Thursday, January 28, 2010

Cats and Dogs

So I'm going to be going to China for Chinese New Year's (fitting isn't it?). A friend from NYC is meeting me in Hong Kong on 2/11 and then we're going to fly up to Beijing from February 13th until the 20th ...then back to Hong Kong and returning to Taiwan on the 20th. I'm interested to see the differences between China and see how 'the other side lives' so to speak. It's impossible to live in Taiwan without constantly hearing about China. The last few weeks the news has been particularly China-focused.

There are two issues about Taiwan and China relations that have been pushed to the forefront recently: Economic agreements, and military ones.
On the economic front, China and Taiwan are currently engaged in negotiations regarding a trade agreement similar to the one China has signed with Korea. If signed, it will mean closer ties between Taiwan and China, but also closer dependency. Some people see this deal as inevitable given China's size and market growth. Others see it as a means for China to further strengthen their influence over Taiwan. It's not my place to say which side is, I'll leave that to the Greens and the Blues to figure out.

The other aspect is U.S. Arms sales to Taiwan. The U.S. has recently announced plans to sell arms to Taiwan, which has understandably caused some tension with China. It'll be interesting to see how the Taiwan issue moves to the forefront as China's economy and military might continue to grow. Obviously it's been big news here.
This editorial demonstrates the complexities involved in the arms deal.

It should be an interesting trip to China given these current happenings. However I read this aarticle about eating cats and dogs in China. It makes me a little worried about what I'll encounter over in the PRC. The most telling indication of China's rise to power for me, is that 10 or 15 years ago, China was doing the same things it is now (eating cats and dogs, threatening Taiwan, violating human rights and privacy)...but these things rarely made headlines (at least in the U.S. anyway). Now that China is a "rising power" all of these issues are international news. It seems to me that eventually things will have to come to a head. Maybe Google's decision to leave China is the starting point.

I'm glad I live in Taiwan where, as far as I know, no one eats cats and dogs. Thankfully the nastiest thing available to eat here is fermented or "Stinky" tofu. It's tofu that has been fermented and then cooked in a soup. It tastes and smells like a dirty gym bag. If I had to choose between cat soup and stinky tofu, I'd have to chose a big heaping bowl of stinky tofu...despite it's obvious flaws, it still beats cat soup......hands down.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010


I read this article in the NY Times and it really hit home for me. Although discussing China, this article could easliy describe Taiwan, and from other people I've spoken to, Japan Korea and many other Asian countries as well. A few weeks ago I read Fareed Zakaria's book THe Post-American World. In it, Zakaria argues about the rise of the likes of China and India or "the rest" as he dubs them. In a chapter on China, and citing his own experiences growing up under the educational system of India... he presented a fascinating quote, with a similar message as the article above:

"Other educational systems teach you to take tests; the American system teaches you to think. It is surely this quality that goes into explaining why America produces so many entrepreneurs, inventors, and risk takers. In America people are allowed to be bold challenge authority, fail and pick themselves up. It is America, not Japan that produces dozens of Nobel Prize winners."

As a teacher, especially a teacher who works solely with adults, this quote and article were dead on in terms of my experience.

As an example, in one of my classes not too long ago, I presented some words to my students. Now these were all words that appear frequently of test such as TOEFL, or IELTS and included words like important, necessary, vital and so on. I asked them to simply make a sentence with some of those words and say it to the class. My reasoning was that understanding how to speak using those words will help them know how to listen for them better...and vice-versa.
However, I was met with nothing but silence and nervous stares. All of my students are incredibly smart and have above average English abilities, but something prevented them from actively and creatively thinking up sentences like that. I stressed how important it was to create the sentences on their own but still struggled to get them to say anything. Seeing as how such tests have a speaking section that tests fluency and creativity, one would think they would want to practice these skills. Being a teacher gives me a unique perspective about how drastically the two educational systems really are. For instance, if I want an answer to a question, and ask if anyone has an answer, even though all of my students got the right answer, no one will say a word. Their heads are down and they don't even look up. When I call on someone's name everyone else in the room seems completely relieved. This would be understandable if I was teaching in a Jr. High or high school, but teaching adults, adults who want to learn English to get a better job or degree, I'd assume they would be more proactive.

Being here I've definitely come to appreciate the American educational system, at least in terms of encouraging creativity. I've generally been allowed to make my own decisions and own mistakes; allowed to try everything I was interested in without worry or fear of being ostracized and as a result, I've been able to discover my own strengths and weaknesses. Obviously it's impossible and downright ignorant to try and claim which way of thinking is "Better"; but I can say that personally, I'm glad I was given freedom to think, explore, and discover my passion on my own. I'm also glad that I'm not afraid to be different, to fail or try something new and creative.
Obviously the American educational system has some big flaws, but inspiring creativity and ingenuity, in my opinion, isn't one of them.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

No Excuses

It's been a long time since a substantial post...I have no excuses for that. Just shear and utter Brian Viani laziness.

Some highlights of the past few months here:
Finished my grad school Apps (MA in International Relations here I come!)...

Celebrated New Year's in a similar fashion as last year

Got a new roommate...for those keeping track at home, I am now living with 2 girls. One from Cali, one from Vancouver.

Planned and booked a trip to China for Chinese New Year's

Learned some new words in Chinese

My old friend Peter, a fellow NYer and the most Italian Asian kid I know... came for a visit

Decided to go to Kenya in June

My English ability has continued its perpetual decline....seriously my vocabulary is that of a 5th grader's now.

and that's about it. All of these were good times. Having an old friend here was especially awesome because there were so many things I've grown accustomed to here that I was able to look at with a fresh, New York City perspective; for instance...for some reason people here think it's lucky to let the hair on their mole grow long. We all know those hairs. If you have moles ...chances are there is some odd hair growing out of it. But most decent people simply shave it off, especially when said mole is located around the chin or cheek region. But here that mole hair is supposed to be good luck. So there are all these old Taiwanese guys walking around with a clean-shaven face.... save one or two or three INSANE and LONG hairs coming out of their mole on the chin. Imagine not shaving your one hair for your entire life...and then feeling so proud about it you want to take it with you on the subway, and stand inches from my face...

I'm not saying I got completely accustomed to this hair; I'm in no way planning on growing out my own, but let's just say seeing Peter's reaction to such things helped me put things in perspective.

But for now I'll leave you loyal readers with two interesting articles:
1. This article about several elementary schools in China named after Tobacco Corporations

and 2. This gem about the movie Avatar actually killing some poor Taiwanese dude. I didn't realize being long, a little predictable and too preachy could kill...

More substantial posts coming soon, promise


Happy Birthday Dad!

Your present is on the way!