Monday, September 15, 2008

Snapped back to reality...

I'm back. I'm home. I'm poor.

Somewhere amid the four overloaded bags I brought back from Asia, I left my checking account behind. Now, when I open my wallet, all I get is a puff a dust and a wasp or two flying out. I'd say there were flies, but the nest-building stingers have taken up residence my absence and chased away all other insect pests.

The first order of business, after kissing Sonja, unpacking and recovering from jet lag, was to find a job. Thus far, that order has yet to be filled. Not that I haven't been trying - I've got a resume up on Monster and I surf there, CareerBuilder and Craigslist like it's my job (because, since I'm not getting paid, it kind of is). I have emails out to contacts and begging for money phone speeches prepared if it comes to that. My goal is to get a job by the end of the month. Or find out which soup kitchen in the area serves the best corned beef and cabbage. It's good to have goals in life.

With the presidential election coming up in November, you're going to hear a whole lot of speechifying about how both sides of the coin are going to create jobs in the economy. All that's well and good. We need it, right? With the decline of the manufacturing sector, fiancial firms folding left and right and the overall downturn, it'd be nice to see a few more openings coming our way and a some extra bucks in the bank at the end of the month. My challenge to both McCain/Palin and Obama/Biden campaigns is this: Sure, anyone with an Oval Office and executive order can create a few hundred thousand jobs or so, but can you create one high-paying, conveniently located gig with manageable hours and great benefits for one really nice guy with a great education, varied experience who's coming out of grad school with a completely non-marketable degree and just moved out of a job hub? Do that and you've got my vote.

It's good to be back.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Yes, I'm still in Junior High...

My roommate Marc helped me out on this one. It's a little comparison of squat toilets and their western cousins for you to pooh-pooh, ha.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Starting to See China...

(Note: I'd written this and pitched it to local papers, but no one picked it up. So, um, you get to read it! Yay!)

Until eight weeks ago, the word “China” evoked images in my mind of something huge, shrouded in mystery and looming eerily on the horizon. Before I flew into Beijing to report for the Olympic News Service, I knew only the barest of facts about the country and its people. They are the world’s most populous country. They have the world’s largest army. They export more goods than anyone else. They are Communist. Their pollution clouds our skies. They are our main competition as the top superpower. They are a threat to our economy, our environment and our standing.

“They, they, they”—that’s how I thought. It was all about how we do things in the United States (say, free market society) versus how they do it in China (now, a strange meld of socialist capitalism). I had an “us versus them” mentality with a clearly defined list running down opposites sides of the page.

I easily maintained that sort of black-and-white thinking when I was 7,000 miles away from China. Back home, the Chinese were an intimidating mass of over a billion blurred faces. They weren’t real.

But here on the streets of Beijing, as I’ve lived, worked and struggled through this urban sprawl of 17 million residents, I’ve started to get a clearer picture of the Chinese and their country—one that’s much different than I expected.

There’s Yang Guanjun, an artist from Xi’an, who moved to Beijing with his wife and daughter in hope of a better life. His shop is little bigger than a walk-in closet and tucked away in one of the thousands of hutong (alleyways) that spider anonymously through the city. The deep lines in his tanned skin betray the hardships that his wide, toothy smile tries to hide as I buy his watercolors.

Cindy (many Chinese use Western names when conversing with foreigners) is a graduate student who looks far too youthful to be 25 years old. She loves playing ping-pong with her friends and even teaches me how to hold a paddle correctly, giggling lightly every time I swing and miss at another return from her nasty backhand. Cindy hasn’t seen her boyfriend in more than a year. He lives and works in another city and they don’t often speak because he doesn’t like cell phones or SMS; her messages often go unanswered.

“Men and women are different, I think,” she says, “For him, the job is very important. More important than me.”

Still, she loves him and she will wait with the hope that one day they might be together.

I met Zheng Wei at a cafeteria. He helped me, unasked, to recharge a pre-paid meal card. We ate breakfast together afterward and he asked many questions about the United States, what kind of place I was from and what the universities were like. Then he asked me about faith.

“I believe in Jesus. I believe in God,” I said, trying to condense an entire worldview into two sentences.

“Many Chinese believe only in science,” he said, trying to do the same.

“You know, they can work together.”

“Yes,” he smiled and clasped his fingers together. “Work together.”

To me, China is still big and scary—I speak only the most basic Mandarin and have just seen a small slice of the country here in Beijing. But my experience over these two months has begun to chip away at the preconceptions I carried with me like too much checked luggage.

China, by successfully hosting the Olympic Games, announced its presence among the world’s powers in dramatic fashion. Yang Guanjun, Cindy, Zheng Wei and many more Chinese citizens showed me, personally and powerfully, what it meant to be welcomed here. They reminded me that the people of China are just like the people of the United States. We are all individuals who hold feelings, emotions and dreams. None of us are mere blurred faces in a crowd.

So as the world leaves Beijing, ponders what to do next about China and tries to make sense of it all, I will leave with hope. For I’ve learned here that it’s possible to co-exist if you strip away all of the politics, all of the misconceptions, all of the good and all of the bad and just look into the eyes of friend you never knew you had.