with the KMT (Kuo Min Tang: the previous Chinese government, which fled to modern Taiwan). Continue reading Tibetan New Year in 2011