New Years Resolutions?

Posted on December 31st, by matt_schiavenza in Personal. No Comments

As a resolutely secular, rational person, you’d think I wouldn’t attach much significance to turns in the calendar.  But then again, I’ve always found the prospect of a new year quite interesting and exciting, stemming perhaps from my eternal fascination with years and history.  As a result, I’m a sucker for making New Years Resolutions.

So what are mine for 2006?

1. Re-dedicate myself to studying Chinese.  My effort in this respect has waned recently, partially due to an increased workload and partially due to my own lapses. I pay too much money to neglect it so much, even if I am improving by just being here.

2. Live a healthier lifestyle.  Exercise, less Western food, more sleep.  The usual.

3. Get Out More.  More trips to parks, more fresh air, less time cooped up here.

4. Take More Photographs.  I should start bringing my camera with me whenever I go out.

5. Spend Less Time on the Internet.   Riiiiiiiiight.

What are yours?…

2005 On The Way Out

Posted on December 28th, by matt_schiavenza in Personal. No Comments

If I were a superstitious man, then I’d probably wait until New Years Eve to publish my little personal recap of 2005.  But self described atheists and agnostics can’t also be superstitious, can they?  They would then be….hypocrites!  Or whatever.

Anyway, I’ve spent eleven months of this year on the vast continent of Asia, nine and a half in China, one in Thailand, and a couple of weeks in Japan.  I also spent a month back home in California visiting my fam and friends.

I started the year back in Lianyungang, still unsure of my plans for the coming year, completely inept in the Chinese language, and nursing a hangover that would wipe out the first few days of the New Year completely.

Now, I’m several hundred miles south in Fuzhou, again unsure of my plans in the coming year, only slightly inept in the Chinese language, and since New Years Day hasn’t arrived yet I am still unaware what sort of hangover shall greet me.

(Aren’t my parents so proud?)

Self-deprecation aside, I have actually enjoyed quite a good year.  I was able to visit Thailand and Japan for the first time.  I was able to come home for a month and see my family and friends after long absences.  I learned quite a bit of Chinese, first thanks to tutor Polly and then to tutor Lisa.  I moved to a new city, met new friends, and learned quite a bit more about China.  I read several great books, watched several good movies, ate lots of good food, and listened to many great albums.

As for the world itself, perhaps 2005 wasn’t so hot.  My country’s soldiers are still dying in Iraq, with no end in sight.  The great city of New Orleans was badly damaged in a hurricane.  The year began just a week after a tsunami killed hundreds of thousands of people in Asia..

But the calendars continue to turn and before long, we’ll have a new year upon us.  Best wishes from NBNL staff.…

Vincent Schiavelli Dead

Posted on December 27th, by matt_schiavenza in Pop Culture. 1 Comment

There aren’t a lot of famous people out there who share the first seven letters of my last name, so when one of them dies I can’t help but note the occasion.  Alas, Vincent Schiavelli, a longtime character actor, has passed away from lung cancer at the age of 57.

Schiavelli is one of those actors whose name you probably don’t recognize but whose face you instantly will.  He had a droopy sort of expression, and as Yahoo! notes, was usually cast as an eccentric or creep.  He’s probably best remembered as the character in Ghost who roamed the subways and taught Patrick Swayze’s Sam to use his inner qi and physically connect with the world.

It turns out Vince was quite an interesting fellow, as well.  He directed a play in Italy, wrote three cookbooks, and will be buried in a small town in Sicily from where his grandfather left to move to America.


PS- Just sitting here, I suppose I could have commented more on the infamous Terri Schiavo case, as her death was quite a story some months ago.  But I can now say with utter certainty that I avoided her story for Schiavo shares only the first six letters of my name, not seven.  Ha!…

Scratching My Head

Posted on December 25th, by matt_schiavenza in Politics. No Comments

Can’t resist one political comment on Christmas Day.  I’ve always wondered why the Right holds al-Jazeera in such low esteem.  After all, if we invaded Iraq to install a democracy in the Arab world, and one of the prerequesites of a functioning democracy is a free press, then why on earth should we denigrate the one popular media outlet that is actually reasonably free, balanced, and fair?

I see (via Kevin Drum) that others share this opinion.…

Christmas Wishes

Posted on December 24th, by matt_schiavenza in Personal. 1 Comment

Today is Christmas Eve…. a very important holiday for Scandinavians everywhere…..God Jul!

And if I don’t make it to the computer tomorrow, I’d like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a thank you for reading NBNL.



Posted on December 19th, by matt_schiavenza in Personal. No Comments

My posting has become more sporadic lately- apologizes from NBNL staff.  Lots of things both personally and professionally have converged in the last week and I don’t expect anything to let up until the second week of the new year. 

Since the end of the semester is fast approaching, we’ve been busy photocopying, planning, faxing, allocating, delegating, and doing a lot of other things to prepare our students for their final exams.  Also, we’ve got a planned holiday to Wuyi Mountain in northern Fujian Province over new year’s weekend.  Then, there’s Southeast Asia- I hope to buy my airline ticket tomorrow or the next day and am planning to leave by the 11th of January.

Needless to say, I’m excited by my upcoming travels.  This site purports itself as a travel blog and I have done far too little traveling lately to justify its title. I’m glad that’s going to change.…

Good China Op-Ed

Posted on December 19th, by matt_schiavenza in China. No Comments

Sam Crane has penned a provocative op-ed in The Los Angeles Times, articulating just how powerless poor, rural Chinese people truly are. (link via China Digital Times)

It’s a sad irony that in a country called The People’s Republic of China, the people have no rights at all.  I do hope, optimistically perhaps, that China’s rise to superpower status will be peaceful.  After awhile, the government might realize that its prized "stability" can best be attained through political reforms.

Theroux Weighs In

Posted on December 19th, by matt_schiavenza in Ideas. 1 Comment

Paul Theroux, one of my favorite authors, has written an interesting op-ed in The New York Times that challenges the commonly-held notion that Africa needs a massive infusion of foreign aid to prosper.  Theroux points out that what ails Africa most is the alarming tendency of its elite to flee to wealthier countries, depriving their homelands of trained doctors and intellectuals.

I’m still not sold on this matter, and I was somewhat intrigued by Jeffrey Sachs’ The End of Poverty, which basically argues the opposite.  I think for now I’ll just stand by my initial take: if Western countries can afford it, then why not give Sachs’ idea a try?  In other words, if aid truly doesn’t work, shouldn’t we at least give a satisfactory amount of it before coming to that conclusion?…

A Chinese Story

Posted on December 15th, by matt_schiavenza in China. 1 Comment

The other night I went to a new bar to hear my friend, Ben, play Grateful Dead songs in front of a live audience.  His lovely girlfriend Melody and I were having a chat about traveling.  When we first met, she told me that she was planning a trip to Europe for next summer.  My interest was piqued not only because I love traveling in Europe, but also because foreign travel is quite rare for young Chinese people.

So the other night, she said that we should get together sometime and talk about her trip.  I said I’d be delighted.  I did ask her why she was interested in going.

"To see my parents."
"Why do your parents live in Europe?"
"It’s a little embarrassing."

So this is what she told me:

"After I was born, my parents wanted to have a male child because boys have much more value in Chinese society.  Due to the one-child policy, they were forbidden from doing so, and they decided to move to Europe.

They moved to Holland and had two more children, a son and a daughter.  I was raised by my relatives here in Fujian Province.  They have written a few times but showed little interest in me.  When I was a teenager I was very bitter and angry at them but nowadays I’ve become indifferent.  I don’t really care anymore.

A couple of years ago, they got divorced and my dad moved to Italy.  My mom stayed in Holland with the two kids.  I have spoken to my sister and brother on the phone, but their Chinese isn’t very good.  They speak Dutch at home."

I was quite moved by this story and asked her if her trip to Europe was intended as a quest for reconciliation with her mom and dad.  She said:

"Not really.  I’m not even telling them I’m coming.  I just want to…..see them.  See what their lives are like.  Meet my brother and sister.  My plan is to show up (in Rotterdam and in Venice) and find them."

So there you have it.  Most people in their early 20s travel to find themselves and have a bit of fun before going back to school or work.  Melody’s trip has an added dimension- she has left to find her misplaced family- parents who decided their life with her in China wasn’t worth living and fled far, far away.…

Teaching as Competition

Posted on December 15th, by matt_schiavenza in Teaching. 2 comments

At last week’s English Corner, I was chatting with a Chinese English teacher when she suddenly asked me if I share teaching ideas with my colleagues.  I was a bit taken aback by her question, so I blurted out, "Of course" and remarked that several of my best lessons came directly from ideas given to me by my colleagues.

She said that in China, teachers are loath to give each other advice for they’re afraid that one of their colleagues might "do better" than them. 

I replied that I found that awful and imagined that such a situation wouldn’t lead to the most jovial office environment.  She then suggested that a teacher might give another bad advice on purpose just to sabotage their lessons.

I looked for a glint in her eye to indicate that she was joking, but I found none.  She was quite serious.

Teaching, of almost any other profession I can think of, is not a zero-sum game.  Each teacher has his own particular strengths and weaknesses, and I’ve always been amazed at how helpful pedagogic advice can be.  I’ve often been at my wit’s end with something or another and have been rescued by sane, practical advice I hadn’t even thought of. 

It’s gratifying, also, when you suggest something to a colleague and it works.

Sigh….China.  The system so often seems set up to strip away the joy in everything.  …