Books: The Last Five and the Next Five

In a slight variation of the “books I read this year” type post, here are 2 lists: the last five books I read in 2015, and the first five books I intend to read in 2016.

The Last Five (starting from most recent)

Looming Transitions: Starting and finishing well in cross-cultural service, by Amy Young

Looming Transitions: Starting and finishing well in cross-cultural service

This one was written by my good friend and former teammate in China. Three years ago we were sitting in a Starbucks in Beijing talking about books that were bouncing around in our head, and I commented that I’d have to kill myself is she published hers before I published mine. Don’t worry; that’s not a promise I intend to keep. If you have, are, or will be making a transition, then this book is for you!

The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died, by Philip Jenkins

The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia--and How It Died

I love all things Middle East and Central Asia and Church History, and here they all are in one book!

The Little Book of the Icelanders: 50 miniature essays on the quirks and foibles of the Icelandic people, by Alda Sigmundsdottir

The Little Book of the Icelanders: 50 miniature essays on the quirks and foibles of the Icelandic people

I read this on my flight to Reykjavik earlier this month, which means I chuckled all the way. If you’re headed to Iceland for any reason, this is a fun little primer.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

What can I say? It’s a bittersweet novel set in Seattle as the Japanese were being rounded up and sent to internment camps.

China’s Urban Christians: A Light That Cannot Be Hidden (Series: Studies in Chinese Christianity), by Brent Fulton

China's Urban Christians: A Light That Cannot Be Hidden (Series: Studies in Chinese Christianity)

This was written by my colleague at ChinaSource. If you want to have your perceived notions of the church in China challenged, read this!

The Next Five

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time, by Dava Sobel

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time

This one just sounds so interesting!

The Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Discovered the Hidden Gospels, by Janet Soskice

The Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Discovered the Hidden Gospels

This one is in keeping with my interest in all things middle east and Central Asia! It also comes highly recommended by my brother-in-law and niece.

Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World’s Superpowers, by Simon Winchester

Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World's Superpowers

With a subtitle like that, how can it be anything but a great book? Also, as a general rule, anything written by Simon Winchester is worth reading.

The Lost Cyclist: The Epic Tale of an American Adventurer and His Mysterious Disappearance, by David Herlihy

The Lost Cyclist: The Epic Tale of an American Adventurer and His Mysterious Disappearance

In 1880, a cyclist set out to ride around the world and disappeared somewhere in Turkey. Sounds like a fantastic story!

In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China, by Michael Meyer

In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China

I lived in Manchuria (northeast China) for 8 years, so there’s no way I cannot read this book. Besides, the author is a fellow Minnesotan!

What are you reading these days?

Related Posts:

Four Days, Four Books

Books to Read in 2014

My Favorite China History Books

Shanghai Books

Three More Books

Road Trip Reading

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Top Ten Most-Read Posts of 2015

It’s that time of year again — time to highlight the most popular posts on this blog during the past year.

when the smoke clears 1

State Names in Chinese — Literally

This was the most popular post on my blog during 2015. I guess everyone loves to read transliterated names!

When I began studying Chinese (years ago), one of the first things I wanted to learn how to do was answer the question about where I am from. That meant learning how to say Minnesota in Chinese.

It is simply a phonetic translation: ming ni su da (明尼苏达).

On top of that, there is Minneapolis: ming ni a po li si (明你阿婆里斯)

A Tribute to My Father 

For some reason this post consistently gets the most views week to week. I guess people are always looking for ideas on how to pay tribute to their father.

Fourteen years ago today, my father died. Below are the words that I spoke in farewell and tribute to my dad at his memorial service on January 25, 2001, in Roseville, Minnesota. Standing before a crowd of 600 people to deliver these remarks was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. The first part of this tribute was written at 30,000 feet above the North Pacific Ocean as I flew home from a vacation in Thailand.

Posting this on my blog is my annual tribute to him.

Words that Describe China

Posted in 2012, this one still gets a lot of hits. I take a look at the book “China in Ten Words” by Yu Hua.

Is it really possible to identify ten — and only ten — words that describe China today?  In a country so vast and diverse, probably not; but that didn’t stop Chinese author Yu Hua from taking a crack at it in his book “China in Ten Words.”

He uses these ten words as a backdrop to tell the story of his life growing up during the Cultural Revolution, and his subsequent journey from being a village dentist (all he did was pull teeth all day long) to a being a writer.

Imagine Having to Answer These Questions

In this post, I take a look at some of the bizarre questions on China’s annual college entrance examination.

In the days following the exam, the questions are usually published online and in local media, triggering a nationwide discussion on what in the world they mean and what the writers of the test are trying to measure and who in their right mind could answer them.

Here’s a sampling of essay questions from the exams given in various provinces this year. How would you do?

Those Strange Americans

A Chinese site published a list of the top ten strange habits of Americans. I re-posted it because it was just too good to pass up. The strangest habit is drinking cold water throughout the year.

Americans tend to drink only icy cold water all year round. On their water coolers, there are only two options: hot water, which is merely used to make instant coffee or tea, and cold water, which is for direct consumption. Americans do not really understand why people might drink warm water. Likewise, there are no exceptional circumstances where people are advised not to drink cold water. For instance, whereas most Chinese people think that women who are menstruating or who have recently given birth should drink only hot water to stay healthy, American women have no qualms about drinking ice water or eating ice cream at those times.

Cultural Values, Mapped

I ran across a fascinating map of differences in cultural values.

Crossing a cultural boundary inevitably leads to cultural clashes. Sometimes the clashes occur at the point of behaviors and customs, such as eating, drinking, or even how to cross a street. More often, however, the clashes occur at the deeper level of cultural values — beliefs about what is right and wrong or how the world ought to be ordered.

10 Things to Know About the 10-Year China Visa

I’m a huge fan of the new ten-year tourist visa that China began issuing in November of 2014, so I wrote a blog post about it’s awesomeness!

Since writing with joy about obtaining a 10-year tourist visa to China last November, I’ve fielded a steady stream of question from friends (and strangers) about the new visa and how to get it. So I decided to put a post together about some things you need to know about the visa. They are in no particular order.

If you’re planning a trip to China, may I suggest contacting the good folks at Allied Passport in Washington, DC. If you reference me or my blog on your application, you will get a discount and I will get a referral fee!

How Long Does it Take to Learn Chinese?

This is another popular post from 2012 in which I highlight some interesting charts that show how long it typically takes for English language speakers to learn various languages.

Since I’ve been in China for 28 years, and speak Chinese reasonably well, I am often asked 2 questions (by foreigners), neither of which have easy answers.

One is “are you fluent?”

My response is usually “fluent enough to get myself into and out of trouble.”

Minnesota Ten Commandments

Just a fun list of Ten Commandments, Minnesota-style. My favorite: “Keep yer mind off yer neighbor’s hot dish.”

 A Ten-Year Visa!

Doing my happy dance upon obtaining my 10-year multiple-entry tourist visa in 2014.

This afternoon the good folks at FEDEX delivered a small package to my house, and it wasn’t even a Christmas present. In fact, it was something better — my passport, with a brand-spanking-new TEN-YEAR, MULTIPLE ENTRY TOURIST VISA to China.

Getting ready for a new year of blogging. Thanks for reading!

 Related Posts:

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Reviewing the Year in Rap

Just when you thought it was safe to poke around the Chinese internet, the Chinese Communist Party releases a new “rap” video promoting Party Secretary Xi (“Big Daddy Xi”) and all the wonderful things he has done this past year.

The Wall Street Journal wrote about the video on their China Real Time Report blog:

The rap propaganda – dare we say, rap-aganda? – is the Communist Party’s latest experiment in modernizing its message. In October, the state-run Xinhua News Agency released a jaunty theme song to promote the 13th five-year plan, complete with a psychedelic music video featuring cartoon characters and a robot with a pile of poop on its head.

The new messaging effort appears to have delighted some of China’s netizens. On Weibo, one commenter wrote, “Compared with the previous outdated propaganda, this is way easier to listen to.” Another wrote, “I can sing it too: Smog! smog! smog!”

One critic wrote: “Easier said – or sung – than done. Only if the central government has the real intention and the local government had the power to carry it out will the people benefit.”

And in case you want to know what is being sung, here’s the rough translation from WSJ:

Take a look at the deepening-reform group in the year 2015

Building the economy, creating wealth, optimizing services

They streamline administration and delegate power to the lower levels, so please do trust the government

Don’t let the hand reach out when it’s not supposed to — let the market speak.

They’re determined to fight against corruption. They especially target ferocious tigers

They’re strict in governing the party and ruling the nation according to law, which makes people rejoice.

Carrying out the “three stricts and three steadies” and allowing supervision by the masses

Reining in officials who take bribes

The deepening-reform group is two years old now and has been achieved a lot during the past two years.

Educational reform, medical reform and household registry reform. Reform! Reform! Reform! Reform!

Acting for the convenience and benefit of the people, giving them an easier life. Taking targeted measures in poverty alleviation and trying not to fall behind

(Xi Jinping’s voice:) To turn the people’s expectations into our actions.

The deepening-reform group is two years old now and has achieved a lot during the past two years.

Price reform, tax reform and state-owned-enterprise reform. Reform! Reform! Reform! Reform!

Streamlining administration and delegating power to the lower levels, releasing vitality. Supporting reform and upgrading the economy.

(Xi Jinping’s voice:) An arrow will never return once it’s shot.

The deepening-reform group is two years old now and has achieved a lot during the past two years.

Flies, tigers and large foxes. Capture! Capture! Capture! Capture!

To be strict in governing the party, we must first conduct ourselves honorably.  And we will surely win judicial reform.

(Xi Jinping’s voice:) Punish every corrupt official and fight every corrupt phenomenon.

The deepening-reform group is two years old now and has achieved a lot during the past two years.

Managing the water, managing the air, managing the land. Manage! Manage! Manage! Manage!

Clear waters and green hills are our golden mountains. What “One Belt, One Road” adheres to is:

(Xi Jinping’s voice:) The principle of wide consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits.

To promote the progress of Asia and Europe in what’s called “One Belt, One Road”。

Free trade, openness, laws and finance, they are all helping each other.

Establishing the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and accelerating infrastructure construction.

And finally the yuan was included in the SDR (Special Drawing Rights basket, an international reserve asset).

Facing the smog, they hate it so much.

To determine to protect the ecology requires a bow at full draw.

Suspend those who should be suspended. Halt those who should be halted.

Clear waters and green mountains are a necessary step forward into the new journal.

The deepening-reform group is two years old now and has achieved a lot during the past two years.

Educational reform, medical reform and household registry reform. Reform! Reform! Reform! Reform!

Acting for the convenience and benefit of the people, giving them an easier life. Taking measures in poverty alleviation and trying not to fall behind.

(Xi Jinping’s voice:) To turn the people’s expectation into reality.

The deepening-reform group is two years old now and has achieved a lot during the past two years.

Price reform, tax reform and state-owned enterprise reform. Reform! Reform! Reform! Reform!

Streamlining administration and delegating power to the lower levels, releasing vitality. Supporting reform and upgrading the economy.

(Xi Jinping’s voice:) Victory belongs to the man of valor at the key moment of reform.

The deepening-reform group is two years old now and has achieved a lot during the past two years.

Flies, tigers and large foxes. Capture! Capture! Capture! Capture!

To be strict in governing the party, we must first conduct ourselves honorably.  And we will surely win judicial reform.

(Xi Jinping’s voice:) To highly lift the sharp sword against corruption.

The deepening-reform group is two years old now and has achieved a lot during the past two years.

Managing the water, managing the air, managing the land. Manage! Manage! Manage! Manage!

Clear waters and green hills are our golden mountains. What “One Belt, One Road” adheres to is:

(Xi Jinping’s voice:) Openness and tolerance instead of closing up.

No mention of the …cough, cough….SMOG!

Related Post:

Thirteen Five

Friday Photo: Coldest Christmas Ever

My first Christmas in China was in 1984. Wanting to do something nice for the motley crew of foreigners who were working in Henan Province, the Provincial Foreign Affairs Office decided to take us all on a trip to Xi’an, Shaanxi, about 12 hours away by train.

On Christmas Day, we saw all of the sites — the city wall, the Big Goose Pagoda, and the Terra-cotta Warriors. For lunch they took us to the city’s most famous jiaozi (dumpling) restaurant.

All of us would have preferred a quiet Christmas back at our schools, but the officials were adamant that we make the trip, so we just made the best of it.

And it was cold in Xi’an that weekend; in fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever been so cold in my life, which is saying something since I’m from Minnesota!

Here’s a picture of the cold and motley crew on Christmas Day!

cold christmas in xian

Here are a few recent stories out of China about Christmas:

Heard in the Hutong: What do Beijing’s Think about Christmas? (Wall Street Journal)

Christmas is becoming increasingly popular in China, fuelled both by rising consumerism and the swelling ranks of the country’s 60-100 million Christians. Giant snowflakes, Christmas trees and animatronic Santas can be found in abundance on the streets of Beijing in late December. Yet the trend hasn’t come without controversy, with some calling for a boycott of Christmas and other Western holidays in recent years.

China Christmas Primer (World of Chinese)

With the number of Christians estimated at over 70 million and rising, China is set to house the world’s largest Christian population. This means it’s that time of year when many will brighten their homes with paper lanterns, decorate the Christmas tree, and wait for Santa. But, for many, Christmas is still a relatively alien concept.

Critical Mass (World of Chinese)

Worldwide, there are two kinds of Christmas. While both are a time of joy, one is relatively secular; its trappings are Christmas trees, gifts, reindeer, and the jolly, red, fat version of Saint Nick (going by 圣诞老人, or Christmas Elderly Person in China).

Photo Gallery: Chinese Christmas Art (China Hope Live)

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!

Friday Photo: Free Market

When I arrived in China to teach English in 1984, the economic reforms instituted by Deng Xiaoping were just getting underway. The most visible sign of the changes was the “free market” that suddenly appeared on a nearby street.

china 1984

Prior to this, goods were only sold in state-run department stores and grocery stores. But here at the “free market” goods were being sold directly to the people.

It felt mildly subversive!

Iceland in Winter

When I woke up on Tuesday morning, my first thought was “I dreamed a friend and I went to Iceland for 5 days.” Then I remembered that we had actually done the trip; it was not a dream, but a dream come true.

The dream actually started more than a year ago when we had seen an Icelandair ad for some low-cost package tours to Iceland to see the northern lights. We weren’t able to get in on the action last year, but when the deal popped up again this year, we decided to go for it!

Here are a few random observations and photos from the trip:

1. I will (hopefully) no longer fuss about the short days in Minnesota during the winter. In Reykjavik in December, the sun rises around 11:15 and sets around 3:15. The twilights preceding those two events, however, are long (and gorgeous), which meant we had a little more than 6 hours of daylight in which to do our sightseeing. It did make for some great lighting, however.

morningmountain

2.  There are no words to describe the beauty of the northern lights, and photographing them is extremely difficult. This is especially true if you are on the deck of a moving boat. It’s blurry, I know, but here’s proof that we saw them.

aurorafromboat5

3.  Our trip to the Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa was on a cold evening, so we floated and bobbed around in a thick cloud of steam. I’m sure the water was blue, but we had no way of seeing that. Watching heads emerging and disappearing in the steam made me think we were on the set of Gorillas in the Mist.

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4.  If you love trees, you might find Iceland hard to appreciate. My mom is a tree-lover, and all she could say when I was telling her about the trip was “No trees? How can a place with no trees be beautiful?” Trust me; it is!

roadtrip3

5.  In a city known for its hard-partying and world-class drinking, here’s what our night out on the town looked like:

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6.  How’s this for the perfect rental car?

jocar

7.  There is something mildly appealing about a country that doesn’t have Starbucks and MacDonald’s.

8.  In 2008, the economy of Iceland, which was based on financial services, collapsed. They are rebuilding it on tourism. I say “hat’s off” to the Iceland Tourism Bureau, because in the middle of December there were tourists everywhere. And from everywhere. In fact, at each place we visited, we stumbled across a bus load of tourists from China!

And finally, here are a couple more of my favorite photos:

blackbeachLR

southshore10

Go here to see more photos on my Flickr page.

And I was right about one thing this might do — whet my appetite for a longer visit. In the summer.

Iceland Reading

When I travel, especially to new places, I like to read up on the places I am visiting. Since I’m headed to Iceland today for a short visit (IcelandAir had a package deal that was too good to pass up), here’s whats on my kindle for the trip:

Iceland, Defrosted, by Edward Hancox

Iceland, Defrosted

The Little Book of the Icelanders: 50 miniature essays on the quirks and foibles of the Icelandic people, by Alda Sigmundsdottir

The Little Book of the Icelanders: 50 miniature essays on the quirks and foibles of the Icelandic people

A Girl’s Ride in Iceland, by Mrs. (Ethel) Alec-Tweedie

A Girl's Ride in Iceland

Watch this space for my own stories and photos.

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Four Days, Four Books

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Who’s Not Left Behind?

As the editor of ZGBriefs, I have to (get to, really) scan and read dozens of news articles out of China each week. One of the things that allows me to do is spot emerging narratives.

villageladies

Lately I’ve noticed a spate of stories that refer to some segment of the Chinese population being “left-behind” or “left-over.”

The “left-over” label was first used to describe young women who were still not married by the time they were in their late twenties (or beyond). Here’s a video clip explaining the phenomenon:

Another good resource on this topic is the book Left-over Women: The Resurgance of Gender Inequality in China, by Leta Hong Fincher.

Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China (Asian Arguments)

But wait a minute, you might be saying; doesn’t China have a gender imbalance such that there are millions more boys being born than girls? If that’s the case, aren’t there going to be left-over men?

In September the China Daily reported that by the end of 2014, the male population outnumbered the female population by 33.76 million. This prompted Xinhua News to declare that China’s big demographic problem is left-over men, not left-over women. What’s on Weibo translated and highlighted some of the article:

“Leftover women are no cause for concern – it is the ‘leftover men’ that are China’s real crisis,”   Xinhua News and Beijing News write earlier this week. “Marriage as a traditional institute is of great significance and value, but it should not be the way to measure a woman’s worth in today’s era,” the article states. Although it has been the unmarried young women, often called ‘leftover women’ (shèngnǚ, 剩女), who have been singled out by Chinese media, the article says that it really is the single men, referred to as ‘leftover men‘ (shèngnán, 剩男) that are at the center of China’s “marriage crisis”.

The Beijing News, according to What’s on Weibo, also points out part of the problem lies in a gap between background:

But, Beijing News writes, if you leave the gender bias aside, the so-called ‘leftover women crisis’ is not a crisis at all. If one looks at China’s single women and single men, there is a huge gap in their background and situation. The ‘leftover woman’ generally refers to a relatively successful “urban, professional female in her late twenties or older who is still single” (Fincher 2014, 2), who has the “three highs” (三高): high income, high education and high IQ. But ‘leftover men’ are at the other side of the social spectrum, as they generally have the so-called “three lows” (三低): low income, low education and low IQ.

Then there are the left-behind children (as many as 60 million), those whose parents have moved to the cities in search of work, The plight of these children was highlighted last summer when 4 children, living on their own in squalor, committed suicide by drinking pesticide. An article in The Telegraph tells their story, and the story of other children like them:

Fourteen-year-old Zhou couldn’t go on. He had spent the last few months looking after his three younger siblings in the remote village of Cizhu in Bijie, southern China, while their parents worked earning money for the family hundreds of miles away.

Leaving a note behind thought to be to his parents that read:“Thanks for your kindness. I know you mean well for us, but we should go now,” he swigged from a bottle of pesticide and handed it to his sisters, aged five, eight and nine, who did the same.

And in October, The Economist published an article called Little Match Children, showing how these left-behind children are one of the hidden costs of China’s economic growth.

And finally, on October 21, the China Daily ran a poignant series of photos highlighting the plight of China’s left-behind seniors:

The Chongyang Festival, which people traditionally mark by honoring the elderly and paying their respects to them, falls today, or the 9th day of the 9th lunar month. On this special day, let’s take a look at lives of some left-behind seniors in rural areas.

Now, whom did we leave out?

Note: This post was originally published at the ChinaSource blog From the West Courtyard on December on December 7, 2015.