Sitting on a bridge in rush-hour traffic, a taxi driver makes conversation with his 3 passengers.

“So he’s from America, and you two are Chinese?”

“Well, I was born in China, but I grew up in America,” says my colleague, “and she’s …”

The driver turns around to look. “Oh, haha! I thought…”

I’ll take that as a compliment!



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For every year…

A good friend in China once told me:

“For every year abroad, it takes 6 months back home to re-adjust.”

She herself had gone through this same transition, of moving back from China to America, and so I’ll take her word for it.  It’s going to be a long process.

By this logic, I am only about 10% done that re-adjustment.

But what happens now, when I find myself getting ready to fly back to China to tomorrow?!?  And what happens when for the next three weeks I find myself again a foreigner in that foreign land?

I’ll be the first to admit, I did hope to back to China someday, somehow, but I never thought (or wanted) this someday to be this soon.  When I left, the earliest the idea of returning to China that seem possible was half a year or so, when I’d at least re-adjusted more than 25% … but even those plans were and are contingent on so many other things that they can only be considered an “I don’t know, maybe, perhaps” kind of plan.

But this plan? Who thought this one up? … Certainly not I!  I imagined myself sitting in coffee shops for the next few weeks or even months sipping the cheapest thing on the menu, as I searched for jobs and re-adjusted to America.  I was content with that.

Somehow, a chain of events, of decisions, and of prayers has lead me to let go of life at home once again, and accept this job (actually, it’s a pretty great job).  A job where I can use Chinese and also learn some business skills.  A job close to home … except for the next three weeks that I’ll be in Shanghai.

Maybe China will feel more familiar than home… I am, after all, only 10% re-adjusted to America.

No, actually, I think that after these two months at home with family and friends, China will feel foreign again.

Perhaps it’ll give me more things to blog about … 🙂


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A Christmas Poem

A helpless baby in a manger lies,
The Promised One, none other.
King Herod wishes for him to die,
To protect him, father and mother.


A carpenter and teenage mom,
Against a King’s cruel hand;
What can they do to save this boy?
But this is what You planned.


Helpless you came, to this dark world,
To show to us Your power –
Your might was as strong, back then as a babe,
As it is this very hour.


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15 nanoseconds

Is there anyone out there reading this in Indonesia? If you are, don’t be surprised when you see me on TV!

A few days after the opening ceremony I get a call from the foreign student’s department. Would I be willing to be interviewed for a video? It seems my speech has made me the go to person for public appearances. I’m not sure of the exact reason… but I think it has more to do with my nationality than my Chinese abilities.  

Anyways, that next Saturday I show up at the foreign student’s center and meet two Indonesian reporter and their camera man. They also had selected a Chinese undergraduate student to interview. They interview me in Chinese and the Chinese student in English then converse with one another in Indonesian while I smile and nod. And that’s it. 15 nanoseconds. I’m not sure exactly what it was for – some sort of promotional video perhaps?


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发言: Public Speaking

A story from just a few weeks back…

I had just finished the registration process (this fall I’m not teaching at the Forestry University and just taking Chinese classes at another university in Harbin) and was leaving the registration room when I heard someone call my Chinese name.

“We want to ask you a question. Would you 发言 for the International Student’s Opening Ceremony?” a female professor asks me in Chinese.


“Give a speech,” she says in English and continues in Chinese, “Say why you came to this university, why you came to Harbin, and why you study Chinese. We think you can speak very well and we want you to represent the new students.”

I think about it for a moment … and for some reason I agree. I guess you could say I like challenges.

But what does one say in an opening ceremony speech to “represent the new students” … many of whom, ironically, cannot understand a word of Chinese? I’d heard enough Chinese speeches to have an idea of what I should say, so I tried my best to make it culturally appropriate. With a little help from some former students (one of whom I had helped that previous year on an English speech for a competition!) I added some sentences that would give face to school and to Harbin. Then before I could read it, I had to have one of the professors check it over, correct a bit of grammar, and add some good wishes at the end.

Here’s a rough (google) translation of what I said … sorry I’m too lazy to translate it myself … or I should say I have other homework to do. It makes it sound more awkward, but you can get the general idea:

You teachers, students, Good morning!
On behalf of the Harbin Institute of Technology to learn a new language students talk about why to learn Chinese, why come to Harbin. In fact, these two questions that no one asked me for a long time. In 2004, my college freshman to start learning Chinese. At that time, many people asked me why learn a language so difficult, so complex, with completely different to your native language? My answer has two parts. First, learning from primary to high school I had no knowledge about China. China is a world power, if we are to understand the current world to understand China five thousand years of history and culture is necessary. How to start to understand? Learn the language. Second, China has 1.3 billion people, accounting for one fifth of the world’s population speak Chinese, so, obviously, in our era of Chinese is very important.

Why to Harbin? In fact, you should ask me why I stay in Harbin. After graduating from college in 2008 I went to Harbin, Northeast Forestry University as an English teacher. Why not choose to Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong? Because I’ve heard people say that the Mandarin is standard in Northeast, and, Harbin people speak the most standard Mandarin. However, cold winter in Harbin, why I have been willing to live Ice City for three years, this quack* cold city? There are many reasons. Although the weather was cold, but people are very warm. Although the north wind in winter you will freeze the tears in your face, but the Northeast food will make you drool. I hope you new students will soon get used to your life in Harbin, happily living in Harbin, and will be like me, willing to stay a long time.

There is also a question, why come to Harbin Institute of Technology to learn Chinese? We all know that HIT is the Northeast’s most famous university, and today I look out at you all from all four corners of the world, I found that HIT is also famous in the world. Harbin Institute of Technology is a high level of China’s leading universities, is the ideal university for science and engineering students. I believe we will soon find Harbin Institute of Technology is ideal for our study of Chinese.

Finally, I wish you all good health and academic success! Thank you!

*the expression “quack quack cold” (嘎嘎冷 gāgā lěng) is Harbin slang for really really cold

After reading this you might say that this speech sounds a bit cliché. It would if it were a speech in English, but you see, what is excellent speech making and writing (mine is far from excellent) in China is not so often defined by what is original, but by how well it conforms to the standard and whether or not you say the right idioms and sayings.

In any case, I conquered my first experience Chinese public speaking. They even laughed at the right parts! Little did I know what this would lead to …

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