24 Questions

This week the Beijing 2008 Olympics-Paralympics period ended, and my
former employer, Lehman Brothers, filed for bankruptcy.  The
historical implications of these two events will no doubt be written
up in history books — but they are topics for a separate

More importantly, when I look over the top of the newspapers, I see a
lot of you going through significant personal change right now, in
jobs, geography, love and life.  So here are 24 questions which I once
drummed up for a friend who was trying to figure out what to do next
as well.  Thought it might be helpful:
24 Questions

1) What will I regret not doing right now?
2) What can I only do now and no other time?
3) A well-respected investor once said his secret to success was
following a simple rule: “when something is working, do more of it;
when it stops working, stop.”  So: is this working?
4) Where have you been where you liked yourself the most?  Where you
liked who [your name here] represented?
5) What would you do for fun; what do you get sucked into?
6) What opportunities have crossed your path that you have overlooked
in the past few months?
7) Who are you mentors?
8) A friend once said, “Liz, my goal in life is to be an interesting
person.”  Is being interesting important to you?
9) Are achievements important to you? (Honestly, now…)
10) Whom do you love?
11) Who brings out the best in you?
12) When things or people felt wrong in the past, or feel wrong now,
what about it feels wrong?
13) Are you ambitious?
14) Do you care what other people think about you?
15) If so, whose opinion do you care about, and how can you please them?
16) What skills or talents do you have that you would definitely want
to use in whatever job etc you’d be doing next?
17) What skills and talents do you wish you could develop?
18) What jobs etc use and develop those skills/talents?
19) Do you want to make money?
20) How much? Yes, in dollars (or renminbi, pounds or whatever)
21) Whom do you admire?  What about that person do you admire?
22) How did that person (or I guess people) get to where they are,
become the people they became?
23) What are you favorite foods?  (I’m serious, I simply couldn’t live
in a place without ready access to bananas.)
24) Do you want to settle down, or uproot? (Actually maybe that’s the
first question to ask?)

Safe travels, and drop me a line to let me know how and where you are.

Yours, Liz


Today we are all Sichuan people

Being here in China, now in the aftershock of the May 12 earthquake, has shown me proof that human beings are fundamentally good.  I have been floored by the outpouring, from my friends, my colleagues, my clients, of a compassionate and sincere desire to help in whatever way possible.
Whenever news of the earthquake has come on public TVs in Beijing, people gather round to watch — stopping mid-step in shopping malls, huddling together around the monitors on the bus.  Jo Kent has done a brilliant job in describing the tremendous generosity that Chinese people themselves have had, so just take a second to read her article here.   
As Jo notes, the Red Cross is one of the organizations tasked with disaster relief.  Another friend who studied with me in Chengdu in 2006 has done some digging and recommends donating through their international website at http://donate.ifrc.org/.

There’s much more to say, and much that has been said better by others, so I’ll stop here.  I just wanted to let you know how to donate, and give you a hint of how much people here have come together around this tragedy.  There’s a palatable sense of compassion, perseverance and hope — one I remember feeling in New York City in the days just after 9/11.
Stay well,

Leaving Pandaland

I think I realized it was time to leave Chengdu when the oranges went
up in price by 30%, to almost $0.15/lb. You see, juzi are the world’s
most amazing oranges, and yet I had been taking them for granted as
they are available on every street corner, back of cart, outdoor
market, and supermarket. Friends bring them by the bucket as a
friendly gift. They are everything you could want in an orange:
sweet but not saccharine, juicy but not messy, their skin peels off of
its own accord with just a mere suggestion from your eager finger
tips, and best of all, in the whole juzi there is usually only pit.

But one day a few weeks ago, I hit the market and they went up
dramatically in price, like an MTA subway fare hike, from 1 kuai to
1.3 kuai. When I asked for why, the woman told me simply, “Juzi
season will soon be over.”

My life in Chengdu has been really good so far — the right balance of
challenging and interesting and effortless and fun. It has become my
home. And yet, standing in the market with seemingly outrageously
priced (10 cent/pound) juzi in my hand, I realized that sometimes even
good things come to an end. Seasons change. It’s time to move on.

So the plan now is to head to Beijing for another semester, to
continue study Chinese and look for a part time job in the clean
energy sector. My first impression of China — the pollution — has
become an enduring one, and a problem I feel passionate about. The
ever-grey skies over China’s cities isn’t a joke; Chengdu makes L.A.
look clean, and it’s not even the worst. You can’t ignore pollution
in China, not when it gives many people chronic coughs, turns a blue
sky into a murky grey/yellow puddle, and obscures the sun. I have to
wash the leaves off my plant twice a week so it won’t be covered by

And of course, it’s pretty clear that the US and China are on a
collision course, hustling after the world’s energy resources.
There’s no silver bullet for these problems, but I would love to be
involved in cooperation between the two of them as they put their
mutual resources and talent behind the problem.

Then lastly, you see how much energy improves lives when it’s not
virtually free like water. How people don’t run heaters in the winter
because they can’t afford the electricity, or have elevators.

(On a related note, I continue to realize how incredibly wasteful
America is of electricity; do you know almost no one outside the
great old US really uses clothing dryers? And that there are these
very energy efficient things called hot water bottles that you can
fill with boiling water and carry with you or throw under your sheets
to keep you warm, instead of turning up the heat?)

So in order to pursue clean energy as a field, I am going to take the
good advice I’ve gotten to head to Beijing. The plan is to return
next summer to New York and get a job related to China/clean energy,
so in the meantime, I have to figure out what I need to do to get
there. Chinese language skill is high on the list, so I will be
enrolling in a third semester of Chinese there. I am also looking for
an internship, and just advice from people knowledgeable in the field.
(If you know anyone in China, Beijing or elsewhere, interested in
this question, I’d be thrilled to chat.) I’ll be able to send you
something more thoughtful later, but that’s where I am for now.

In the next two months, I’ll be circumnavigating China one or two
times. Something like Shanghai to Hainan to Chongqing to the Three
Gorges Dam to Xi’an to Qingdao (Tsingdao) to Beijing to Harbin
(perhaps) to Beijing to Shanghai to Hong Kong to Chengdu to Beijing.
But I will always seek out those beacons of connectivity and video
gaming– the Internet bar.

I leave Chengdu this afternoon, and will miss it dearly. The friends
I’ve made, the streets I’ll diligently learned the names of, the foods
that are only authentically available here, and of course, the pandas.

Happy New Year!

Baby Panda-ring

Okay, so blogs have come up in conversation and media a bunch of times. You have heard of them in the context of some great social transformation, liberalization of the media and what-not, quoting how many people are blogging. But I’ve been hearing that Chinese yout’ are actually writing about hardly suggests some radical departure in China’s future. They are writing about their feelings (“I’m sad today”), relationships (“I just started dating this guy! He’s just so-so”), what music they like (“wow this song is even sappier than their last hit! xoxoxo”)…. you get the idea.

To find out if this hearsay is true I checked out myspace myself. And came across Continue reading

An American in Chengdu

To care or not to care

So yesterday, I’m showing my Chinese friend some NYT headlines I get daily in my inbox, specifically “Rice Criticizes Russia’s Limits on News Media” which I would guess is about Putin’s increasing clamp-down on freedom of the press. So my friend asks, “Why is the US always so interested in what is going on inside other countries?” She argued that the US doesn’t really have any right to tell China what to think about human rights, for instance.

So yesterday, I’m showing my Chinese friend some NYT headlines I get daily in my inbox, specifically “” which I would guess is about Putin’s increasing clamp-down on freedom of the press. So my friend asks, “Why is the US always so interested in what is going on inside other countries?” She argued that the US doesn’t really have any right to tell China what to think about human rights, for instance.Then today, a classmate from Dominica (a small island in the Caribbean) started talking about a recent US gambling law which outlaws Americans from betting on off-shore sites — apparently one of Dominica’s large sources of revenues. “Jobs in Dominica were lost because of that law,” he criticized. “Why doesn’t America care what happens inside our country?” Continue reading

How do you give snakes feet?

Both yesterday in reading class and today in speaking class we coincidentally learned about a four word Chinese saying (hua1 she2 tian1 zu2) which translates to “drawing feet on a snake.” The story is about a drawing competition, where the competitor who draws the snake the fastest gets a nice bottle of booze. One guy draws the snake really quickly, but Continue reading

The South China Sees

Back in Chengdu. And one thing hits you on the head: that China is definitely becoming buddy-buddy with Africa. Read the papers or watch Chinese TV, and you’ll see China and Africa are getting really close. (For instance this article from the People’s Daily.)

Indeed, it seems China is aligning itself with whatever countries the US isn’t involved in Continue reading

The Half of It – Liangshan (Southern Sichuan Province)

My passport has three stamps — Australia, Hong Kong, China — but I’ve been to far many more countries in the past two months.

My main mission in coming to China was to understand China. And in these Aabservations, I’ve made a series of vast generalizations, stereotypes as it were, about what China is and isn’t. But to make one more generalization, China isn’t 1 country, and I’m not talking about the Taiwan issue. Even within Chengdu, people live tremendously different lives. Get out a bit, take a train overnight and jump on a bus for three or four hours, and you end up in a different world entirely.

The weekend before I left for Australia I visited my friend Ben down in Liangshan. Continue reading

Culture Slide

I decided to make use of slow bus rides to learn American history.

It’s embarrassing that my Chinese friends know more about American  history than I do, and to make it worse, that I also know almost   nothing about Chinese history.  Indeed, I didn’t know who Mao was  until I was well into college, and just learned since being here that   Japan actually occupied China substantially last century.  I really  don’t know how I missed that, but geez there’s a lot of history that’s   pretty darn relevant for what’s going on nowadays that I still don’t  know.    

But I’m not alone:  Americans tend to have a really short attention   span and a crappy sense of history. (Read Neil Postman’s Amusing  Ourselves to Death, seriously good book. And it’s short, in case your   attention span is also short.)  China seems to have a really long  attention span and they care a lot about their history.  But now the paradigm is changing, it seems.  Where stability and   continuity mattered before, progress and evolution seems to be  mattering now.  

Continue reading

Shooting for the Starbucks

In a moment of weakness, I went to one of Chengdu’s 4 Starbucks for a latte.

One of the workers came over so my classmate and I spoke to her for an hour or so (in broken Chinese) about her life story. Basically, she was born in Sichuan, the province I live in. After high school she moved to work in a factory in Shenzhen. Shenzhen, the Chinese city opposite Hong Kong, has blossomed from (literally) a few hundred person fishing village to a major industrial center since the Hong Kong turned Chinese in 1997. She worked in the factory for just 1 month, living in a dorm provided by the company, and quit. Why?, I asked. “Bu hao,” she said, shaking her head and waving her hands. “Not good, not good.”

Then her friend introduced her to a job at Starbucks Shenzhen, which was better.

Continue reading