(This Is China-47) March 9, 2019 – Chapter 48 from THIS IS CHINA


PERSONAL NOTE: I decided to share my book with friends and students in mainland China because it costs too much to order a copy from USA. Enjoy it and share it with people you care and love. Peace, steve, march 9, 2019  stephenehling@hotmail.com     blog – https://getting2knowyou-china.com


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Chapter 48

The story of Chen Chao, who will enter his PhD program in economics soon in an ivy-league school in America, is one reason why I became a teacher: the betterment of lives of all bonsai kids entrusted to my care. He is a very special bonsai kid. In March 1, 2012, I wrote this in my blog in China about Chen Chao: “500 AMERICAN DOLLARS A DAY”.

“A SPECIAL NOTE: I want to write and share this very special story about a very special young man, from China, now pursuing graduate studies in one of the best ivy-league schools in America. He is now in his 2nd semester of graduate work. In China, the term ‘postgraduate exams’ refers to tests a student must take in order to enter graduate school to pursue a master’s degree or a PhD degree. If a student passes this test, he then enters postgraduate studies.

This is not true in America. In America, after your 4-year undergraduate studies, you enter ‘graduate’ school to pursue your master or a PhD degree. Hm! Do not be confused. So ‘post graduate’ work or studies in America usually refers to people who want to do further research after their PhD degrees. So, we need to make sure you understand the terminology used in China and in America.”

Anyway this young man, Chen Chao, is now pursuing graduate studies in an ivy-league school—Brown University—in America.

He was smart enough to work for about two months last semester to earn enough money so he could fly home during his winter break to China to visit his parents before our Chinese New Year (Chun Jie). He also came to spend a few days with me in Xiamen while visiting his parents. After he returned to America to resume his 2nd semester studies, I received this note one day in late January 2012…it saddened me but for a moment only…I knew I could and I must do something about it…and I did!

In the note, Chen Chao wrote…

One thing I forgot to tell you is that I may not be able to take courses in the economics department. I talked to my parents about the money issues and they felt sorry that they could not support me financially. So I think now is the time for me to accept my destiny. Though I love economics and I want to be one of the best economists in China in the future, I cannot learn economics now. I have been sad

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about this for a few days but I think I should try to accept it. There is no way I can always get what I want in life. There is something I can’t change. I should try to accept it. This is my life. This is my destiny. Do what I can do now.

Within 72 hours…
I was trying to help Chen Chao register for his economics class in a prestigious ivy-league school in America. After the results of the National College Entrance Examinations or Gaokao came out, his first choice was to study Economics, followed by Statistics and Computer Science. All students in China are required to come up with a list of majors they would intend to take in colleges or universities. And so when he told me of his original interest was to study economics but then denied that opportunity while applying to a Chinese university in China, I knew there and then I must do something to help him realize his dream.

Chen Chao was able to convince me of the relevance and importance of studying economics now because, in his words, “China needs professionally trained economists as it continues to expand economically around the globe…we have too many students now doing computer science but how many have a combination of computer science and economics…few!”

Though he excelled in software engineering in Xiamen University and was good enough to be admitted by an ivy-league university in America, in his heart there is always this void that he is not able to pursue his dream to study economics as his major in undergraduate school.

Finally, I was able to persuade him to go ahead and register for economics classes where he is now…in an ivy-league school in America. He was convinced my decision to offer some help might change the course of his life. That he would rather pursue a PhD in economics!

Who is this Chen Chao? After three years studying computer science in Xiamen Univesity, Fujian Province, he was sent to Sweden for his final year as an undergraduate student because he was the top student in his class and department. Towards the end of his study in Sweden he told me an incredible story about a special offer from an international university in Saudi Arabia! They invited him to join a research team there and were willing to offer him substantial financial incentive. Needless to say I told him to accept this incredible good fortune and postpone his American studies. But Saudi Arabia withdrew the offer as quickly as it offered it to Chen Chao. Why? It seemed many Saudi Arabian students were upset that their university should be so generous to foreigners and not to their own people. They

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protested loudly and vehemently against the university. Last minute Chen Chao turned his focus to America…and was immediately accepted by this ivy-league school where he is now studying!

So what did I do on hearing about his desire to pursue a PhD in economics in America? In an ivy-league school?

I went to the China Construction Bank in Xiamen. Why this bank in China? I was told by my bank, Bank of America, to do business with the China Construction Bank because these two banks have created some kind of partnership in their banking business. In fact, China Construction Bank has an office in New York City!

So that is why I went to the China Construction Bank in the campus of Xiamen University. Because I wanted to transfer some money to another country (China to USA), I was told to go to the bank where I first established my account, not to a branch somewhere! I needed to transfer 5,000 American dollars—USD—to Chen Chao for his economics class.

And here is the first shock when a female bank teller told me, “You are a foreigner and the laws in China only allow you to send 500 American dollars per transaction per day.” That means as a foreigner, in order for me to send 5000 USD to Chen Chao, I would have to visit the bank ten times!

Ridiculous, fucking ridiculous, I said losing my breath and my anger! Fucking insane, I cried! Benny, a senior student at Xiamen University, was with me and he tried to calm me down. Fucking crazy!

And the female bank teller could not understand what the shit was going on with me! I was going insane! And then she tried to console me by saying “You could ask a Chinese citizen in China to help you…”


“You could ask a Chinese citizen in China to help you,” she said calmly and softly to me. It was like throwing a bucket of ice water on me! To cool me down! She continued matter-of-factly, “A Chinese citizen could send any amount to America because he is a Chinese citizen.”

I wanted to apply for Chinese citizenship right away but you need a few million yuan to do that! Hm! Forget the shit! Just listen to her preaching!

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I was told as a Chinese citizen you are entitled to send 50,000 USD per year. Yes, the same privilege for foreigners like me, but I can only send 500 USD per day. You figure it out how long it would take me to send 50,000 USD to USA!!!

Shit! I was pissed as hell! My grandpa is buried in Fuqing, a city in Fujian Province. That does not count. I hold an American Passport! That counts!

How fucking stupid, I said to myself. Benny Zhang was standing there watching the whole episode like a TV show! Benny majors in political science. Silently he went back to his dormitory to get his ID so he could open a bank account to help me with this shit! He could transfer 5,000 USD to America without any problem.

A small simple transaction to transfer this cash to USA took forever. I got lucky because most students, who use the bank, were at lunch and only a few had returned to the campus after the Chinese New Year. So I got all the attention from four bank workers: the receptionist who seems to know all the paperwork involved in the transfer; the main star of the show, the female bank teller who spoke no English whatsoever; and two male bank workers.

Somehow I learned or suspected or was told by Chinese that most workers would avoid the BLAME for any mistakes they might make, so the best way to deal with it is to get others in the company involved in doing certain things or making certain decisions…so all have to be fired if something goes terribly wrong. I saw this behavior happening today before my very eyes…the main bank teller would consult and talk to other bank colleagues…and seemed unable or unwilling to make the final decisions on what she was supposed to do for us! I witnessed this behavior time and time again…before. So it took forever for a simple bank transaction. Team work? Not exactly but more to seek the help and approval of others working in the bank! This IS China! The title of my new book I am working on!

Chen Chao was able to send me earlier all the details required by the Chinese Bank to process this transaction. Benny is a true friend and a gentleman. He opened a passbook account because a bank card would cost 10 yuan! Whereas a passbook account is free! Aha! A frugal student! And with that account I was able to transfer over 30,000 yuan to his account plus 200 yuan transaction fee and additional 500 yuan, just in case.

At one point during the process, the bank teller showed some numbers and I froze for a second thinking I had no money in my Chinese bank account. I misread the information or I misunderstood her. That matter was soon settled when I found out I

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had more than enough money to send 5,000 USD to Chen Chao in America.

Chen Chao’s parents are ordinary Chinese farmers eking out a living growing and selling vegetables in the market but they have focused their lives on providing their only child with the best education in China.

“When I was in a primary school in China, I was the only student in the class whose parents are farmers. This is a prestigious primary school. I was a very outstanding student and so I was given scholarships to study there. One day the teacher asked us students to write down our home phone number…phone number? My parents are farmers. We are not rich people like all the other kids in my class. So I confessed and told my teacher that we did not have a phone in our house. The teacher was kind to me and told me to find a neighbor who might allow my parents to use their phone number. I repeated the story to my mother. When she heard this she immediately told me not to worry, and that she would get a phone the next day.

“My parents did not want me to feel sad about this, about the fact I did not come from a rich family. My parents always want the best for me…I will never forget this, what my mother did for me.”

When Chen Chao was in junior high school, he came home one day with a score (or mark) of less than 90, he told me. And his mother made him kneel down on bare ground as a kind of punishment for not doing well in his studies. From that day on, Chen Chao said, he would always bring home grades of more than 90! And he attributes his academic achievements and successes today to his devoted parents, who would send his son only to the best secondary school in China.

“You know my parents were not interested in buying a new house to live in or to spend money on material things. To be honest I have relatives, close to my family, who spent money and money on buying things and new houses but paid very little attention to their children’s schooling. To be honest none of their children has college education. My parents were different. They somehow knew that with good education, I could have a better life in the future. And that is why they paid a lot of attention to me from primary to high school and now to my studies in America.”

What did I really learn from Chen Chao about his parents? Despite the fact they had never finished public school education, to me as a college professor, what his mom did speaks volumes about her understanding of “child psychology” and how best to motivate her son to be the best he can be: loving, understanding, intuitive, supportive parents. That is what I admired about his “uneducated” parents.

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This is a note from Chen Chao before the bank transaction took place in China, February 2, 2012:

Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Even now I still cannot believe that my dream has come true. I could not imagine one day I can study economics in one of the best universities in the world. I firmly believe my life will be changed because of the decision you made. I will work hard and try my best to get accepted by the best PhD programs in economics. I know, in America, everything is possible. Trust me and I will never let you down.

Thank you so much.
Take care.
Love you.

Hi Steve. I just checked my account and I have received your money. It is 5,000 dollars. Thank you so much for your kind support. I really appreciate it. I will use the money to register an economics course “econometric” and try my best to excel in the class. Also, I will pay you back all the money after my graduation. Also Chen Long, my best friend at Xiamen University, will also provide 5,000 dollars for another course. He said he was encouraged by you and he felt very happy to do this with you. Ly, Chen Chao.

I have often said this to students I have helped since coming to China. I am not Bill Gates with money to throw away. But I do what I do with my limited resources. Real happiness is shared happiness! It is something you do! You cannot buy happiness! Real happiness is within you, knowing you have made this world a better place for yourself and others around you! Real happiness is shared happiness! In my philosophy and my thinking, a gift is a gift! There should not be an attachment to it! So I need to remind Chen Chao once again my true feelings about what the word “gift” means to me! I have also said many times: if you borrow 10 yuan from me, you better pay it back to me, or I will hunt you down…I will chase after you for that 10 yuan. It is the principle about borrowing money from others…now you know my thinking and who I am! Keep your dream alive! Everything is possible!

Now fast forward to 2015.

Dear Steve,

It has been a year since I left school in summer 2014 and started doing a full-time

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job. Although I have gone through lots of difficulties in the past year, I wish I could slow down. Why? Because I want to have more time to earn the money I desperately need to pursue my dream.

As you may remember, last year I applied to a dozen of economics Ph.D programs in US and was lucky to get accepted by Brown University, one of the best universities in this country. However, due to my lack of economics training in my undergraduate study in China, I was not awarded fellowship for the first year of economics Ph.D study. It means that I had to pay full tuition (more than 50,000 dollars) if I wanted to enter the Ph.D program. But after the first year of study, I would receive full funding from the University in the coming four years.

Pursuing a Ph.D in economics has been my dream since I was in high school in China. Due to a number of reasons that you have been familiar with, I was not able to study economics in the college where I was admitted. But I had never forgotten my dream. After I came to US for my graduate study in computer science, with the generous help from you and my friends, I was able to start taking one or two economics courses each semester. I immersed myself into the world of modern economics and my determination to earn a Ph.D in economics just grew stronger and stronger. I felt deep down in my heart that I was destined to pursue my dream in economics. This strong belief inspired me and encouraged me in the face of adversity.

It was great news that I was accepted to one of the best economics Ph.D programs in the world, despite my financial hardship. I did not have the resources to put myself through the first year of the Ph.D program. After consulting with you and discussing at length all the possibilities, I decided to leave school for a year and try to earn the funding. I knew that I might not have the funding after a year, but I did not have any other options. I had to take a chance.

One year goes by quickly and I have not been able to earn enough money I need for my Ph.D study, which will officially begin in three months. I do not know what will happen. Will I enter the program as I have been dreaming for years? Or will I just accept the destiny that I am nobody from nowhere and will remain nobody the rest of my life? I do not know. I do not know. I am trying not to think about it too much. I know that I have been fiercely fighting like a warrior. But not all warriors will eventually win the war. I am doing my best and hoping for the best. That is life. As you have always told me, nothing is forever and seize the day.

Carpe diem.

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Love you as always,
Chen Chao

In one of our conversations I also advised Chen Chao to share his story with a few of his co-workers, the ones who might be able to do something, however small, for him when he finished work officially before he returns to Brown University to start his PhD program. And he wrote this simple email to three colleagues he trusted:

Hi Bob, James and Greg:

As you have noticed, I have been in low spirits for a period of time. I want to share with you guys my personal experience.

Last year I was admitted to an economics PhD program at Brown University without first year funding. That means that I have to pay tuition and living expenses by myself for my first year’s study in the PhD program. After the first year, I will receive full funding from Brown. The full funding includes tuition, health insurance and monthly stipend of $2000. I did not have the resources to start my PhD study, so I took one year leave from school and started working diligently in our company, hoping to find a way to earn the money needed for my first year study in the PhD program. After I decided to take one-year leave, the director of graduate study in the economics department promised me that they would try to find me a teaching assistant job for me so that I can earn a couple of hundred dollars each month. The job is important to me as it would cover some of my living expenses. But last month I was told by the secretary in the department that there is no job available this year. Apparently they forgot that they admitted me and promised to give me a job. I am so sad about this. I was hoping that the teaching assistant job would at least help a bit with my dire financial situation. But now it looks like the job is gone and my future looks grim. I am trying all I can to find any help. I really do not want to give up my dream of getting a PhD in economics after all that I have suffered in my life. I hope you can understand me.

When I told him that he could always return to Xiamen University, his alma mater, to pursue his PhD degree in economics, he said this to me: “Why go for the second best when you can have the best economic education at Brown University, one of the best ivy-league schools in the United States? He is a very special bonsai kid, who continues to believe everything is within reach up the social and academic ladder.

This is China.

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