PERSONAL NOTE: I DECIDED to share my book with friends and students in mainland China because it is not available in mainland China. It costs too much to order a copy from USA. Enjoy it and share it. Steve, China, January 4, 2019 firstname.lastname@example.org blog – https://getting2knowyou-china.com
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I saw Samson and Delilah, an American romantic, religious epic film, based on a story in the Bible, when I was studying in the mission school in Sitiawan, Malaya. I remember wondering how could a sexy story like this appear in a Holy Bible, “a strongman whose secret lies in his uncut hair, and his love for Delilah, the woman who seduces him, discovers his secret and then betrays him to the Philistines”. The movie was produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille, a giant of the 20th century film industry in Hollywood. I was lucky to be exposed to the great stories—like Samson and Delilah—and the parables, earthly stories with spiritual truths, in the Bible. At about the same time I was also introduced to the greatest English playwright and poet, William Shakespeare and we studied in high school a few of his famous plays like Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and The Tempest. At the time we were not privileged to have “modern versions” of these plays, like modern versions of the Bible, making it easier to read and understand. I had a small part in one of the stage plays. A few of my high school teachers were American Methodist missionaries. Of course the most memorable for most students is the monologue in As You Like It which begins with these famous lines, “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players” in which the melancholy Jaques compares the world to a stage and life to a play.
I came across quite a few students since coming to China who were absolutely convinced the reason we met was because of destiny or fate. Somehow somewhere some invisible power or force had written the scripts of our lives and we are merely players. It was no accident or coincidence that we met in China. It was meant to be. It somehow brought to mind the words of a song made famous by Elvis Presley, actor and singer, regarded as one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century in America, I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You: “I can’t help falling in love with you. Like a river flows surely to the sea, Darling, so it goes. Some things are meant to be.” Though I am essentially a romantic kind of person, yet I for one believe rationally that I write my own script from alpha to omega of my life. I do not believe “Some things are meant to be”. You could say I am a man of unbounded optimism, believing I am the master of my fate, captain of my soul, and I am in control of my life. And so I intentionally would repeat wherever I might be or anywhere I go: What is life? Life is what I want it to be! Granted I had no choice in choosing my parents, I had a terrible poor upbringing in a farming village obsessed with food most days. But now? What about the present? With a good education and savings and some investments in the United States to last me a few lifetimes, what am I doing to maintain a healthy mind and a healthy body? I somehow concluded after much reflection that I am someone
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fully in charge of my life and destiny. The concept of karma in Buddhism teaches me a simple lesson about life: that I can never escape the consequences of my own thinking and actions. As you make your bed so you must lie on it. As you sow, so you reap. In one word, we are responsible for who or what we are.
I was just thinking recently what if I was blessed or endowed with the right or perfect physique, that I might not be living and working in China right now. My fat cousin brother took me once on his British army motorcycle—looking old, rusted and dirty green—to the police headquarters in Singapore to try to join the police force. Soon after I finished my high school education. Another cousin brother was a top ranking official in that department. But I failed not because of connections but I was too short physically and did not meet one of their basic requirements to be a police in Singapore. I did not believe then or now it had anything to do with fate. It had to do with my height and so I focused on studying and going to the United States. The United States did not discriminate against me because of my height.
A student came crying to me one day in China because his sister’s boyfriend’s brother, Jason, was told by his doctor that he would have only about 6 months to live. A brilliant young college graduate, Jason was just beginning to taste the fruits of his years of hard work with a good job. One day he went to see a doctor because he was not feeling well, then told out of the blue he had only about 6 months to live. He went back to his village to be with his parents and died in less than 3 months, instead like some Americans, he might have lived a little longer if he had spent his last days enjoying life with his friends in the city, doing the things he had always dreamed about in his life. You could not convince me it was fate. You could convince me that many people in China have very poor health because the government had neglected the environment since the death of Chairman Mao Zedong, building up China to become the “factory of the world”, in the process destroying randomly the air, water and land for the sake of economic progress and the pursuit of wealth, the period of get-rich mentality.
The traditional Buddhists believe in reincarnation, the assumption that each person has a chance to improve his life, from one life cycle to another, until you achieve certain perfection, the perfect state of nirvana, thus the termination of rebirth. To a true Buddhist human existence means suffering and so the goal of one’s existence is not to be born again and again, thus the termination of earthly existence and suffering. The orthodox Hindus share this belief also. Both the orthodox Buddhists and Hindus do not believe in fate or destiny, that one is destined to suffer, that life is unchangeable, that you cannot be better in your next life. That we are all merely players on the world stage.
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However, despite the British control of India and modernization, the caste system still controls much of Indian life today. Especially the untouchables, those in the lowest rung of human existence in Indian society, believing it is their fate to be born that way. And there is simply no way out of that predicament. Fate puts them there. Something almost similar also took place in Japan. Between the 12th and 19th centuries the Japanese feudal class structure used Confucian ideals to emphasize the importance of productive members of society, like the farmers and fishermen who produced foods for the people as a whole, placing the merchants on the lowest rung because they exploited others to make money.
Different people had different roles to play in some Asian societies down the centuries. China is essentially a hierarchical society molded by Confucian thinking of the nature of all relationships in the society, from the top down, and thus the Chinese continue to play their roles as if assigned by their emperors or those now in power on the throne, in order to maintain peace and harmony in the society. Like obedient children to their parents. Almost all my students know how to play their roles on the world stage despite Western influences via the internet, Western thinking in the movies they love to watch and songs they love to sing, and Western customs like Valentine’s Day or Christmas they love to celebrate.
Chinese will always be Chinese, born with the Confucian DNA. I used to say to my foreign friends anywhere in the world: that no amount of American steaks or French fries or ice cream or yogurt or milk or pecan pies will change me, a Chinese to the core of my being. A zebra will always be a zebra. Or a tiger will always be a tiger. That is who I am, a Chinese from head to toe! But the classroom is my stage and I continue to enjoy to play the different roles as teacher, lawyer, cheerleader, parent, brother, sister, mentor, counselor, guardian, doctor, advisor, god and friend to my students. I am a man who has learned, through different circumstances, to wear many hats, a man of many seasons, the ability to adapt is in my bones. That, to me, is the key to my happiness and enjoyment of life. Versatility is my name.
I have become more aware that my classrooms is a stage, that I am one of the players who has this privilege to act daily in front of different groups of captive students. I love to wear different clothes that I have continued to collect in my travels. I was in Taiwan and on a very hot day one July—I told myself never to visit this island again in the foreseeable future—I saw a monk walking leisurely down a street wearing something that I thought would feel very comfortable in the hot summer weather. He was wearing simple brown cotton clothes that looked more like pajamas to me from a distance. My host was able to translate for me when I asked the monk where I might be able to acquire what he was wearing. He pointed to the direction of a temple not
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too far away. We followed his suggestions and soon we found the temple where I was able to purchase two sets of the monk’s clothes which I continue to wear in public in China and in countries I visited or would visit. Almost everyone who lives in China knows it is inexpensive to visit a local tailor or seamstress to make the perfect clothes to fit your size. I am fortunate to have a wonderful friend in America, who loves to make her own Afro-American clothes and we worked together to make some of the clothes for me because ready-made Afro-American clothes are not cheap in America. She taught me how to choose the cloth with African motifs or designs to make the Afro-American clothes. So now I have a collection of clothes from different countries to wear each day of the week to classes.
Different clothes are important if you want to play different roles on the stage of life. As a teacher, it is my prerogative to play different roles in and outside the classrooms. I did once take a sociology course in college in America and the book used was about how to present oneself to other people. Author Erving Goffman uses rightly the imagery of the theater (he might have been influenced by Shakespeare’s ‘the world’s a stage’ concept) to portray the importance of human social interaction in The Presentation of Self in Every Life, a seminal sociology book. Because the metaphor of a theater is the leading theme of the book, the German translation Wir Alle Spielen Theater means We All Play-Act. And the Swedish edition Jaget och Maskerna means literary The self and the masks – A study of everyday-life drama. From Goffman, it seems obvious that we play different roles with different people we encountered during all the waking moments of our lives. So in many ways we are a different person to different people in all our encounters and interactions with people around us. So is it important to dress up when going for an interview? Dress your part. I heard this a million times in China. During my years on the campus, only one student, to me, did this, dress his part. At first I thought he was being rich and was able to dress neatly and stylishly daily on the campus until one day he told me, “I dress this way because I am preparing myself for the real job in the real world one day.”
One of the first things that truly intrigued me in China is the different elegant uniforms that many people wear in their jobs. Uniforms that define your specific roles in that particular business or institution, whether in the national headquarters of an industry, or working for a bank, restaurant, hostess for an airline, salesperson in an exclusive store, or just about any job in China. Jobs more categorized and pigeonholed than in America where I have lived for over three decades or more. It is easy to conclude that work uniforms in China are there for a simple reason: it defines who you are in the company or institution because China is a hierarchical society.
It was in the many diverse roles I played on the campus that different students, male
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and female, came to know me and sought my attention initially but urgently with their various personal, social and academic issues that required some clarifications, explanations, solutions and resolutions. It has always been my belief that today, in our modern world, a single problem is like a multi-choice question that has the possibility of multiple answers to it. Not just one solution, but many viable and feasible solutions to one problem. And so I do not believe in providing a student with the answer but together—two brains are better than one—we can explore all the possibilities that are accessible and available to us despite the complex world we live in today.
The day of the one problem one solution is long gone. Today we are given many choices when confronted with any issue, personal, national or international. Humans have the choice to make the best decision to correct the wrongs in our lives and in the world. Hope springs eternal in our hearts!
I continue to believe the world is a stage but as humans we have the choices to make each day in our lives. For me, I had a choice to wear different international clothes to my classes…because of my conviction everyday I have the opportunity to play different roles in my life. That each day I am responsible to write the script to play my role, as effectively and joyously within my power and ability.
What is fate?
I am not a traditionalist or an orthodox thinker or person. I do believe religiously in karma. Is that fate? I continue to make decisions about my life and my future, my contribution to the betterment of the lives of people I care and love, around the world.