Weekly roundup: Olympics, Are We Ready?

Matt | Olympics 08-08-08,Visas | Thursday, June 26th, 2008

It’s been awhile since I’ve written about other great China blogs. Here are some interesting ones that mainly surround the Olympics. Recently I was asked if I thought Beijing were ready for the games. I said yes, mainly because for the big things – stadiums, transportation, people’s attitudes – I do believe they’ll be ready. But, I’ve been thinking about it and there still are a lot of construction sites up, and some places that should be beautiful are still covered in metal scaffolding, surrounded by dirt. Hopefully, things will come together in the last few weeks. My fingers are crossed.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about, and worrying about, what some athletes might do during the Olympics if they decide they want to voice their opinions on certain issues. It reminded me of the 1968 Olympics. Here is an interesting article from a the Beijing Olympic Games 2008 site.

Following this site, here’s another excellent article about 6 Scams to avoid at the Beijing Olympics. I can proudly or embarrassingly say that I’ve fallen for 3 of the 6 of these scams in my 3 years in China: got fake money, went to the art “exhibition”, and got in an unlicensed taxi. These are good tips to watch out for before you come. As for the fake money, i recommend not taking any old money especially for higher denominations like 20 RMB or higher. Get new bills. I still have a pretty, old 50 that is a great souvenir now.

Here is another great post, with amazing photos, 10 Amazing new buildings in China. These photos are wild. The architecture industry in China is taking off to new heights. I only hope the quality control & safety industry is keeping pace with these beautiful buildings.

Beijing is starting some of it’s anti-pollution measures for the Olympics and one that I’m eagerly waiting for is removing half the cars for our congested highways (ring roads). Here is an article explaining the change from China.org.cn – Beijing takes half of gov’t cars of roads. Is this regard China will be ready. The roads have lightened up, yet the honking still remains. My only hope is that the government will keep this measure in place after the games have ended.

Here is a very interesting piece talking about how China’s tightened visa policy is keeping tourists away from Beijing. China’s Visa Policy Threatens Olympics Tourism. This I’ve seen. As the Olympics are 43 days away it doesn’t feel so. The streets are empty. Besides all the clocks keeping track of the games I would have forgotten that the games were happening in Beijing. The recent disasters in southern China have taken resources, attention and focus away from the Games and onto lives.

Review: The Art of Learning

Matt | Books: Art of Learning | Monday, June 23rd, 2008

Recently I was reading one of my normal morning round up blogs, Tim Ferris’s Blog,TheFourHourWorkWeek, and something caught my eye that I couldn’t ignore; it was as if a book, an idea was written just for me, just for this moment in my life. Lately, I’ve been fascinated with learning, martial arts, and Daoism (Taoism) how there is a life force that the world flows around. And on Tim Ferris’s blog had an interview with a man by the name of Josh Waitzkin who had learned all these areas and more.

After reading the blog, I had to find out more, so the rest of my morning disappeared as I felt I had to find out everything I could about Josh Waitzkin. I searched every site about him and read or watched just about everything I could and of course I ordered his book, The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance.

Josh Waitzkin went from mastering chess to mastering Tai Ji Chuan and martial arts, to becoming a world champion of martial arts, has mastered how people learn things and some could say he is mastering the art of writing in his book called The Art of Learning. As an English teacher, who enjoys learning and is very interested in learning martial arts and Tai Ji Chuan, I will look into his book in more detail below.

Josh is obviously a brilliant man, who’s been studying and pushing himself from a young age. He was often called a prodigy, a term he hated because I believe this term cheats him of the reality that he worked his butt off to be the best in the world. He started by following his passion of chess at the age of 6; to studying with the best teachers for over 10 years; to competing against the best; to pushing oneself to the limits and beyond; to learning and becoming a martial arts world champion. Now he’s written a fantastic book, let’s dig in for a deeper look.

INNOCENT MOVES

“Once he had won my trust (his first chess coach), Bruce taught me by allowing me to express myself. I loved this as a teacher the first step is to earn the trust or respect of your students. Then it’s to help them express themselves in whatever art you’re teaching.

TWO APPROACHES TO LEARNING

I my opinion, this chapter and book should be read by every educator, coach and teacher before they attempt to teach anyone anything. Here Josh talks about the different way children are raised to believe in either the:

Entity theory of intelligence – that you are “smart at this” or “not good at that”, that you are good at math, sports or music just because you are, or,

Incremental theory of intelligence. That you “got it because you worked very hard at it” or “You should have tried harder”. That the reason you did well was because you practiced harder or smarter than the others.

Josh mentioned that sometimes it’s the subtle differences in the way you are raised or reinforced that makes someone believe in one theory versus the other. But that the outcome is huge. That if someone believes in the entity theory and then fails often they are crushed and pack it in and quit. While if you believe in the life long process, the incremental theory you can adjust and move on, while continually progressing towards your goal.

This chapter hit me like a sledgehammer against my skull. I’ve mostly chosen the entity theory – I’m good at sports and maths – while at times I’d think about why. Looking back the real reason I was good at sports was because I had played hours and hours of sports; I’d often do sports drills, by myself in the backyard for hours on end. Or I’d practice my maths doing my homework for hours, because my folks said I was good at maths. I didn’t realize that it was the time invested, the practice, which made the difference.

… “Enjoy the win fully while taking a deep breath, then we exhale, note the lesson learned, and move on to the next adventure.”

… “The fact of the matter is there will be nothing learned from any challenge in which we don’t try our hardest. Growth comes at the point of resistance. We learn by pushing ourselves and finding what really lives at the outer reaches of our abilities.”

THE SOFT ZONE

“I took the bull by the horns and began training to have a more resilient concentration…in top-rank competition I couldn’t count on the world being silent, so my only option was to become at peace with the noise.” Here Josh was talking about his chess tournaments, but I couldn’t help but be in awe of how aware this kid was at the time he was a teenager, but was preparing like a professional. I guess that’s because he was a pro. He started when he was 6, so by the time he was 16, after 10 years of intense study he was a professional. Still I was amazed at his awareness at 7 or 8 years of age.

THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL

In this chapter, he talks about the importance of regaining presence and clarity of mind after making a serious error. Everyone who’s watched a sporting match has seen this momentum shift. Josh talks of how it’s vital to be present in critical moments and how that can turn losses into wins. His tips that he gave his students were to take 2-3 deep breaths or to splash cold water on their faces to snap out of a bad state of mind, to even going outside and doing 50 yard wind sprints.

BREAKING STALLIONS

At one point, Josh took on some new coaches who tried to change him into a different chess player only to have bad results. He talks of how “it’s critical to integrate this new information in a manner that does not violate who we are. By taking away our natural voice, we leave ourselves without a center of gravity to balance us as we navigate the countless obstacles along our way.” I’ve seen this in sports as well, how coaches will try to retrain players to copy the perfect form. In trying to become something they are not the athlete forgets how to play altogether.

THE ILLUSION OF THE MYSTICAL

As a lover of martial arts and Asian studies I really enjoyed Josh’s descriptions of him becoming a martial arts world champion. I quite enjoyed how he described how kung fu masters were seen to have mystical powers, but in reality it was simply that they cultivated or practiced their skills to the point where people whose skills were below them couldn’t see why they were so good, so they assumed it was mystical.

Also, he talked about the importance of video-taping progress to self evaluate was shown here, which I also truly believe in.

My big takeaways from this book were:

  • Form leaves form, numbers leave numbers – that one practices the forms, be in blocking and tackling in American football, of verb conjugations in French or, Opening and Closing positions in chess, but when the real thing happens, when you are “ready” you don’t think of the forms, or numbers, but you just flow you just react and that is when you are in the zone.
  • You can learn anything incrementally, not because you are smart or dumb at it, but only if you learn whatever you want to in the best way that you learn; by seeking out teachers/mentors who can bring out your natural talents; by you challenging yourself by competing and learning from people better than you; by you analyzing your wins and losses (preferably on tape) to find out exactly why you won or lost.

From my lengthy review you can imagine that I truly loved the flavor of this book and that I highly recommend it for any of you who want to learn, to mentor or to teach anyone anything.

The Love of Reading

Matt | China Books | Saturday, June 21st, 2008

I’ve been a little lax these days in writing posts, updating this blog and writing book reviews and one of my biggest self-criticisms for my site is that I haven’t written enough book reviews. Reason being is that I’ve read  a lot since becoming an English teacher and I originally set an ambitious goal of giving a review every other week.  But, I’ve fallen down on this goal and the bigger hurt for me is that I truly love reading and learning.

I love reading and since becoming an English teacher in China, I’ve been able to read a heck of a lot more than I did back in Canada. I can say that I honestly love reading. It’s a passion that I’ve discovered late in life. It was when I was knee-deep in university textbooks that I could hardly digest, the content and the flavor, without wanting to be sick. For whatever reason at that time I decided to pick up a novel to read simply for the pleasure of it. Since then I fell in love with reading.

During this period I’ve set goals to read at least one book a month and I’ve done this for the past 5 years. Lately, I’ve bumped my goal up to two a month. This is one addiction that I think is relatively healthy, at least at the levels that I’m consuming books at.

I’ve also exhausted my favourite authors: from Hemingway and Murakami, to Rand and Hessler; continually begging my friends to give me more book recommendations so I can feed this reading addiction.

During this educational awakening I’ve realized that you don’t find books, but books find you. That at certain times in your life a book will appear almost like magic; at that immediate time you needed or wanted it; like when a friend recommended Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged & The Fountainhead when I was looking for my moral code, or when I was looking for some guidance before coming to teach English in China and I found a site that demanded I read two books before making my decision on China, Mark Salzman’s Iron and Silk and Peter Hessler’s River Town. Even though they are dated I still highly recommend those two.

Fairly recently, I felt quite lost and I found a funny titled book on my friend’s bookshelf titled The Importance of Living, by Lin Yu Tang. I had never heard of this author at the time, but only later discovered he was a brilliant Chinese writer, philosopher and inventor. From his book in the section The Art of Reading he stated:

“Ín reading as in eating what is one man’s meat may be another’s poison. A teacher cannot expect his children to have the same tastes as himself. And if the reader has no taste for what he reads, all the time is wasted. As Yuan Chunlang says, ‘You can leave the books that you don’t like alone, and let other people read them.’

I quite enjoy this quote and truly believe it. Read the books you like. Also learn the things you are passionate about. Leave the rest to other people.

Alas, since starting this site I planned on reviewing one China book, teaching book or learning book each week, but this has turned into one every 3 months! So, now I’ll readjust my goal to something that should be easily achievable (set simple goals and enjoy the pleasure of exploding past them) and I now plan on reviewing one book per month.

I’m looking forward to sharing some of the great books that have found their way to me and hopefully you’ll find they have a good flavor for you to digest.

Analects of Confucius – Chapter 9

Matt | Analects of Confucius | Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

A friend of mine recently quote Kong Fu Zi aka Confucius recently stating that, “It’s better to read one book a hundred times, than a hundred books one time.” So, when I review his Analects and add some of my favourites here I’m reviewing, rereading, and retrieving some of the notes, thoughts and ideas I jotted down in the margins when I first read the book. I hope you can get some guidance or inspiration from The Teacher, Confucius, and hopefully will go out and buy his Analects yourself. It’s definitely worth a read.

Here are my highlights from Chapter 9

1/ Seldom did Confucius talk about profit, fate and benevolence.

Don’t make profit your primary objective.

7/ Lao (perhaps a disciple of Confucius) said, “The Master said, I have never been an official so I have learned many trades.”

I take this to mean, learn many ways to bring in an income; have multiple income sources or get a job with the government.

8/ Confucius said, “Am I a learned man? No. Once a farmer asked me a question, and I failed to answer it. I thought about it again and again, but still could not give him an answer.”

There is always more to learn. Never stop learning until the day you die.

17/ Standing by the side of a river, Confucius sighed, :Time is going on like this river, flowing away endlessly day and night.”

My original comments were time doesn’t stop for anybody, not even Confucius. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot more about time and where I am now, where I’ve come from and where I plan to go. Often when I think of the time flowing by I get a horrible feeling deep inside my belly as if I’m not doing the “should’s” and “ought to’s” that people my age are doing. But then I realize that I’m doing what makes me happy now and I’m not hurting anybody else, so the heck with it.

18/ Confucius said, “I have never met any one who is as fond of virtue as he is of beauty.”

When I read this, I laughed out loud. I think Kong Zi had a great sense of humour.

25/ Confucius said, “One should pay great attention to loyalty and sincerity, and not make close friends with those whose morality is inferior to one’s own. If one makes a mistake, one should not be afraid of correcting it.”

Be careful of the company you keep.

26/ Confucius said, “An army may be deprived of its commanding officer, yet a man cannot be deprieved of his will.”

Free will. You are responsible for your actions. Regardless of what happens you cannot be deprived of your free will. The choice is yours.

29/ Confucius said, “A wise man is never cheated, a virtuous man is never worried and a courageous man is never afraid.”

30/ Confucius said, “People who are good at studying together are not necessarily able to achieve the same; people who are able to achieve the same are not necessarily able to make persistent efforts; people who are good at making persistent efforts are not necessarily able to adapt to circumstances.”

One can read this a few ways, but one way I see it is that Confucius laid out a get way to succeed in life:

  • studying to achieve something;
  • making persistent efforts, and
  • adapting to the changing environment.

I think the last one, being able to adapt in the changing environment is the very important living in fast-changing China.

Analects of Confucius: Chapter 8

Matt | Analects of Confucius | Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

More lessons to learn from the first teacher, Confucius, otherwise known as Kong Fu Zi.

4/ When Zing Zi was ill, Meng Jingzi (a minister of Lu) came to visit him. Zeng Zi said, “When a bird is dying, its cry is sad’ when a man is dying, his words are kind. A gentleman should pay due attention to the following three points: He should look strict so as to prevent others from being slacks and wanton; he should look serious so as to make others believe him; and he should take care to speak the proper words in the proper tone of voice so as to avoid coarseness. As for the details of sacrifice and other rites, he should leave them to the care of those in charge.”

It sounds like Confucius would have made a great Toastmaster. Here he’s talking about the importance of body language, “looking strict... look serious…so others believe in him”. He also talks of use the right words (working with words) with the right tone (vocal variety). Can you tell I just came back from a Toastmasters conference in Shanghai? Let’s continue…

5/ Zeng Zi said, “I had a friend who did the following: Though capable, he asked the less capable for advice; though he knew a great deal, he consulted those who knew less; though he was a man of great learning, he studied as diligently as those who had little knowledge; though he had rich knowledge, he looked as if he were empty and never minded those who offended him.”

What a great way to act: being humble; making those around you to feel important; working hard; setting a good example.

11/ Confucius said, “If a man is as gifted as the Duke of Zhou yet is arrogant and stingy, then his other qualities are not worthy of note.”

It doesn’t matter how talented you are if you are arrogant and stingy. You won’t be remembered. At least you won’t be remembered in an good way.

14/ Confucius said, “Do not interfere in others’ business if you are not in their positions.”

I really like this one as I often want to stick my nose in others’ business.

Is honking good advertising?

Matt | Taxis in Beijing | Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

I’m walking out of my apartment getting ready for the relaxing 20 minute walk to work, as I’m about to cross the road I read a spine-shattering, ear-piercing noise that instinctively gets me ready to jump out of an impending disaster….

I heard a car honk.

Actually, I heard a taxi honk.

In fact I’ve heard about a million taxis honk as I approach, not because they were about to hit me with their yellow and purple transportation devices, but because they simply wanted to ask me, “Do you want a ride?”.

Lately, I’ve been thinking, is honking a good approach to advertising their taxi services?

On the one hand, it does get someones attention.  I believe that is a big aspect of advertising, to get the consumers attention.  So in this way, it does work.  I realize the taxi is there.  Actually, sometimes it even makes me ask the question, “Do I want to take a taxi?”.  So again, it does work, to a point.

On the other hand, I think the purpose of advertising is to attract the consumers to your product or service.  In this way, honking by taxis, fails miserably for me.  As I’ve committed myself to never getting into a taxi that honks at me.  I will actually take the very next one just to prove a point.   So, I don’t think honking is a good form of advertising for taxis.

Yet, it happens.  It is a popular form of advertising for most taxi drivers here in China.

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