Sunday, December 7, 2008

Cabin Poetry

This is the house that Steve bought!
These are the men that chop the wood,
that warms the house that Steve bought!
These are the trucks that carry the men,
that chop the wood, that warms the house,
that Steve bought!
This is the river that runs by the house that Steve bought!

These are the fish, that were caught in the river that runs by the house that Steve bought!

This is the kitchen, where we cook the fish, that feed the boys, who chop the wood and drive the trucks, who come to the house that Steve bought!
This is the rat that lived in the kitchen that cooked the fish, that.....that Steve bought!This is the cat that is supposed to chase the rat, that lived in the kitchen, that ....!

This is the picture that Katelyn took, that ends this blog, that took much too long, but got me back online, and made me want to go back and sleep in the house that Steve bought!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Through the Looking Glass

This week I have been studying the Cultural Arts of Mexico. As part of this unit we have been learning about Dia de Muertos-The Day of the Dead. This holiday is celebrated between October 31 and November 2. In Mexico and in Latino communities, children will dress up, similar to our Halloween, searching for candy, often shaped like skeletons. Families gather together (and according to my cleaning lady they always have tamales) and visit the cemeteries. Here there is music and picnics and the graves decorated with brightly colored flowers. One interesting aspect of this holiday is the ofrendas or alters created to honor the dead. As part of our unit this week I had the privilege of creating my own ofrenda to honor my father and grandfather.
This has been a unique experience as cultures have overlapped and time wrapped around itself. As I searched my home for those things that reminded me of my Dad, my eyes fell on the book Alice in Wonderland. Shortly before my Dad passed away, I asked him what his favorite book was and he told me Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. I have always meant to read it but “I’m late, I’m late” has always been ringing in my ears. I only have one thing that belonged to my Dad; ironically it is a pocketwatch, which had belonged to his father. This past month I immersed myself in another book, Art and Physics by Leonard Shalin and I have tried to wrap my mind around a new paradigm for looking at time and space. Mr. Shalin quotes Lewis Carroll- who was a brilliant mathematician-as he tries to explain “The Law of Relativity.” Once again I feel prompted to read Alice in Wonderland.

As I created my ofrenda I would catch myself looking in the mirror and then at pictures of my father and grandfather and pictures of my children and somehow Einstein’s hypothesis of one eternal “now” seems to make more sense. And then the magical side of me wants to step into the mirror and hug my father and introduce him to my children, his grandchildren, who he never met. I would tell him how they have some of his quirks and talents and traits and tell him how proud he would be of them. Then I would tell him about blogging and the Internet and how you can even go to school on the Internet and if there ever was a magical looking glass it is my computer. My Dad loved computers but he missed the Internet. And, then, my Dad could begin to expound to me the mysteries of the universe that he now understands so much better than I. Then he could introduce me to my grandfather who was sailor and an artist and, from the stories I have been told, very kind. My ofrenda contains the traditional candles, water (the dead get thirsty you know) and a bowl of nuts. An ofrenda needs salt (my dad loved salty snacks) and fall flowers. But my ofrenda also contains a few of my own touches. The watch in the middle reminds me that time is relative and, in Einstein’s words, someday when I am sitting astride a beam of light yesterday, today and tomorrow will all be now.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Magically Delicious

When I was in second grade our class did a play. My teacher insisted that I was the Irishman—or Irish girl who danced a jig because my name was Colleen and I had a streak of red in my hair. A lot of genealogy has never taken me back to the emerald island but I think that we all occasionally feel a wee bit Irish. Irish music speaks to our souls and Irish stories resonate with us as if we have heard them before. Dreams of Gold is retold in the modern story Acres of Diamonds. We all search the world over for treasure and happiness only to eventually find it is our own backyard. Usheens Return to Ireland has images of Rip Van Winkle. The Birth of Finn MacCumhail is Homeric. We sense Odysseus and Beowulf in the wings. And smile as we hear strains of O Brother Where Art Thou in the back of our mind. The Man Who Had No Story teaches us that we all have a story to tell.

Jane Yolen in Favorite Folktales From Around the World relates the following story. The famous philosopher William James had just finished a lecture when an older woman came up to him and said that he was wrong, the earth did not revolve around the sun. He asked the lady how the earth moved? She said, “The earth sits on the back of a turtle”. So he asked and what does the turtle stand on? And she said, "on the back of another turtle". James continued relentlessly, so what does that turtle stand on? The old woman drew herself and said, “It is no use Mr. James, it is turtles all the way down.” Ms. Yolen then explains, it is the same with literature; it is stories on the back of stories all the way down.

Irish Folktales speak to us because we have all looked at a rainbow and hoped for a pot of gold. The King of Ireland's Son like Finian’s Rainbow features "a little green man" coming to the hero’s aid. Since we all were raised on “pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars and green clovers” these Irish Tales remind us of a magical isle where fairies and leprechauns and druids and heroes still live.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Sacred Spaces

As I look out my back windows, I can see a new temple overlooking the valley where I live. In my LDS culture this temple is a sacred place and holds a central place in our beliefs. There is much meaning and symbolism associated with this building. As we have continued our study of Japanese theater and the plays of Noh and Kyogen, I have seen many similarities to the temple of my religion and the Noh stage of Japanese theater. Both are sacred spaces and both have their roots in ancient temple traditions. The Noh stage is based on Buddhist temples and the LDS temple is based in the Old Testament tradition of Solomon’s temple.

The Noh stage is open on three sides to the audience. Each side of the square stage is 5.5 meters long. The Noh temple is built of cypress wood as was Solomon’s temple. The Noh stage has four pillars. One of these pillars called “the sighting pillar” helps the actor to position himself on stage. The two pillars of Solomon’s temple, Jachin and Boaz, were symbols of continuity and endurance. The back wall of a Noh stage features a pine tree. This pine tree is painted by a special group of specially trained artists. It is a symbol of unchanging green and strength. Likewise the walls of Solomon’s temple were covered with palm trees. An integral part of the Noh stage is the bridgeway leading to the stage. This is where the actors enter and leave. Along the bridgeway are three pine trees in graduated sizes representing heaven, earth and man. The actors enter and leave the stage through a multi-colored curtain. Behind the curtain they stand in a mirrored room where they look at themselves and contemplate the role they are about to play. We can see the similarities between this curtain and the sacred veil of Solomon’s temple.

The Noh stage, like the temple in my backyard and ancient Solomon’s temple, are all sacred spaces, liminal in nature, connecting heaven and earth. Benito Ortolani explains,

“The noh stage creates a sacred space, set apart for the projection into our dimension of the “other dimension” outside our time-a space within the ritual frame of the illud tempus. The importance of the journey that occurs in shamanism and noh has been also underlined. In some cases the shaman travels in spirit to the other world and there meets gods and departed souls from whom he later relays message to the faithful. Such a journey also takes place at the beginning of noh plays.”

Anciently and today temples serve as a place where heaven and earth meet. Likewise, seeing similarities in my religious traditions and those of Japanese helps to bridge the gap between our cultures. In respecting our unique sacred places not only can heaven meet earth but also east can meet west.

Dying Laughing

As my sisters and I gathered around my father’s coffin, shortly after he passed away, we were all slightly taken back by the smile on his face. We commented to the mortician on how nice of a smile he had put on his face. The mortician laughed and said that he had nothing to do with it; whatever expression was on my father’s face when he died was what we were seeing. My father seldom seemed to smile and so the peaceful look on his face seemed very comforting at the time. Fast forward fourteen years and my sisters and I were gathered in another funeral home talking about our grandmother who had just passed away. It was a peaceful time and happy thoughts mingled with laughter. As we caught ourselves, the mortician came up and said, “It’s o.k. girls, you know that if you mix up the letters in the word “Funeral” it spells “Real Fun.” Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Perhaps I know why it is man alone who laughs: He alone suffers so deeply that he had to invent laughter.”

Laughter and tears are inextricably connected. This week as we have studied Japanese theater I am reminded of the need for both. Benito Ortolani writes in The Japanese Theater: From Shamanistic Ritual to Contemporary, “There is a standard pattern to all Japanese festivals since time immemorial-the combination of serious ritual with comic amusement.” This combination is best demonstrated in the twin sisters of Noh and Kyogen. Noh is a serious religious play, which is broken by the comic relief of Kyogen. Both are performed on the same stage and share similar formal structure, training and basic movements. Manzo Nomura one of the greatest modern Kyogen actors speaks of the Yin of Noh and the Yang of Kyogen. Kyogen in Japanese culture is an ancient form of comedy that has withstood the test of time.

Laughter is universal. It is common to all languages and cultures and can cross boundaries. Humor though is more often rooted in culture. Both have deep roots in truth. Something usually strikes our funny bone if it is based on truth. Often the comedian tells us more about ourselves, our culture, our fears and our desires than any psychiatrist or philosopher. Saturday Night Live is more revelatory than McNeil/Lehrer. Laughter is the coping mechanism that has been show to relieve stress, strengthen our immune system and foster instant relaxation. In the seriousness of life, it does us good to remember that we all need an intermission. Every Noh play needs Kyogen and every Presidential debate needs Tina Fey.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Creating a Better World

Many years ago, while an undergraduate student, a senseless robbery occurred in our small college town. A fellow student, who was a young father, was gunned down as he was taking a deposit to the bank for his employer. I remember the shock on the campus that such a senseless crime had occurred. What I remember even more was the words of our university president as he addressed the student body the next day. He said, “There are two kinds of people in this world, those who create and those who destroy.” He then admonished us to always be the kind of people who create.

Over the years, as I have been a keen observer of human nature, I have found these words to continue to ring true. There are only two kinds of people, those who create and those who destroy. It is impossible to do both at the same time. Whether I have been working in the business world, developing family relationships or writing a story, I know that you cannot create and destroy at the same time. The two great powers that control this universe remain two separate and distinct entities, the Creator and the Destroyer.

This past week, I have continued to immerse myself in the world of art as I read and study great artists of the past, as I view videos on African Dance and as I struggle to capture the beauty that surrounds me at this time of year through word, paint and photography. In the middle of all this, as part of my studies, I was asked to view the movie, Hotel Rwanda. This movie vividly depicts the Rwandan genocide of 1994. As I contemplated the relationship between African dance and the atrocities committed in Rwanda and throughout the world, I once again heard the words “you cannot create and destroy at the same time.” When a country is building, growing, developing it is not killing off its most valuable resource. Likewise, when a person is building, growing, developing, and creating there is little time left for backbiting, criticizing, undermining, and other activities that destroy our spirit or those around us.

Ellen Dissanyke in What is Art For lists several reasons that we create. She says,

1) Art can restore significance, value, integrity and sensuality and the emotional power of things.
2) Art exercises and trains our perceptions of reality.
3) Art echoes or reflects the natural world.
4) Art is therapeutic. It integrates powerful, contradictory and disturbing feelings.
5) Art gives order to the world.
6) Art arouses sympathy or fellow feelings among people.

Finally, Ms. Dissanyke says, “Art provides a sense of meaning or significance or intensity to human life that cannot be gained in any other way. Persons who feel assured of this meaning are more likely to accept the periods when there are difficulties and problems in life.”

Who knew there was so much power in a box of crayons!!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Dancing His Heart Out

Shortly after the birth of our son and his subsequent diagnoses of Down Syndrome, a kind, older nurse came into my hospital room. As I sat there with tears in my eyes, she tended to my needs and tried to make conversation during an awkward moment. She told me that when she was in nurse's training she had worked at a developmental center and all she could remember about the mongoloids was that they could knit and they could dance! Note to all medical professionals: One-NEVER use the word mongoloid, two-never tell a mother that her first born son will be a proficient knitter and three—kids with Down Syndrome DO love to dance.

Andy started dancing long before he could walk. He loves to dance and is, in fact, a very good dancer. Many a family party has risen to a new level of fun because of Andy’s love for music and dance. Many high school proms have been enlivened by Andy’s willingness to dance every single dance. Many a wedding guest has had the privilege of “cutting the rug” with Andy. Dancing comes naturally and joyfully to Andy.

In my study of African Dance this week, I have learned something that helps me to appreciate Andy’s love of dance on a deeper level. “Dance,” Robert Nicholls writes, “is a psycho-social device able to penetrate many aspects of human existence.” Omofolabo Soyinka Ajayi explains, “Dance is a vehicle of communication. It is able to express an action, an idea. As a sign, dance is a multi-communicative channel, transmitting information not only through time and space but also kinetically, visually and through human sensorial perceptions. Its versatility as a multi-channel system make dance a communication powerhouse able to give information at many different levels simultaneously.”

Oh, how desperately Andy needs this communication powerhouse in a body that struggles endlessly to convey the feelings of his heart. Speech and hearing are perhaps the greatest physical challenges faced by people with Down Syndrome. At an early age, most are taught sign language as a means of making their most basic needs known. As Andy’s mother, I am usually able to translate what Andy is saying to those who may not be familiar with his forms of speech. However, many a tear filled afternoon has occurred as we have labored intensely to find the sounds and the words to express an unfilled need. A person who is blind may be compensated by a heightened sense of touch and hearing. Perhaps those who cannot communicate verbally are compensated kinetically so that they too can express feelings such as happiness, joy and sorrow?

Through the years, I have come to realize that the “differences” of people with Down Syndrome and myself is very minimal. Instead, we are exactly alike in so many ways. Could it be that I, too, have a hard time communicating my deepest feelings? Doesn’t finding the sounds and words to convey the feelings of my heart reach tear-filled intensity at times? These are the moments that I long for a communication powerhouse to transport me across the gulf of unexpressed feelings. Maybe next time I am feeling blue, or happy, or frustrated, I will be more like Andy and close my bedroom door, crank up the music, and communicate to my hearts content.

Monday, September 22, 2008


Generally, when I am looking inward and analyzing myself, I do it from a Judeo-Christian perspective (Am I nice? Am I honest? Are my thoughts pure?) or I may do it from a psychoanalytic perspective (Did my mother cause this? Am I meeting the needs of my inner child? Am I just hopelessly screwed?). Up to this point, I have not often analyzed my quirks and idiosyncrasies from a bio-evolutionary perspective. But hey, I am open-minded, whatever works! This week after reading What is Art For? by Ellen Dissanyake and The Silent Language and The Hidden Dimension by Edward Hall I am coming to understand that some behavioral roots go much deeper than my parents.

One area in which we may be more in tune with our animal ancestors than we like to admit is in the area of territoriality. Edward Hall explains, “Every living thing has a physical boundary that separates it from its external environment, beginning with bacteria and ending with humans...A short distance up the phylogenetic scale, however another, non-physical boundary appears that exists outside the physical one. This new boundary is harder to delimit than the first but is just as real. We call this the organisms” territory.” To simplify I will just call it MySpace. Cats mark MySpace, Dogs defend MySpace, and birds return each year to MySpace. I am just realizing that I also have a MySpace that at times elicits an almost primal response when it is violated.

Mr. Hall then continues on, “Most American women have very strong feelings about their kitchens. Even a mother can’t come in and wash the dishes in her daughter’s kitchen without annoying her. The kitchen is the place where ‘who will dominate’ is settled. All women know this, and some an even talk about it. Daughters who can’t keep control of their kitchen will be forever under the thumb of any woman who can move into this area.”

I will not go so far as to keep anyone who wishes from coming into my kitchen and washing my dishes, but I believe Mr. Hall’s point does ring a chord of truth with all of us. We each have a MySpace which is our territory that when violated brings out an often suppressed emotional response. For the guys it may be their garage or workbench. Even kids have a closet or drawer that, no matter how messy, they do no want to be disturbed. I recently had an experience that drove this concept home to me even though at the time I couldn’t put a finger on my reaction. We recently bought a vacation home from the bank. It wasn’t a conventional transaction and several parties were involved including the financial institution and a bitterly, divorcing couple. Several weeks after closing on the property, the wife came to pick up a large pile of belongings that had been left in the home. After inviting her in she went in the kitchen and began to open cupboards and drawers as if looking for something. I even surprised myself with the strong emotional feelings I had. I very firmly told her that her things were no longer in the kitchen and she needed to leave immediately. In the jungle we would have been just two lionesses defending the territory we both claimed as our own. I could feel the hair on my neck rising and the adrenalin surging through my system. I recognized this feeling as one that I had experienced at other times in my life when someone has invaded MySpace.

Whether your MySpace is the area immediately around your body, a favorite chair or a whole bedroom that you call your own, it is important that you recognize it for what it is. It is also important that we understand MySpace as it relates to other members of our family and to our culture as a whole. Reactions to violations of MySpace aren’t always kind, they aren’t always logical but they certainly are natural.

Revealing All

Blogs are funny things. Are they for online journals? Newsletters? Political rantings? Gripe sessions? And who is reading them anyway? My mom? My professor? My neighbor? My kids? Some psycho computer geek with a penchant for a middle aged grandma? With so many questions unanswered it really leaves one in a quandary as how much of ones inner-life to share with the whole world but since, in this unusual case, my art class grade depends on it, here it goes. Besides hasn’t much of great art through the ages depended on someone being willing to “bare all” so to speak?

In reflecting back on my own “artistic journey,” I think that, perhaps, it came to a screeching halt somewhere around ninth grade. Prior to that time, I spent a great deal of time in the arts. I loved working in clay, dabbling with paints, carving a piece of wood, or dancing to Tchaikovsky. The art rooms were my refuge in the junior high world. Then we moved. I remember registering for an art class at my new high school. On the first day, the teacher arranged our seats in a circle, put a horse’s saddle in the middle of the room and told us to draw it. My hands simply could not translate what my eyes were seeing to the paper. Within days I dropped the class and with it my desire to be myself; to create for the love of it. Comparing my talents to the rest of those in the circle consumed me.

Fast forward, thirty something years later to one of those ‘aha” moments when I figured out something about art and about myself. Somewhere around adolescence we change our perception of the world from one-dimensional to three-dimensional. We are no longer satisfied with simple line drawings and cartoon figures. Our world takes on texture, shading, space and perspective. Without the guiding hand of a teacher or mentor we simply do not know how to translate what we are seeing with our eyes to the paper in front of us; both in our lives and in our artwork. Our stories remain flat, our pictures remain childish and our confidence is shaken.

Every teen needs someone to guide them. Every young Virgil needs a Beatrice. Everyone needs someone to restore their confidence during vulnerable times. They need someone to help translate what they are seeing with their eyes to what can be created with their hearts and hands. They need to make the transition from a one-dimensional world to a three-dimensional one whether it is through a painting or a relationship. Each of us must somehow pass on the skills we have developed to a struggling artist or student or friend so that they too can express their deepest emotions in whatever medium they choose.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Global HeARTS

After much, o.k. after very little, consideration, I decided to combine my school blog with my personal blog. So now my family can learn something new about art and my fellow classmates can learn something about me. My past experience has shown that within a few days I will be too busy to blog about anything but schoolwork anyway and most likely my next personal blog will have something to do with Thanksgiving. So welcome everyone to this eclectic view of my life.

But Why?

As the next blog attests to, I made my annual Labor Day pilgrimage to the top of a mountain. This year I dragged my sisters along. Let me rephrase that, they were dragging me—Cheryl even carried my backpack when I “hit the wall.” Somewhere, in our ascent up the mountain, Cathy said, “I know you love this, but why?” I don’t think at that moment, as I struggled to catch my breath at 10,000 feet, I really had an answer but I have been giving it some thought this last week. Why do I like climbing mountains?
1) Because I love The Sound of Music. (Hence the seven kids and dashing husband I have.)
2) Because ever since high school when I had a poster that said, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp”, I have lived my life that way. (Hence the seven kids, overdue stacks of library books, overgrown gardens and overextended credit cards.)
3) Because when I climb a mountain, I have to do it one step at a time. I play a came with myself that if I can just make it ten more steps I will rest and then start again. Many times I play the same game in life. Just ten more minutes of housework, just ten more pages of reading, just ten more sit-ups, just a few more steps and then I can rest and start again.
4) Because I love mountain goats, waterfalls, wildflowers and sweeping vistas.
5) Because of the pure exhilaration that comes from reaching a summit, headache and all.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Stop and Smell the Roses

It has been a crazy, busy summer and now we are starting into crazy, busy fall. But somewhere along the way I had a chance to sit and enjoy. There is nothing like holding babies, catching hummingbirds, sleeping under the stars, enjoying a drenching rain and reading a good book while our kittens play at my feet that keeps me grounded and gives me a chance to count my blessings.

(The real reason for this post was to learn how to download pictures. It took me all afternoon but I can now take a picture, get it to my computer and from my computer to a blog. This probably does not seem like a big deal to all of you computer geniuses out there, but for me it was a monumental afternoon. Tomorrow I might learn how to program a number into my cell phone.)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Today I am going to start blogging-officially. I know several of you have had the good fortune of stumbling on my previous blog concerning the labor unrest and environmental concerns in China. But alas, that is all in the past and this semester I have moved on to the mating ritual of the fruit fly in my biology class. But, I will just have to wait until another day to share that steamy bit of knowledge with you.

You will notice that the title of by blog is no long The Year of the Rat but rather A View from my Laundry Room. I chose this title because, even though almost half of my family is now out and about and hopefully doing their own laundry, I still spend an inordinate amount of time standing at the counter and folding socks. And while I fold, I think and stew and ruminate (I use big words now that I am back in school). I stand and get irritated with the stupid things that Whoopie blurts out on national television. I need a place to share my views because, believe me, ninety percent of the time my view is certainly not the view of the women around that table. I need a place to post pictures of my cute grandchildren. I need to place to threaten my teenagers that I will also post pictures of them. I need a place to update my views on things I have learned since writing my last two books now that I am a little more humbled by motherhood and marriage and life.

Early in our married life, when we were shopping for our first home, I would find myself looking past the kitchen, past the bathrooms, past the living areas to the laundry room. Did it have a view? Would it be a place I could spend a lot of time? Steve would tease me, “get over the laundry room already, this is getting embarrassing.” Luckily, my laundry room phobia has always had a happy ending. My first house looked down the street. It was perfect. I could see where my kids were playing. My second laundry room looked out a little further. I could see out over the valley. My third laundry room faces my courtyard. It doesn’t look out, it looks in. My books and writing have been the same. First, I watched my kids and wrote about them. Then I looked out, which gave me some unique experiences. Now I find myself looking inward. So welcome to my blog, a view out and a view into my life. Isn’t the Internet wonderful! (For your reading pleasure I have retained my previous entries from “The Dragon Awakes: Modern China”)

Monday, April 28, 2008

More than skin deep

Recent unrest in Tibet has brought the struggles of ethnic minorities in China once again to the forefront of news from China. While Tibetans are now recognized as a persecuted minority, many in the West are unaware of many other ethnic minorities in China and the prejudices that still exist in this vast country. The majority in China, 97%, are Han but, many other ethnic groups are represented by China’s population. As occurs in every other country there exists prejudice against any group that is deemed “different.” Lian Yue, a blogger from China, recently addressed some of the prejudice that still exists in China. One comment left on his site reflects the strong feelings. “I slowly discovered that we all more or less have a deep-rooted concept that Uighurs are thieves, Tibetans are brutal, Shanghainese are shrewd calculators, Hunanese are hot tempered, Northeasterners love fighting, Northern Jiangsuers are very country, and so on …. .. Before getting to know the people we already divided them by this or that kind of identity.” We tend to divide people that we do know but, from a western viewpoint we tend to lump everyone together when we don’t know them.

Another man, who lives in Inner Mongolia wrote, "The Mongolians around me in general feel very lost. They are in conflict with the Han Chinese sentiments, but get along very well with Han Chinese in daily life. But the feeling of being lost is strong there, I can sense that. I think I may be alarmist, but if there are days when the intensification of ethnic conflicts arise, the two sides will immediately turn on each other.” While our western media often covers the problems between Sunni and Shia, between black and white, and between Catholic and Protestants, we have not been as aware of the deep seated feelings that still linger in the People’s Republic of China.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

One Thing in Common

As the United States remains embroiled in a bitter Presidential primary season, we can begin to see similarities emerge between the rust belt of the U.S. and the rust belt of China. Hillary and Obama have been courting the voters of the North Eastern states of Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have been hoping to gain political advantage by courting the North Eastern provinces of Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang. Both the North Eastern quadrant of the US and the North Eastern quadrant of China have become industrial centers because of their close proximity to coal. They both reached a pinnacle during the fifties and sixties but since then have seen a steady decline in manufacturing and production, particularly in the areas of steel production. Both areas are faced with unemployment. Both are politically pivotal areas. China’s previous president, Jiang Zamin, concentrated his efforts in revitalizing the southeast coastal region including Shanghai, Guangdong and the Pearl River Delta. He was able to also center much of his political power in this area. President Jintao hopes that by seeking solutions to the problems of the industrial northeast he too will be able to draw support from workers in these areas. At a time when stability is of outmost importance to the CCP, the high unemployment problems and lack of social safety nets in these provinces are of particular concern. An extensive 10 to 15 year plan has been laid out that will attract development to the area. The Hu/Wen team, perhaps taking a few tips from the Hillary/Obama ticket, has also laid out a plan for pension insurance to replace the safety net of former SOE’s. We often hear that China is taking all of our jobs. Workers in Ohio and workers in Jilin may find out that they have more in common than they think!

Monday, April 21, 2008

I love my land-

In China, today’s younger generation missed the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. They were just children or hadn’t even been born during the Tiananmen Square uprising. They weren’t raised with Mao’s Little Red Book. Communistic ideology is quickly giving way to western consumerism. Yet every generation needs something to believe in, something to stand for besides the latest cell phone technology, Enter, nationalism. Today’s youth believe in China. How could they not? Look how “China” has improved their lives.

One of the largest demonstrations of China’s nationalist pride took place in April of 2005 when violent student demonstration erupted in twenty-five cities against Japan. This is a group of youth that has been raised on patriotism. In 1994, the CCP had launched a “patriotic education campaign” in the schools and mass media. Students won awards for reading 100 patriotic books or seeing 100 patriotic movies. Rather than feeling like the party is imposing patriotism, today’s youth see patriotism as an act of self-assertion.

Enter the Olympic Torch! National pride is running high as Beijing looks forward to hosting the 2008 Summer Games. Great preparations have been made to insure that the games go off without a hitch. Then last week in Paris, in response to the Tibet crisis, things began to unravel. A disabled Chinese athlete, Jin Jing was attacked while sitting in a wheelchair. Several times the torch had to be extinguished and put on a bus as the athletes made their way through the city. Western youth are used to protesting and then sitting back and watching things change. What they hadn’t counted on was the nationalistic spirit of today’s Internet savvy Chinese youth.

In response to the Paris torch debacle, Chinese youth everywhere are passing the word to boycott French goods and companies. Headlines for the past week have included “From now on do not buy a Peugeot, do not wear French perfume and do not eat French food.” Citizens are being asked to boycott the French owned department store, Carrefour. A similar protest to the torch run occurred in San Francisco, the one U.S. stop for the torch.

While many in the world are disturbed by the issues surrounding , an attack against a Chinese athlete, as was seen in Paris, will do nothing to help the Tibetans. However, it will do much to increase the nationalistic spirit of today’s younger generation. We have all experienced the school pride of a rival football game. We may work someone from the other school, go to a workshop at the school across town and even date someone from a rival school but come game day our blood runs with our school colors. We must understand this principle with today’s Chinese youth. As the torch passes to a new generation, an understanding of this intense nationalism will do much to furthering peace and opening dialogue to the many issues that divide us.

Monday, April 7, 2008

A Shaky Foundation

Throughout history, China has been very good at building walls. The Great Wall has been built on several different occasions to protect the Northern Boundary from invaders. Built from stones, pressed soil and later bricks it has been estimated that one millions lives were lost in the building of the wall. During the twentieth century, the Bamboo curtain was raised to further isolate China from the rest of the world. Slowly, one brick at a time this wall of isolation is beginning to come down as China is opening its doors to economic development and communication with the rest of the world. However, before China can be afforded status as a World leader they need to not only ‘tear down the wall’ but also repair the foundation.
Like many of her buildings that have been thrown up overnight, China’s entrance into the global economy has evolved at a breakneck speed. The facade of China’s new urban cosmopolitanism is built on a cracking foundation. Two of China’s greatest challenges are corruption and human rights violations.
Corruption is rampant in China. From the highest to the lowest ranks of government, corruption exists. A free market system, even one with Chinese characteristics, cannot continue to grow and expand when hampered by graft. According to the PBS Frontline presentation, China in the Red, Chinese companies receive 12 billion per year from the World Bank. It goes into a bottomless pit, squandered by government officials, managers, and even the banks. Corruption is higher than at any previous time in China’s history.
The second crack in China’s foundation is its continued Human Rights Violations. Even on the eve on the 2008 Beijing Olympics, human rights violations are increasing. China’s human rights record shows little signs of improvement, according to an Amnesty International report. “It was hoped that the Games would act as a catalyst for reform but much of the current wave of repression against activists and journalists is occurring not in spite of, but actually because of the Olympics.”
One case in point is the dissident writer Hu Jia. Hui was arrested in December. His wife and baby have remained under house arrest since December. Hu has been an outspoken critic of human rights violations and China’s handling of the HIV/AIDS crisis. Last week Hu Jia was sentenced to 3 ½ years in prison.
The Beijing Olympics will give China the opportunity to “tear down the wall” throw back the curtain and show the world that they are interested in being a player on the world stage. It will also need to show the world that it has the foundation to support this demanding role. China needs to show the world not only a market system with Chinese characteristics but also a system with moral characteristics.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Gone With the Wind

As March blows in like a lion throughout the United States, people in China and also the Koreas and Japan have their own weather challenges. Spring marks the beginning of the dust storm season. Each year dust storms present greater challenges to the citizens of the East Coast cities. Originating in the Gobi and Taklamakan Deserts of North Western China they blow east, picking up deadly toxins, before filling the air of the highly populated cities of the East. In their wake, the cities are left covered in a thin layer of yellow dust.
This is just one more example of how Maoist policies have continued to leave an impact on the world. In 1949, after the Communist takeover, 3 million people were resettled in the far-flung Xinjiang province. Over-grazing and over-plowing in this region have caused the desertification of the land. The Taklamakan Desert has continued to grow and spread at an alarming rate. Soil erosion in China has become a global issue. Scientists say that much of the smog in California has its origins in China. It is also affecting Japan and North and South Korea. A massive campaign to plant trees is underway in this region but to date has not shown a great deal of success.
Olympic planners are concerned that a dust storm could impact the summer games. Trees have been planted on the outskirts of Beijing to help to block the winds. Urban dwellers are continuing to don paper masks to protect against respiratory problems caused by the dust. Schools have been closed and children and the elderly are advised to remain indoors during the storms.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

If the Shoe Fits...

In 2002, the world watched as the United States Olympic team marched into the Olympic stadium. The U.S. team was dressed in uniforms made by Roots, a Canadian based sports apparel company. Roots began as a small company started by two Canadians. Being a Salt Lake girl and being fortunate enough to wander the streets during the winter of 2002, I soon learned that anyone who was anyone was also wearing Roots clothing. Roots stores filled the malls and the lines went out the doors. Of course, Katie Couric and Matt Lauer only wore Roots wear. This small Canadian company became an international sensation overnight.
With the 2008 Summer Games just around the corner, several Chinese companies are hoping for the same explosion into the international market. One company is Li-Ning who sees the Olympics as a once in a lifetime marketing opportunity. Li-Ning, named after the 1984 gold medal gymnast by the same name, is a homegrown Chinese sports apparel company. Li-Ning has been in fierce competition with Nike and Adidas to win over the Olympic market. It has opened 5000 stores and has enlisted Shaquille O’Neal as its spokesman. Somehow, knowing what I know about Roots, I think that if Matt Lauer puts on a pair of Li-Ning tennis shoes they will see their explosion. I know that if I were going to Beijing I would much rather come home wearing some Li-Ning tennis shoes rather than Nikes. I mean Nike is so 2004!
Other companies are hoping that the Olympics will also be their springboard into the international market. Some are still state owned Chinese companies like China Mobile. Others are hoping to become successful first in China then in the international market like Chery Cars and Dayun Motorcyle. Who knows after all the advertising this summer, next years Superbowl may be sponsored by YanJing Beer.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Nothing New

“The things which have been are the things which shall be, there is nothing new under the Sun.” The old adage that history repeats itself has held true for every generation. But, there is also the old adage about not stepping in the same river twice. Will there be another Cultural Revolution in China—probably not. Will there be something else like the Cultural Revolution—most likely.
Many years ago I read a book about the Cultural Revolution by Bette Bao Lord called "Legacies." She had been born in China then returned there with her husband Winston Lord when he was ambassador to China. She shared many stories of different people and how the Cultural Revolution affected their life. Even with the passing of time one story has stuck with me and still haunts me. She told of a man who had been a student during the Cultural Revolution. He told her of a professor whom he dearly loved. The professor was denounced by the students of the university. They dragged him to the stadium and proceeded to beat him to death. This student told Mrs. Lord that he still doesn’t know what happened to him that day. He got swept up in the fervor and found himself kicking this professor who he loved so dearly. I have never forgotten this story because I have seen it repeated so many times since. Perhaps, not in such a violent manner, but how often do we get swept up in the gossip or backbiting of the moment and find ourselves delivering that last kick to someone we love dearly. Perhaps it is the dark side of each of our personalities. During the Cultural Revolution the dark side of a whole country emerged. It would be arrogant to say that at some future time this couldn’t happen again, here or there.

Yet, times are different and China is not isolated from the world in the way it once was. New technology has given us much great checks and balances. It is harder to control the thoughts and ideas of such a vast amount of people unless you are the only thought they have. Hopefully the flow of information of knowledge will be the safety valve that never allows this history to repeat itself.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I Feel Pretty!

While we study history and economics and discuss the trade deficit with China I thought I would take a moment to ponder something truly important—eye shadow. According to Chinese sourcing news the beauty industry is growing in China.

“Using cosmetics in China is relatively new; historically women did not wear makeup and so there is very little education on how to use it," said Wang. "Now with more Western influences, women are showing a greater interest in learning how to wear makeup, and there are even TV shows in China that teach women how to apply makeup. More and more department store counters have enlisted sales people to help women use and try makeup, and it's been well-received. We believe there is a lot of growth in this emerging market in China."

I am not sure it is true that historically women did not wear make up or if it was lost during the Cultural Revolution and it is now making a comeback. In the book Wild Swans Jung Chang talks about watching the changes her mother had to make. The year was 1964 “ Out went my mother’s fluffy bobs; in came short, straight hair. Her blouses and jackets were no longer colorful or figure hugging. They were made of plain quiet colors and looked like tubes. My grandmother, now in her fifties, kept more signs of her femininity than my mother. Although her jacket-still in the traditional style-all became the same color of pale gray, she took particular care of her long, thick black hair. She always kept her hair tied up in a neat bun at the back of her head, but she always had flowers there. She could get away with it because she lived in the compound.”

Fashion and femininity were one of the first casualties of the Communist party both in China and the Soviet Union. Fortunately it looks like the wall has fallen and missionary work is resuming but this time it will come from Mary Kay and Bobbi Brown.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Oh Rats!

After a long day of sitting around in my pajamas reading, writing and trying to absorb 400 years of Chinese history it seemed only fitting that I should order out for Chinese food. (Really, after sitting around in my pajamas all day my children were giving me that look that says, "Are you ever going to feed us again?") When the little cardboard boxes of fried rice and egg rolls arrived they also contained a placemat with my Chinese horoscope. To my surprise I found out I was born in the year of the Rat. I also found out I am charming, passionate, charismatic, ambitious, highly organized, intelligent and cunning. What a wonderful thing to learn about yourself while you are eating dinner out of a cardboard box in your pajamas. And with one more assignment to finish before I can go to bed that placemat also gave me a name for my blog. So welcome to "The Year of the Rat!"