Friday, September 14, 2007

Update from China Nov 25 2004

WARNING: The following update is longer than the first one! Because of this I include a Table of Contents:
1) Intro
2) Work
3) My Free Time
4) The Deeper Side of Things…
5) Other “Living” Related Things
6) To End Off...
7) Post Script\\ To My Brothers and Sisters


It’s about that time again! Actually, it’s way past that time… I have not written an update in about a month and a half! If you’re wondering why, just read on, and you will have a pretty good idea.

Before I begin what I hope will be a thorough yet pleasant update, I want to thank everyone who emailed me in the past month and a half. You know who you are… Your responses to my first update as well as sharing your own lives and insights are encouragements and inspirations to me. They keep me strengthened and help me to live my life day by day to the best of my abilities. I wish I could respond to all of you personally, none of your emails has gone unread or un-cherished. I look forward to receiving more from you, and I hope this excerpt from my life will answer your queries.

Ok, onwards with the update! For the sake of cohesion and comprehension, I will maintain the same headings as my last update, so you can read the sections you are most interested in.

For those who missed the first update and want to catch up before reading this one, just let me know and I can send you the first update again.


Working at Peking University (PKU) changed considerably since the last update. This is pretty expected, cause… you know… China! Things here are never set in stone, and contracts are always a work-in-progress, even after they are signed. But I can boil down all work-related changes to two events. These events are the root causes that result in a plethora of other circumstances that currently make life here in China completely crazy, hectic, frantic, stress-filled and ultimately… Amazing!

Event #1: Barry’s Departure.
Barry, one of the original 4 English teachers hired by PKU had to immediately leave shortly after I sent out my first update in October. He experienced a family emergency back home in England, and was forced to leave. This left the remaining three teachers, Anthony, Marvel and myself to cover his workload. No sweat, right? Wrong. Each of us was forced to pick up at least one extra 3 hour class, which by itself is not that bad. Unfortunately my additional class is on Sunday night, which means my four-day weekend is effectively cut into two. That means no long-distance trips during the week. But that’s ok, I wasn’t really planning on any major excursions anyways.

The extra class really isn’t a big deal, until assignments and quizzes begin rolling in. It takes on average six hours to mark one class’ quizzes, and even longer for writing assignments. If you add up all the in-class teaching hours, plus a week where we must mark quizzes or writing assignments, plus office hours, plus lesson preparations (and I have 2 different lessons to prepare), the workload could potentially be as high as 54 hours in a single week! It isn’t always that bad, but it’s a big jump from the hours we were expected to work before (20 hrs), and my last update was written before any assignments or quizzes were turned in.

That’s life though, right? Roll with the punches, and it is actually good that I spend so much time working, it means less time watching DVDs! And many of you know this is a serious problem for me. Not watching them, just buying them.

Event #2: Getting kicked out of my room.
Hold your horses… it’s not what you think! Yes, I did get kicked out of my room, but it wasn’t because I was a bad tenant! In fact, all the English teachers were “politely” told to vacate their homes. The reason is because we were living in the International Guest House, a quasi-hotel, and the dean of the school took it upon himself to hold a conference. He brought in 20 British keynote speakers and decided to house them in our International Guest house. That’s pretty logical right? Well guess how many rooms this Guest house has? Yup. You guessed it, 20. So they were three rooms short, the same three rooms me and my fellow teachers were occupying.

PKU gave us a week’s notice, and told us they were preparing another place for us to stay. They however, neglected to tell us that it was ONE apartment, and all of us teachers would be flat-mates. Now, to me this situation wasn’t too stressful and didn’t get me too upset, just because I honestly don’t care if I share an apartment with people or not. But let me just tell you, Anthony and Marvel raised a storm! Both of them need a lot of space, and were furious that they were being uprooted from their homes, which they had already settled in. The part that really steamed them was the fact that our contract specifically said we had a room at the International Guest house, and the University Administration would not admit they were wrong or say sorry for having to move us. Classic Chinese example of saving face.

In any case, we quickly adjusted, and in fact, this new apartment is quite large and spacious. The only drawbacks is sharing a washroom, waiting two minutes before there is hot water, and being cautious about visitors, just because it may encroach on the other teacher’s personal space. This situation results in a very quiet apartment, and to me, that’s perfect.

My Free Time:

Because things are so much busier now, this being an actual full-time job, my free time witnessed a huge reduction. However, I work extremely hard during the week (I average about 5 to 6 hours of sleep a day during the weekday) so that I can afford to take off one day on the weekends. This remains my Saturdays, my “exploration” day. Fridays now consist of class in the morning, gym in the afternoon and work at night. Saturdays are my exploration days, Sunday morning is still my time of reflection, journaling and spent with God, while in the evenings I have class. Mondays I work all day to try to lighten my load for the week, and also go to the gym. From Tuesday to Thursday, it is all work, no play.

I work hard, and I play hard (Actually, I taught my students that concept). The days and times I have to play, I use them to the fullest. My DVD buying and watching has slowed to a crawl. I average perhaps 1 or maybe 2 movies a week. Whenever I have free time during the week, I am at the gym, or doing other productive things, like looking for a job (I will talk more about this later). I find that on my exploration days I am spending more and more of them with students. If you have kept up with my pictures, students accompany many of my outings (Great Wall, Kareoke (KTV), Confucius’ temple, Buddhist temples, and even just shopping). It is not because I do not know my way around, it is because it is the perfect opportunity to get to know them better, and continue my “research” and development. In fact, these students that join me on my explorations are not native to Beijing, so they are just as lost as I am!

Because I am so busy now, my free time is even more precious than ever. I use every minute and hour here for some purpose. I seldom let myself rest or “take the night off”, just because there are too many exciting, interesting, and strategic things to do.

The Deeper Side of Things…:

I mentioned my students, and, if you remember the last update, I talked a lot about how I want to grab the opportunity to talk to them, learn from them and befriend them. Well, I’m happy to report that I’ve done exactly that. I found that my students are my greatest asset and resource here in China. The more time I spend with them, the more I learn and the greater I feel engaged with this culture and people.

In terms of language learning, I really “upped” my exposure and practice time with Mandarin. I now have three separate student mandarin tutors, spread evenly throughout the week. And each tutoring time is about 2 hours long. It is pretty intensive, but it is not focused purely on language. I use these “exchange” tutor times to not only converse in Chinese, but talk about relevant issues and continue my research into the Chinese culture. It’s like a one-on-one interview with Mainland Chinese, three times a week! These tutoring sessions become pretty intense and animated as ideas fly back and forth about the analysis of the disparity between this generation of North Americans and Chinese.

Beyond tutoring, my language is improving constantly because of all the other times I spend with my students. I often eat lunch and dinner with students (different groups, for a variety of exposure) as well as go out shopping or exploring on Saturday with students. I switch immediately into Chinese, and spend the whole time trying my best to converse in Mandarin. My students continue to tell me my Chinese has improved a lot, and indeed, I feel it has too. I still have a long way to go, but now, my listening has improved to the point where I understand perhaps 65% of regular Chinese conversations, and can speak in Chinese sentences (however simple) without resorting to using English. To me, that is a big accomplishment, and I will continue to work hard to improve it even more.

The strategic side of my research and purpose here in China is also reaping results by leaps and bounds. As I mentioned before, I use my tutoring times and other recreational times with my students to explore the contemporary issues they are facing in their generation. I have learned a lot. Not only have I destroyed all my previous preconceptions about these Chinese, but I have also built new foundations and new paradigms about them with which I use to analyze their situation.

It never ceases to amaze me how fast China is changing. And it is most evident in it’s people. The minds of these students are in constant reconstruction and redefinition. Their entire identities are changing, both individual and as a group, in political, and economic contexts. I must admit, I had no idea how great an effect the one-child policy has on these Chinese. I witness first-hand the interactions and results of an entire generation who are single children. The dynamics and thought processes are completely different and provides an interesting study of the psychological and social consequences of being isolated as a child. Indeed, it offers a window and glimpse into the future, about how future Chinese business leaders will operate, and how they will manage their companies. More importantly, it will show how the future leaders of China will run its government, and manage its citizens.

Building upon the one-child policy, I observe and encounter personal struggles from many students concerning self-esteem, identity and purpose in life. I cannot convince myself it is an isolated incident, because I see this phenomenon in the majority of the students. In my investigations of these matters, I am not dismayed or discouraged at their plight. Instead, I am encouraged at their effort to change, and excited at the numerous opportunities to be a positive influence in this arena.

I may have cast a bad light on the Chinese with what I have told you. If I have, I apologize. I am merely sharing with you the problems and opportunities I see for improvement with these people. They are in their own right fantastic people. I admire how they stand firm on their own tradition and culture, while taking in stride the complete assault of western and foreign influences that bombard them each day. They tell me, just like their country which is modernizing in a Chinese way, they themselves are engaging western influences and changing their own identity in a Chinese way. They pick and choose what parts of Western culture they will assimilate and which parts they will reject, likewise they are choosing which parts of their original culture they will keep and which parts they will cast off. The process, as I witness it, is exhilarating.

As you can tell, if there is anything I have done in the past couple months, it is spend my time and energy immersing myself with these people. I have only LICKED the tip of the iceberg. Haha… this place is so amazing, and I have so much more left to do here… it is not my time to leave…

Other “Living” related things:

I had to change the original title because the last update read “Other Travel Related Things” but really, I am not really traveling anymore. I had to change it to “Living” because my entire perspective of this place is different now. I am not a traveler looking at Beijing as if I am just passing through. This is my home now, and I live here. My life is here, and my work is here.

I wrote last time that I could live in Shanghai in a heartbeat. Quite true. But Beijing is the place for me. I have absolutely fallen in love with this city. Everyday I grow to love this city more and more. It takes a while for Beijing to grow on you, because it’s a rough place. But I now understand why my friends who have lived here for 3 or 4 years refuse to leave. Its absolutely amazing. Why, you might ask? Beijing is hands down the Paris of Asia. I already spoke before about the strategic reasons for being here in Beijing (the students, the research of culture and positioning for the future) but that is only half of it. Apart from my work and the things I feed my mind, Beijing offers me in abundance, the food to feed my heart. I have reconnected with my Artist’s past and heritage. I was playing around with the idea of going back to my roots of fine arts, and struggling with my calling to be a businessperson. But this city succinctly melds the two together in a way I would never be able to find in any other city.

Beijing is China’s capital for the arts. That includes fine arts, music and theatre. All of these industries are RED-hot! It is intoxicating to open up any newspaper and magazine and see all the new shows, exhibitions, and concerts that spring up literally every day! I get goose bumps and feel and antsy inside just at the though of checking out new exhibitions and performances every week. Other cities might have new art exhibitions opening every week, Beijing has new art GALLERIES opening every week! Need I say more?

I already traverse the contemporary art gallery districts frequently enough, but I do not think I will catch up with all the new exhibits and galleries showing every day. Last weekend me and a friend took a trip to SongZhuang, a poor, rural village 20 km East of Beijing. Five hundred to a thousand starving, contemporary, avant-garde artists who live for their work and embrace their own version of bohemianism inhabit this village. Even before my friend and I stepped out of our Pedi cab, we ran into an artist walking down the street. She invited us into her home and through the course of an hour showed us her art work and shared with us her life and philosophy. She then proceeded to bring us to another artist’s home where we discussed further on contemporary societal and art issues while perusing more fascinating art. We were then led to another artist’s home where we observed more creations, met more artists, and had further fantastic conversations on contemporary issues. Where else in one afternoon can you meet half a dozen real artists, and explore such creativity? The art world here has set my passions aflame.

I have found the best Jazz in China. I don’t think this needs further explanation.

My exploration of the art world here in China is more than a fetish. For me, I hope and aspire to have a career that is in some way related and involved with the art world. I cannot deny myself, and I cannot deny my nature or my passions. Art is definitely one of them. A place like Beijing, where art and business converge together, I know holds a place perfect for someone like me.

“But wait Kev, aren’t you going to Japan?” That’s right my friends, I did mention that I had a contract in Japan and it would start in April. I’m at a crossroad right now, or I have been ever since I realized Beijing was the city for me. I am leaning towards staying in Beijing, and giving up on Japan. Why? Because Japan was supposed to be a stepping-stone for me while I got a foot into China’s door. Since I am already here, and have two feet firmly planted, what is the point of going to Japan? Perhaps in the future Japan may hold some opportunity for me, but for now, China is where I should be.

That being said, the end of this school term, and thus my contract, is fast approaching! What have I been doing with my time, other than exploring Beijing? I’ve been looking for a new job. And, I may add, I’ve been fairly successful. I have not signed any contracts yet but its all in the works. Going through interviews is an exhausting process, but I continue to learn more about myself and gain experience. I will refrain from telling you any more details about my job hunting, just because nothing is set in stone yet, and I will tell you the final results in the next update, when contracts are signed and I know for sure what I’m doing. Just know for now things are happening, good things, and I am currently in contract negotiations.

With THAT being said, I have elicited the help of some local students/friends to assist me in looking for an apartment in Beijing. I am hoping to move into the CBD (Central Business District) of Beijing, smack-dab in the middle of all the hoop-la. It will be yet another stressful but extremely exciting process, as I get to really begin realizing a life for myself here in China. Again, I will update you more as things progress, but I’m really ecstatic about this.

To End Off…

Wow… this turned out to be really long… is anyone still reading this??? Kudos for being so disciplined and making it this far!

My two most memorable days here in China are going to the Great Wall with 20 of my students, and going to the Contemporary Artist Village with my friend. These two excursions embody my experience here in Beijing thus far: Culture, Culture and more Culture. More specifically, the juxtaposition and dialogue between old and new Chinese culture, and the distillation of perspective for the Chinese individual caught in the middle. My continued life here will help bring me closer to understanding that individual, and perhaps in the future truly identify with them.

I am truly happy here, and I this update was successful in passing to you this feeling.

Again I want to thank all those who have written me emails in the past few months, and I look forward to hearing from you again! I want to share in your life as much as I want you to share in mine!

Blessings for you and your dreams,

Post Script\\ To My Brothers and Sisters:
The following is written for those who are interested in my spiritual well-being and the spiritual well-being of China.

Greetings to my spiritual family in Canada! I know you have already endured enough of my long update, but can you endure a little more and read through this part? (Or perhaps you were smart and just skipped my update and read only this section? Haha…)

I know many of you are wondering how I am doing spiritually, since I did not include a spiritual excerpt in my last update. I understand that for many of you, this part is most important. I hope you were able to get word of me from my family, or were able to talk to me directly about spiritual matters. If not, here is a brief update.

To answer your question about my spiritual well-being, I am Great. The Lord never ceases to amaze, and never ceases to work His miracles in my life. I have not been this close to God in years. My devotional life and my prayer life are active and engage God everyday. When He wants to move, He moves, and boy does He do it with certainty. Being here in China has removed all distractions and created for me a sanctuary to seek His Will clearly and earnestly. Even with all the noise pollution of this city, and all my duties and activities, spiritually this place is like a desert, where the only voices are mine, and the wind blowing, carrying with it God’s voice.

I know and I hear people are concerned about me because they feel that I am spiritually lonely. And given my analogy of a desert, I do not blame them. But to me, I do not feel alone at all. I have God, and what is more, this desert provides me with the opportunity to hear and converse with Him in clarity. I am not lonely at all. In fact, I have a more intimate relationship with my best friend, my creator.

It is true, fellowship would is nice necessary, but I have enough it, in many different forms. I feel our definition of fellowship is too constricted to the ideals and norms of the church, with set groups and times. We stifle God’s flexibility and providence in this area. God will provide me the fellowship He feels I need.

Indeed, He has already given me an abundance of opportunities to meet up with Brothers and Sisters who fly into Beijing and pass through. Moreover, if I move into Beijing next year I will be able to attend church more frequently. He has His purpose for putting me in DaXing, 30km outside of the city. Trust Him.

The harvest is ripe in China. So ripe it is almost overwhelming. My work here has only just begun, but already I feel like I am ill-equipped to meet their needs. Surely it is Jesus that I must rely on to provide the right answers and show them the Truth they have been waiting to hear. And really, they are just waiting for people to share with them. This culture and this environment has left such a big chasm in these students, they are searching, and are in despair because no one around them has any answers. There are too few workers here in China.

I began Bible studies with a student shortly after the first update was sent out. Since then this student has read through the entire gospel of John and is proceeding to read Romans. He is hungry for the word. He is hungry for the truth behind the words, and he wants it now! I barely can keep up with him, to answer his questions, but he continues to read, and continues to build question upon question. He is not the only one. My student tells me he talks to other students and found others equally hungry and wanting answers. They are merely seeking an opportunity and the right person to talk to.

This student of mine has begun giving speeches in class about what he believes, and what he is learning. The students have an opportunity to give speeches about any topic they want in class. And my student chooses his faith. This is the China few people see. This is the new generation of Chinese, who embrace a life and a Truth we too often take for granted.

If you want to know why I am staying in China, here is the reason: I am called by God to be here. Everything I shared in the update is all amazing and God’s Will, but truly, His purposes for me here is beyond just business, art and culture. The principles I teach in class are not merely English, but I teach principles based on the Word. I do my job the best I can, because I do it in worship to glorify God. The students notice and realize the difference. They continue to ask me why I do the things I do, why I teach the things I teach and why I have such a passion, energy, and peace. What a ministry. What opportunity! I am merely being the best teacher I can be to glorify God, and already students can feel the power of Jesus. That is how spiritually desolate this place is. What a ministry.

God has called me, should I not follow? When I was on the plane landing into Beijing back in August, I looked out the window and saw this city beneath me. I prayed to God, claiming this city as His, claiming my work here as His work, and claiming His Sovereignty over the Chinese people.

I continue to follow Jesus, and my decision to stay in Beijing rather than leave for Japan is a result of that.

Thank you for your continued prayers. Strength, Clarity, Wisdom, Discipline, Peace and Joy are all needed here in China.

I hope to hear from you soon so I can continue praying for you!

Following our Father,

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