Sunday, October 1, 2017

One month in Guangzhou

It is Sunday, October 1st, China's National Day. This is the day in 1949 when Mao stood before throngs at Tian'anmen Square beginning his stint as Supreme Leader of the People's Republic of China.

Chiang Kai-shek was in Taiwan with his trainload of national treasures and archives. Major General Claire Chennault was home in Texas, fomenting hatred of communism and Truman. Uncle George was finishing up at Harvard, unaware that he would be dead just over three years later, from the Korean War. My father was a sophomore at Milton Academy and my mother, just a five year-old girl in Hingham, MA.

We will also celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival on St. Francis' Feast Day (October 4), gobbling high-calorie mooncakes and enjoying another mandatory day of vacation.

Today is also the day, since my arrival on September 1, on which I have made my fourth trip to IKEA. I am getting settled. I have a desk now. I have placed it looking out the window. If I look to the left, I can see the Canton Tower from the sliding glass doors to my balcony. If I peered over the edge of the windows in front of me and looked down at the hoop-less basketball courts below, I would see a group of middle-aged (and older!) women dancing to the same horrible music that they blast every night. I am wondering how long that will last.

My building is 26 stories tall and has a 27th floor, which is a roof deck. I went up there today and imagined the possibilities, with its great view of the Pearl River (Zhujiang). If it was not always about 96-degrees Fahrenheit, it would be a fun place to hang out. I also descended into the bowels of the building, where a parking garage will soon open. Like most urban communities in China, the complex is gated and we are no longer allowed to bring Mobikes and Ofo bikes onto the premises. That said, there has been a flat-tire derelict Ofo at the gate to my building for days and I have sent Ofo three messages about it. There is a small store with wilted vegetables and other businesses are springing up on the first floor, which is designed with big glass storefronts for residential commerce.

I have a gym membership and seem to go when almost nobody is there, which suits me since my moobs still jiggle when I use the elliptical, spin bike, or treadmill. Getting on top of my weight has become a priority, because I sweat incessantly all day long. The weather is unbearable, but I came in with my eyes wide open about that, which means that they sting from the sweat dripping into them.

I have made a lot of new acquaintances. Tomorrow I will go to a birthday party for the owner of the home where my own birthday spread was held, but first I will lead an Oklahoman colleague and her husband to the Chen Clan Ancestral Home. We will meet at 10 AM at the Canton Tower Subway stop. I went to a movie a couple weeks ago with a sculptor friend. I see a lot of YaYa (丫丫), whose marble showroom is still being constructed.

I have been reading a lot. May I recommend the story just published in the Nikkei Asia Review, Xi Digs in for the Long Haul, for a close look at Chinese politics? Also, let me recommend Sinocism, which is the work of a fellow Middlebury College alumnus.

Democrats Abroad hosted a conference call with Elizabeth Warren a couple weeks ago, whilst she was sitting on her balcony in Cambridge, MA. I participated in that and have begun some outreach to American Democrats in the Pearl River Delta (PRD). Not surprisingly, there seems to be quite a bit of activity in Hong Kong and not much in Shenzhen, Guangzhou, or the other big cities nearby. ("The nine largest cities of PRD had a combined population of 57.15 million at the end of 2013, comprising 53.69% of the provincial population." Wikipedia.)

I am also the newly appointed co-consul of the InterNations Guangzhou Coffee and Tea Group, which will mean that I need to work to organize monthly tea gatherings.

Work has me teaching 2.5 year-olds and 40 year-olds with zero English, high school history to one boy, English to the tri-lingual and engaging seven yer-old daughter of an American, and running about eight Phenomena-Based Learning activities in the coming days. Still trying to figure out how the place works.

Yesterday, I went for my medical check and got my chest X-rayed, which no American doctor would have done. They took blood in one room, looked in my ears in another, had me do an eye chart in another room, then I shuffled down the hall to have an ECG. The results will come on October 11.

Other trips have included a visit to the Flower Market and yesterday's trip to Hey Tea, which is a popular new "fashion drink" outlet with epic lines.

This is a rambling laundry list of different tidbits since my arrival. Whether I continue in this format will be based on how many people read it to the if you have made it this far, please leave a quick comment. If you follow me in other mediums, some of the content is redundant. My apologies.

Monday, November 9, 2015

How to find this Waking Green Dragon blog in the future

I am "archiving" this blog by allowing the custom URL of to lapse so if you wish to find the content here in the future, you will need to visit after December 5. Thank you for your support over the last (nearly!) five years.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Day One: What's On My Plate?

This post appears on my new blog, called Poor Ricardo. I do not plan to cross-post again. Waking Green Dragon has petered out over the last year and my writing efforts will go into this new blog...and my novel (no publication date projected). If you wish to follow my ranting and raving, reflections and reporting, please "Follow by Email" in the upper-right corner of the new blog.


While the look and feel of this blog are a work-in-progress (low priority), I began my time at the Champlain College Teacher Apprentice Program (TAP) today and want to make my first post.

One assignment tonight was to reflect on what else, in addition to TAP, is on my plate as I face the year ahead. In fact, I had to make an actual plate to show my priorities. Here it is:

God: Like the Three-in-One, the rosary here entwines with all else. Hoping to make it to DC to see "my Pope" again in September and have registered at a parish in Underhill, called St Thomas...which will probably be the name of my first-born son if I find someone with whom to create one and she agrees. (N.B. The rosary was made in 1999 for me and one major "bead" [er, fetish] broke shortly before the Maker rattled my faith. I am still trying to figure out which mystery went missing. Was it a Sorrowful or Joyful?)

Three apples: My initials are APL. The apple is a symbol of teaching and the logo of TAP.

USPS: The Forever stamp (49 cents!!!) is symbolic of my desire to resume my letter-writing habits of olde and to find someone with whom I can correspond "till death us do part."

Writing: The pen and "John Hancock" are emblematic of my ongoing novel-writing project and this blog effort.

Tea: The tea bag ties into the former and also represents my opium pipe-dream of opening a high-brow Boston Tea Party teahouse in The Hub.

Camera: The camera (actually a lighter and "keychain camera" "Made in China") stands for my passion for photography. I will do the Member-of-the-Month display at the Onion River Coop's City Market (Burlington, VT) in November with selected China photographs and some of my calligraphy on display.

Bernie: I hope to help lead GOTV efforts to organize Bernie's constituents in "the 14th colony." I am not talking about Vermont, which is a) solidly behind his effort and b) was the 14th state to join the Union. No, I am talking about the Americans living abroad who would comprise the 14th most populous state in the country if they could apply for statehood. Alas, they are like colonists who really lack meaningful representation despite being liable for taxation.

Clothespin: The clothespin represents all of the quotidian mysteries of living simply, but also indicates my inability to sever the umbilical cord with Project Laundry List. What lies ahead in regard to this, only the Shadow knows. A shout-out to El Profe for believing in me.


There is some raw, over-sharing in the above post, but that is characteristic of blogs. You can help me by commenting on what you would find most useful for me to discuss as I embark on this new chapter: seeking licensure and a job in Vermont as a social studies teacher. I hope some of my fans from Waking Green Dragon will follow this blog, too. There is a "follow by email" option in the upper right corner of the new blog: Poor Ricardo.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Some fodder from a friend

The following was sent to me by a friend in Changchun:
GRE and SAT exams are big business in China. They even allow people to teach SAT who have no idea about universal values. This news should not come as a surprise:  
As many as 8,000 students from the PRC were expelled from US universities for cheating, misrepresentation of qualifications, poor class attendance, poor English skills and low grades. 
It reminded me of the article in the Daily Telegraph two years ago about parents demanding the right to cheat:  
The archetypal image of the diligent Asian is quickly changing into an image of a spoilt kid who cheated his way into college...
I am very interested in people's reactions.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Last Chapter of Part One

As many of you know, I am trying to write an historical novel while in China and am thus restricted to a baffling lack of access to information that I need. I am half-a-world away from the places, like the Massachusetts Historical Society and Phillips Library at the Peabody-Essex Museum, where I need to be...and Mr. Xi has not torn down the Great Firewall. In fact, he seems to be raising it higher even as he strengthens his navy, builds a new silk road or two, plays with sand castles, and swats at the never-ending parade of tigers and flies.

In the coming weeks, I will enroll in the Teacher Apprentice Program at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. Working at Mount Mansfield Union High School in Jericho, Vermont, I will assist a full-time teacher from August to March as I pursue certification as a public school social studies teacher. This may pave the way for my now nearly fifteen year old dream of returning to the right-side up state from the upside-down state of New Hampshire.

I gave New Oriental notice that I intend to be finished here by June 15. I will also give my last public presentation for Overseas Consulting, which has repeatedly bragged in written material, despite my protestations, that I attended "Philips [sic] Academy-Exeter" (which I did not) and where the director once introduced me as a graduate of Phillips Andover Academy (which I most certainly did not!). I will spend a couple more weeks teaching two hours away from my home, in the mountains to the northwest of Beijing. For six hours a day, I try to inculcate spoken English in the minds of some engineers and other project management staff, who build gas and oil pipelines for one of China's largest state-owned enterprises. Given that I believe digging up more fossil fuels is immoral, this has been a particularly "character-building" assignment.

I hope to travel in late June, perhaps seeing new parts of Yunnan; Shaolin Temple and Zhengzhou in Henan; Xiamen (Amoy), Fujian; and the grasslands of Inner Mongolia. Those two resources that control human movement, money and time, may make accomplishing all of these goals difficult, but this going to be the last chapter of my first major (four and a half year) stint in China. It will also be one of the last posts on this blog before I transition to a new blog. Announcement coming soon!

Returning to America does not preclude another long period in this marvelous land at some point later down the road. I have too many good friends here and there is so much more to see so I know this will not be good-bye. I made a trip last week to Changchun, where I spent 2.5 years of my Chinese adventure. I said some sad farewells and was loaded up with fresh tea by a former student is both an emergency room doctor and a tea store proprietor.

One of my American conservationist friends asked, "Are you seriously abandoning your legal skills to help fight the environmental crisis after living in the heart of the polluters for the last four years?!?!? Please make sure your teaching certification is for you to keep helping us fight!!!!!" While flattered by her confidence in me, I have to say that, in a world filled with more than one Sen. James Inhofe, fighting ignorance might be our last best hope and I really think there is no more admirable way to make a difference in our national fabric than to serve as a public school teacher of social studies with all that entails: civics, economics, US and world history, geography...and critical thinking.

It will be great to be near Burlington as the junior senator battles for the Presidential nomination of his party. Contrary to some people's misplaced confidence in my desirability/ability as a political campaigner (I have never picked a winner or won myself), Sanders has not asked me to run his campaign. That said, as time allows, I will do all in my power to elevate his status and see that the issues which he intends to highlight become the focal point of a national dialogue about where we need to be headed.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Juanita Nelson, May She Rest in the Peace that She Championed

Last time that I was home, I got to spend four wonderful nights at the New York Catholic Worker's Peter Maurin Farm with my dear friend Deacon Tom Cornell and his wife, Monica. They were introduced by Dorothy Day after Tom was the first one to burn his draft card during the misbegotten VietNam era. While I was at the Farm, news arrived that her grandchildren had given permission to exhume Day's remains in time for this summer's papal visit. This was welcome news, because DD has played such an important role in their lives.

I met Tom Cornell through my friend Chuck Matthei, who was an amazing champion of community-supported agriculture and community loan funds. Chuck and I met when he came to speak at a Phillips Exeter Academy Martin Luther King Day event in January of 1993. He accompanied an elderly man and his spry wife: Wally and Juanita Nelson. During the last years of Chuck's own life, when he was suffering from cancer, he was like a son to them and took great care of them. I was at Chuck's memorial service and attended Wally's at Deerfield Academy. I am sorry that I will not be there for Juanita's. She was one of the most remarkable women that I have ever met. Today, from Tom Cornell, I learned that Juanita Nelson has marched on from the land of the living into eternal glory.

In the autumn of 1996, as a Middlebury senior, I got lost in the Adirondacks looking for the home of a future Middlebury scholar-in-residence, Bill McKibben. Around and around, I drove, burning up fossil fuel in my quest to interview the author of the End of Nature. My senior thesis, The Complex Task of Living Simply, would feature McKibben, the Nelsons, and Scott & Helen Nearing. Helen had driven into a tree the year prior and Scott was long gone, but the getting to know the living subjects of my thesis was a joy. I came away with the conclusion that McKibben was the most effective, because he was the most willing to compromise the purity of his daily life in order to make sure his important message was heard. The Nearings were the least effective--Scott basically disowned his own children for their lack of moral purity, as he saw it--because they were extremists. There was a lot to imitate in their lives, but there was a lot to be wary of.  It was Wally and Juanita who represented the Middle Way. Who can dispute the effectiveness of Wally's witness? He was a pre-Rosa Parks bus rider in April 1947 (see You Don't Have to Ride Jim Crow). He was a conscientious objector during the Second World War. He was the son of Alabama sharecroppers who fell in love with a woman from the South Side of Chicago--"the baddest part of town".

Wally and Juanita lived on Wolman Hill, a Quaker community in Greenfield, Massachusetts, off-grid and drawing water from a well whilst growing their own food and not paying their federal taxes, because they did not want to support the war machine. Juanita would continue this existence for years after Wally passed away. I would periodically drop-in to say hello sometimes warning her by leaving messages on an answering machine that was in a different house. Sometimes I would bring a curious friend, as well.

One of my happiest memories was in the spring of my senior year at Exeter, piling into a couple of cars with the diminutive Mr. Belcher, Bud & Barbara James (my mentors), and the not so diminutive Rev to go to Coltrane for a War Tax Resisters event with Wally & Juanita.

I cannot think of Juanita without picturing her in a sweater at her kitchen table, serving dried apple slices and reading by kerosene light. She had a voracious mind and her little cottage was lined with radical books. We had so many deep conversations and she was such a sage. I am sure she is looking down now upon us as we go about the quotidian tasks of our lives. I can feel her radiance. May she rest in the peace to which her life was a sturdy testament.

Exciting news in the mail

As many of you know, I have been teaching in China for four years. During that time, I have met thousands of students. One of the very best that I ever helped prepare for an interview wrote me this note when she woke up this morning after her mother gave her some great news:
I am SOOO happy to receive my offer from Exeter. How excited I was to get this news from my mom when I just woke up in the morning!

I had a wonderful summer at Exeter last year, and it is exactly what made me fall in love with this prestigious but also supportive and welcoming school. Thank you so much for teaching me how to do an interview, which helped a lot during my applications! I hope I will make a difference this year as an Exonian!

Many thanks and best regards, 
This girl is inquisitive, meticulously polite (she writes thank-you notes with alacrity and regularity!), and open-minded. This gives me great confidence in Exeter's admissions process.

I have written back to her that she will be a "prep" with the new principal and that the community is very excited for this breath of fresh air. What an auspicious time to attend the Academy!

Tomorrow I will meet with a couple of boys (for the first time) who got wait-listed.  Oh, cruel world!