My modeling/acting career in the Philippines

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I’m writing this on the flight back from my three months endeavor to become a model/actor in the Philippines. Here I want to write about my experience.

For the longest time, my brother and I have heard from other Filipino family and friends that we were good looking and that we could become ‘Sikat’, popular. We would hear, “If you went back to the Philippines, then you could become ‘artista'”, or an actor. For the most part we appreciated the compliment but left it at that for many years. It wasn’t until I was not attending school and I was considering interesting experiences I wanted to try, did I finally decide to take the leap and try to become an actor in the Philippines.

The conversation with my mom started with me telling her my plans to return to college in the Fall after taking a year off after my sophomore year. This was around the end of May and during the Summer months of the Philippines. She was planning to go to the Philippines anyways for my Grandmother’s 70th birthday, so she asked me if I wanted to go. Lastly, off the cuff and casually she suggested that could also try becoming an actor while we’re there and she would help.

When such suggestions are made I typically ask myself, “Why not?” I’ve been told that I could make it for a good part of my life. I had nothing locking me down to being in the States until school starts in September. It sounded like an unique experience to say the least. Best to take chances and risks while you’re young and without too much responsibility. All of these thoughts eventually brought me to say yes.

May 24, 2014, I arrived at Ninoy Aquino International Airport. The week I arrived consisted of seeing family and hanging out with the family. While we were catching up with family, my mom and I talked about how I came to the Philippines to try to become a model/actor. Once they knew, they supportively told me about people and places I should talk and go to. An uncle I only just met, though I was told otherwise, told me co-founded a talent agency in the Philippines and knew a lot about the entertainment industry. He gave me a few contacts I should try to get in contact with.

The contact’s name was Patricia AKA ‘Pat’. My uncle describe her as a socialite. She supposedly hanged out with people in the industry and could provide introductions. We started messaging, and she asked for a “set card”. I had to good what a set card was and create one in Photoshop. [SET CARD]

We tried to setup a lunch with one of her director friends, but the scheduling didn’t work out. Despite her being quite responsive and promising via messages, nothing really came from talking to her. A dead end.

At the same time I was messaging Pat, I followed up with a someone my aunt knew. This person, Jane, knew talent agencies in Manila and even had her daughter in appear a few times on TV and in print ads. She was willing to bring us around and show us the agencies to register at. These agencies included Discovery and ModelShop. Discovery ended up being another dead end, but ModelShop ended up being one of the three agencies that messaged me the most with new castings.

When my mom, Jane, and I arrived at ModelShop we got out of the elevator around the 30th floor of a tall building right in the middle of hot and humid Makati. I had a white t-shirt on, but a yellow sweater in my hand. This was my first time visiting an agency, so I nervously rushed to the the bathroom to change before anyone saw me in my street clothes. I really had nothing to worry about since I eventually realized this agency wasn’t as good as Jane brought me to believe. Nonetheless, I got dressed and filled out the necessary paper work to register my contact info and bio data. Then I was off to the shooting room for my first VTR, Video Tape Recording.

The VTR is the most fundamental thing every talent has to do for each casting. It is the only thing they really judge you own to begin with. So what is a VTR? [VTR VIDEO]

Please follow the following: 1. Your name, age, and height? 2. Any previous commercials or acting experience? 3. Any sports or hobbies? 4. Please turn to the right, turn towards the camera, and smile. 5. Please turn to the left, turn towards the camera, and smile. 6. Face front 7. Facial expressions. Please make the facial expression for each word I say while saying “Yes” 1. Happy 2. Sad 3. Surprised 4. Scared 5. Thinking 6. Worried 7. Super Happy 8. Thank you.

This whole process typically takes less than a minute to complete depending if the caster has extra things for you to do, in which case it is a good sign that they might like you. When I said this is the fundamental thing you’d do for castings, I meant it. You don’t only do this for filings agencies but for every single casting you’d do.

Some VTRs or Go-Sees vary on what they want you to do. Sometimes there’s fun and memorable VTRs. I remember one where you had to pretend that the camera was your crush and you needed to do cute things towards the camera. Another casting had me drink coffee with an expression of it tasting great. I specifically remember this one because the room was so cold. It was serious cold. I think they actually put the air conditioning on the highest they could in order to have all the talents actually cold for when it was their turn to drink the coffee. I felt sorry for the girls in their dresses.

I am not sure how I got this far into this post and I haven’t mentioned the girls. As you can imagine the girls you’d see at VTRs are attractive. Even though we were in the Philippines, there were some from Brazil, France, and other parts of the world. I joked with my brother that if I wanted to find an attractive girlfriend, then I knew were to go. Although my type isn’t Filipinas, I actually found a few I was attracted to. This all being said, after being surround by attractive people for a while, it becomes the norm. Not to say the girls were less attractive, but the effect you get lessens.

After doing a filing with ModelShop, I also filed with Reco and Monaco. These three were the agencies that I got casting texts from the most frequently. The way you find out about castings was through text messages. You would just wait for a text with a time, place, and any special requirements like type of clothing. The interval between VTRs spanned somewhere between a day and a week or so. I’ve had it where there were multiple VTRs in a day that took up the whole day.

The VTRs take up the whole day because of the waiting. For anyone interested in doing the model/acting route, I definitely recommend going earlier. If the text says you have a VTR between 1pm – 5pm, then get there a little before 1pm. Not only would you get done quicker, but it also has the effect of you staying in the mind of a caster longer. [Reference to casting tips about getting there early]

The combination of both the wait and the doing the same exact VTR was so annoying I actually consider creating a SaaS, Software as a Service, online web app to streamline the whole process for both the talents going to the castings and the casters selecting which talents they want in the commercial. This is one of those startup ideas I wish was out in the world but not so much that I want to actually build it, thus I’m writing it here for anyone to execute on. You’re welcome.

The core inefficiency in the casting of talents for commercials etc are the agencies. The agencies receives 30% of the the project’s payment for representing a talent. The agencies justifies this 30% because of their overhead in finding more opportunities for their talents. Since I did not sign a contract with any agency, although I was offered two contracts with one including a free gym membership at Gold’s Gym, I was technically a freelancer for three modeling agencies. Sometimes the agencies would send the same exact message with the same details on when and where to go. The only difference would be the name they attached to the bottom. So obviously they all had similar sources but wanted to “brand” the message so they get the proper credit for when a talent is selected. If only a talent had access to these “White-label” castings, then a talent would not need to share that 30%. Aside from finding opportunities for a talent, an agency can also help with career advice. This advice would have some bias of course.

Another inefficiency I alluded to earlier was the wait and the VTR itself. Depending on how many other people are also there and how early you get to the venue, the typical wait can be anywhere from 30 minutes to as much as 5 hours… After the wait you’d be asked to do the same exact thing you are always asked to. There are exceptions, but the base VTR stays the same. The way to solve this is to have each talent have a profile page with a video doing the normal VTR. It’s really that simple. The internet has had profile pages since the day of Myspace.

After you create a profile page, you open up models/talents to be messaged with more opportunities directly. That means the talents get more of the project’s fees and spend less time waiting to do something repetitive. The casters benefit by having a larger pool of talents to pull from and at lower overhead. This has the potential to even lower how much a project’s budget is as well. Of course you can’t just allow any person on the internet message these people, there should be some sort of verification that the person/organization indeed has an real opportunity for work and is real.

This type of web app should sound familiar. It’s a marketplace. Like all marketplaces you have the chicken and the egg problem. Which side should you focus on? I would suggest focusing on the models as they are open to more work and a larger cut of the project’s budget. The companies and faster searching are fewer but are more frequent in their search for talent. The business model could be priority listings, ads, or transaction fees. This marketplace tries to eliminate the middleman, the agency.

There you go a startup idea that anyone can take and run with. I would love to hear if anybody actually does work on this or even if someone has critiques to give. Feedback welcome.

Back to the story about my career as a model/actor. By mid-June my brother had joined me in the Philippines to also pursue this whim, this dream, this notion of becoming an “artists”. We both enrolled in singing and acting classes. Our 14 singing classes were taught at Ryan Cayabyab School of Music in Ortigas. Our month-long acting class was taught at Actor Studio East in Cubau.

Part two some time in the future…

Reach out to at least 10 people a day

I was inspired by a blog post by Michael Thomas about dropping out of college and his experiences. We are of similar age, so we share many of the same thoughts. He talks about real world learning, startups, and the subject of this blog post, network. I quote:

When I was running SkyRocket my goal was to reach out to (email, phone or voicemail) at least 10 people every day. So over the course of the last 9 months I’ve “touched” over 2,700 people and probably met about 500-750 of those people. Some of these people are CEOs of top companies like HootSuite and Mobify, which has its obvious perks, and others are thought leaders who I get to learn from.

Continue reading

University Application Essay

I’ve been applying to transfer into a few universities lately, so I had to write an essay for these applications. The following is the essay I have been sending with these applications.

After I was hit by the reality of a disappointing high school grade point average, I sought to do better in university. Up until this point, I have succeeded in that goal by keeping a steady 3.7 university grade point average. This improvement from my high school GPA should be evidence of an improvement trend. Lately however, I have been questioning the motivation to go to university or even get a degree. Is a degree necessary to accomplish success in life? How is success, even defined? These thoughts have always been present in the recesses of my mind, but they were only recently pushed to the forefront. The catalyst of these questions was my exposure to the business startup culture. The location of this cultural shift can arguably be Silicon Valley in California. Silicon Valley is a place where an idea and execution is enough to start a business and a company. Somewhere it would be not surprising for someone from Stanford or any other university in the area, to go off to launch a startup. The common figures of this movement are Mark Zuckerburg, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs. Each founder dropped out of university to start something. People call these famous founders statistical outliers or lucky, but this does not dissuade me from considering the idea of dropping out of university.

I am the first generation to attend university within the United States. My parents grew up and attended university in the Philippines before moving to the States. My father received a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, and my mother received a degree to become a Doctor of Optometry. Years after graduating, my father joined the US Air Force. He now works as an information technology technician. My mother initially started her own optometry practice in the Philippines and later in the states. Circumstances changed when she found an opportunity to sell cars on the side. This side business quickly became more profitable, and she now owns a successful car dealership. Managing a car dealership may be a great deal of work, but she did not stop finding more business opportunities where she could. At the same time, she started to work on creating leads for local real estate companies. If the leads rented from the company, my mom would receive a commission. She also started a restaurant and worked as the cook to bring Filipino cooking to the local area. From my point of view, both my parents graduated with a degree but no longer need that degree to sustain their present lifestyles. My mom’s success is more amazing considering the challenges of being in a foreign country with no formal background in business. My family environment further deepens my consideration to drop out of university.

These business success stories lead me to consider what I am capable to do now. Now that I realize a disconnect between business success and a university education. When I am interested in a particular subject, I tend to fixate on the subject. My fixation grows in the form of reading and learning as much as I can. When I became interested in starting a startup, it was no different. I started to read known books on business. I listened to the online audio podcasts from successful entrepreneurs. Eventually, a common saying soon arose from these resources, “There are many good ideas, but these good ideas lack execution.” The first time I heard this was from a professor who had background working in business.  I was telling her of a business idea, when she told me this same saying. I felt as if she slapped me in the face. I thought she was rudely disregarding the idea that I thought was so great. It took me a few days to calm down and realize that her message was true. Ideas not put to action, are just ideas.

From that point on, I decided to reduce the amount of books and podcasts I was reading and listening to, and take action. So I took a year off to see what I could accomplish.

I didn’t have a technical background, so I looked into hiring a freelancer. The rates for a freelancer in the United States were way too high for me to afford, so I started to look for alternatives. My mom suggested the alternative I eventually chose. She suggested that I go back to the Philippines and find a freelancer willing to make the web app I wanted for cheap. This seemed like a good alternative, so I found a freelancer online who lived in the Philippines. I wasn’t sure about having the whole transaction based solely online, so I flew to the Philippines to meet with this freelancer. Once I arrived to meet with this freelancer, he told me he was unable to work on my project. He recommended a higher priced web development company he knew instead. Unable to afford the company, I was left in the Philippines without a real purpose.

I was a little distraught, but I made the decision to just learn to program and make it myself. Simpler said than done. With unfound confidence and motivation, I fixated on finding, reading, and practicing programming on my own through online resources. I am learning more each day to build on whatever idea I have. After going back home to Japan, I was fortunate to find and start a design internship at a startup back in Tokyo. After working closely with the startup founder, I learned that I liked working with other like-minded people. More specifically people building useful things for other people.

This is the biggest reason I am looking to re-enter university. I would like to move to a university that has like-minded people who are challenging themselves to build for others. Although I have taught myself to program, I intend to major in business. Given my mom’s businesses had surrounded me the majority of my life, I cannot see myself not majoring in business in university. Also with the world’s economy increasingly relying on technology, more people in business should have a deeper understanding of technology and its composition.

Kanji’s Arrival in Japan

Kanji’s arrival in Japan

Patrick Perey
Premodern East Asian History THIST 270
December 5, 2011

The arrival of Chinese characters was a significant milestone in the progression of Japanese history. Before its arrival, there was not a widespread writing system implemented in Japan. The writing system brought was called 漢字 (kanji); the character 漢 (kan) means China and 字 (ji) means character, when put together they literally means Chinese characters. The proximity between China and Japan help facilitate the transmission of the writing system.

Around the end of the Yayoi period, in the late fourth century, the Chinese writing system flowed into Japan. (1) Even though there were physical objects with kanji on them, early Japanese did not consciously know that they were a type of writing. (2) This lasted until the unification of China under the Sui and the introduction of Buddhism, when rulers realized the importance of literacy. (3)

They did not initially realized the importance themselves, however, but needed help from foreigners at the imperial court. In Japan’s two histories, Kojiki and Nihon shoki, four common points concerning the importation of writing into Japan were written; someone from Paekche came to the court of Japan and the Emperor Ojin hears about the advanced culture of this foreign state. The Emperor commands Paekche to send someone to the court, and Paekche obliges by sending someone named Wani; somehow another man from Paekche, named Atikisi, was involved in this exchange as well. (4)

Immigrants from the Korean peninsula moved and served in the Yamato imperial court; some immigrants came on the Emperor’s request and some came to move away from the warfare among the three kingdoms in Korea. Their roles ranged from aristocrats, philosophers, and scribes; these influential figures left works inscribed with Chinese characters. (5) The earliest examples of these were 150,000 wooden tablets similar to those found in Korea; inscribed on them were official documents, including directives to and reports by local officials, summonses, transit passes, and labels attached to tax goods. (6)

In Japan in Tenmei period’s fourth year or 1784, a golden stamp dating back 2000 years was discovered at Fukuoka on the island of Shikano. This golden stamp had engraved on it「漢倭奴国王印」 (kan no wa no na no koku o in) or the stamp of the king of the Japanese country of Na of Han. The origin of the golden stamp is written in 「後漢書東夷伝」(kou kan ho tou i den) the written history of Han; the Yamato’s Nakoku’s king sent tribute to Emperor Guangwu of Han, and received this golden stamp back in return. (7)

Five-hundred years later, the scribes of the Yamato court left traces of their work in sword inscriptions written with Chinese characters. (8) These swords were again discovered at sites like the「稲荷台一号」(ina ri dai) excavation site in present day Chiba prefecture Ichihara city; there, they found an iron sword with the characters 「王賜」(ou shimei); these two characters meant king and gift. They were engraved on objects given from the king to someone who had given their services to him. (9) In a separate coffin excavation site in present day Saitama prefecture Gyoda city, another iron sword was discovered with 115 characters, 57 characters in the front and 58 characters on the back of the blade. Before this discovery the most characters inscribed on a sword was thought to be 75 and 45 characters. (10)

Japan was then aware of the Chinese writing system, but the problem came with integrating the characters into the spoken language. The first problem they came across was using the writing system of the tonal and monosyllabic Chinese language and integrating it into the polysyllabic and grammatically different Japanese language. The second was using complex characters for syllables.

Fortunately for the Japanese, the Chinese already had a system for adapting the writing system. The system for reproducing the sound of foreign words by using Chinese Characters for their phonetic value alone (11). Initially this system was a useful and a previously successful system, however the spread of these characters throughout Japan resulted in different ways to read them; this still exist in present day Japan.

The character 行 has the readings [kou], [gyou], and [an]. 行動 and 銀行 uses the [kou] reading. 行状 and 修行 uses the reading [gyou]. 行脚 and 行灯 uses the reading [an]. The character 経 in 経験 is read as [kei], in 読経 as [kyou], and 看経 as [kin].

These numerous readings came during the same period that kanji came to Japan. The first type of reading that came to Japan with each character was 呉音 (go on) or the Wu-dynasty reading of Chinese characters. In the 呉音 (go on) reading, 行 is read as [gyou] and 経 is read as [kyou].

The second type of reading was brought after the Nara period; Japanese envoys and monks studied abroad in China’s China Tang metropolis and Changan during the Tang dynasty and brought back the 漢音 or chinese reading. (12) In the 漢音 (kan on) reading, 行 is read as [kou] and 経 as [kei]. Both 万葉仮名 (manyou gana) and the Kojiki were written in 呉音, but after the Nihon shoki, 漢音 came to use. (13)

A difference between the two were their origins. 呉音 (go on) came from its southern region, while 漢音 (kan on) came from China’s northern region. The biggest difference between the two, however, was that 呉音 (go on) was voiced, while 漢音 (kan on) was voiceless; the sounds ma and na were present in 呉音 (go on) but not in 漢音 (kan on). Instead, [ma] and [na] became the sounds [ba] and [da]; these are the two cases that 漢音 becomes voiced.

An example of this would be the character 「万」; in 一万 ,「万」 uses the 呉音 (go on) reading [man], but in 漢音 (kan on)「万」in the word 万歳 is read as [ban]. In the case of 万, it is read with the 呉音 (go on) when used in conjunction as some sort of numbered unit; the 漢音 (kan on) is generally used when the word means “many”.

Between the Heian and Edo periods, Zen Buddhism monks brought yet another type of reading to the Chinese characters; these readings were the 唐音 (tou on) or the T’ang readings of Chinese characters. This adds [an] as one more reading to the character 行 after the first two, [gyou] and [kou], and 経 adds [kin] to [kyou] and [kei]. These three readings, 呉音、漢音、and 唐音, encompasses what are today called the 音読み (on yomi) or chinese/sound reading.

Kanji’s readings were an innovation only made in Japan; Japan is the only country that uses multiple readings for kanji. In contrast in China, one character is designated with only one reading, a history that dates back from the Qin dynasty’s standardization of the writing system. (14) Even after readings were changed, China did not retain their old readings. Technically, each Japanese kanji can have each 呉音、漢音、and 唐音 readings, if looked up in a kanji dictionary, but this does not mean that every kanji commonly has three different readings; there are some with all three readings.

Japanese has similarities with the language of the Sumer and Akkadian language, with the 訓読み (kun yomi) or Japanese reading; Japanese words that had existed before kanji had arrived in Japan, were matched with kanji. The way kanji was pronounced had no relation to the word, but the meaning of the word and kanji were related. An example of this is 「暦」, it can be read as [reki] and [ryaku], but it is correctly read as [koyomi], the Japanese word for calendar.

An attempt for a solution was 万葉仮名 (man yo gana), but there was a major problem with this. If something was written in 万葉仮名 (man yo gana), then it would almost be a joke of some sort; 「出る」could become 「山上復有山」or another nonsensical string of characters. Another difficulty when using 万葉仮名 (man yo gana) was sheer amount. If there was a quiz on how many characters there were in 万葉仮名, most would not be able to answer; there are a total of 937 characters. This came because each person would choose a character and assign a sound they’d feel was appropriate. (15)

Spurred on by the introduction of calligraphy and to solve this problem, Japanese during the Meiji period or the second half of the ninth century tried their best to create a Japanese syllabary. An artifact from the early Meiji period would have some characters that were not understandable; these were early attempts on a syllabary. In Meiji’s thirty-ninth year, writing like today’s katakana and hiragana came, and other attempts were no longer used.

Two forms of the syllabary appeared. Katakana was angular kana, developed from pieces of Characters. it was used to transcribe prayers and indicate the Japanese reading of Chinese texts. Hiragana has a smooth, round look. Known also as the woman’s hand, it was used for poetry, essays, novels, diaries. To show off the elegance of their hand, men and women linked individual kana in a cursive style that flowed down the page. The aim was to combine calligraphy, text and paper into a harmonious and attractive whole (16)

The first way the kana was spread was through classic Japanese poems, 和歌 (waka); the head of writing 和歌 (waka) was ironically the imperial family. Later the Confucian scholar Kuriyama Senpou did the criticism of poems for the imperial family and had the role of writing and editing poems and songs; his job did not concern anything but poems. The imperial court lost their political power in this way. The imperial court was criticized in the famous book 「保建大記」(houken taiki) written about the period between the Hougen and kenkyuu eras. In the book, the imperial family was criticized for allowing the military powers of the Kamakura to obtain the political power as well; they were too busy with creating poems and an imperial-commission poem anthology.”

Once the Kamakura was in power, they quickly wanted to approve something of cultural significance. Following the imperial court’s example, they approved the imperial-commissioned poem anthology. This act was believed the most celebrated act implemented during the peace time caused by passing the Jyouei law code. In this way the use of kana gradually permeated in Japan. (17)

1. Patricia Ebrey, Anne Walthall and James Palais, East Asia: A Cultural, Social and Political History, second edition, 2009. p.125
2. Kokoma, Katumi. Kanji wa Nihongo de aru. Vol. 1. Tōkyō: Shinchōsha, 2008, 80
3. Patricia Ebrey, East Asia, 125
4. The Origin of Manʾyōgana John R. Bentley Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London , Vol. 64, No. 1 (2001), pp. 59-73
5. Patricia Ebrey, East Asia, 125
6. Ibid. 125
7. Fukuoka’s education committee.
8. Patricia Ebrey, East Asia, 125
9. Kokoma Katamu, Kanji wa Nihongo de aru, 80
10. Eta Funayama national treasure exhibit.
11. Patrick Ebrey, East Asia, 154
12. Kokoma Katamu, Kanji wa Nihongo de aru, 83-84
13. Nakanishi, henchosa. Kanji bunka o kangaeru. Tōkyō: Taishūkan Shoten, 1991, 20-21
14. Patrica Ebrey, East Asia, 36-37
15. Ibid. 125
16. Nakanishi Henochosa, Kanji bunka o kangaeru, 28
17. Ibid. 17

China in Ten Words Book Review

August 11, 2012

Ten words. It is difficult to imagine condensing China in only ten words, however Yu Hua’s China in Ten Words uses a combination of his own personal experiences and historical background to describe each of the ten listed words in order to create an insightful commentary on the China in the past, present, and future. The personal style of Yu Hua’s writing allows the reader a very personal glimpse into his childhood and adulthood in China during an era of change. This is even more surprising when you consider his origins as a dentist. That transition between a dentist to a writer was so much of a leap that it could be compared to the changes during the cultural revolution.

The change during the Cultural Revolution was a great underlying theme throughout the whole book and one that was continually called upon in many stories. The accusation and hunting for counterrevolutionaries during the Cultural Revolution was memorable. Some of Yu Hua’s childhood memories of counterrevolutionaries were of his grade school classmates. The girl who folded Mao’s portrait and the boy who said, “the sun went down.” These were grade school children but because of the era and Mao’s importance, these children were punished. The punishment seemed to be blown out of proportional considering the simple mistake. This combined way of thinking could only be conceivable in an authoritarian country like China. From a young age the older generation teach the young about having pride in the Communist party and to oust anyone who tries to go against that teaching. The pattern continued in the same fashion with Yu Hua himself. He saw his classmates and neighbors punished for their mistakes and gained a sense of what was correct and wrong. When Yu Hua was at an older age he tried to do good for the party by turning over speculators and profiteers trying to sell leftover oil coupons for cash. He was not alone in his vigilante acts but he was joined by some of his high school classmates at the time. The people Yu Hua and his classmates were detaining were the previous older generation who had once taught the principles of upholding the party.

“…we were performing a public service. Although we certainly had victories to our credit, our detainees tended to be peasants well past their prime, and the oil coupons we seized from them seldom amounted to very much. What’s more, the peasants never dared resist, for they themselves were convinced they were doing something wrong, and so their only reaction was to weep helplessly as we snatched away their coupons” (Hua 2011, 149).

The reaction of the older peasant told how deeply engrained the philosophy of the party was taught even in the generation before Yu Hua. The peasant knew that selling the oil coupons was considered speculating and profiteering but he took the risk. These types of actions were considered counterrevolutionary actions because they were against the rules set by the party, and the party and those acting on the behalf of the party put any counterrevolutionary actions down.

The peasant felt a necessity to sell his oil coupons because of the disparity he felt in China. This is not a unique case in China and Yu Hua uses a whole chapter to highlight the fact. Amongst the disparity, people took every opportunity to gain more status, climb the social ladder, and dig themselves out of the pit of disparity. “Urban unemployed and landless peasants, for their own survival, set out stalls in the city or ply their wares along the street” (Hua 2011, 151). Individuals took to the streets to sell their goods knowing that the local government could fine them if caught. These street venders were on the lower end of the people who took risks in order to gain some financial reward. The riskiest story Yu Hua wrote about was of the purchaser of the prime advertising spot on CCTV. The purchaser went to the CCTV auction with no money to his name, but he placed a bid for millions of Chinese yuan. After he won he risked going back to his local government and asking for the money on the grounds that if they did not pay, then the province would be known for the biggest con-man in Chinese history. This calculated risk landed him with a fortune he could only dream about previously. Others with ambition and an enterprising spirit took a less risky approach in order to gain their fortune. One person who portrayed such an example was dubbed the garbage king. He bought from local smaller recyclers and resold those to manufacturers at higher prices. During his interview he explained his success coming from doing “the things nobody else was willing to do” (Hua 2011, 167). The grassroots ambition was evident in the garbage king during his pursuit for wealth.

The pursuit for wealth comes in varying methods. Some people would be okay with scrapping for whatever money selling goods on the street would bring. Some takes risks that may or may not pay off at the end. Others use their ambition to become a king in a niche market. The ethics of the way people make their fortune clashed with my own. The risks taken by the advertiser however was not the ideal way to make money in my views. I believe in the saying that the greater the risk the greater the reward. The risk in the specific case with the advertiser may have been small to the Chinese man, but from the view of someone not familiar with China, the risk was too high. That being said, I disagree with a lack of risk taken by the small peddlers on the streets. The lack of risk tells about the contentment of the person and may tell a reader about a lack of ambition and goals. I agree with what the Garbage king accomplished because he provided a service that benefited others and him through the process. The way individuals obtained wealth tells about the country of China as a whole. The grassroots spirit made Chinese people take any and every opportunity given to them.

The wealth of China in the recent years is a result of the history in China tracing back to the pivotal Cultural Revolution. The Cultural Revolution left many Chinese in disparity and left with only the choice to do something illegal. Legality and risk did not stop some people from doing taking chances in hopes of benefiting. Although I only reviewed a few of the ten words written about in China in Ten Words, I found each word to have a personal style because of Yu Hua’s own stories and of other Chinese people. The author created a simple narrative that created the experience of living in China during eras of great change. China in Ten Words was an overview of China, but Yu Hua’s other books may promise to have more detailed descriptions of different topics on China.




Oracle Bones Book Review

August 13, 2012

Carved with the sharp tip of a solid object. The material made of the shell of a turtle or the skull of a cow. The oracle bones were used to divine wisdom and predictions from the ancient ancestors’ spirits to the kings of China. In the same way, the relationship between a teacher and students hopes to divine guidance for the student’s pursuits. Once the divination is completed, both the teacher and the student are faced with choices and with those choices challenges arise. Peter Hessler’s Oracle Bones serves as a effective personal writing piece for both himself and his former students as they encountered the challenges of living in China.

Oracle Bones can be seen as a personal memoir for Peter Hessler during his stay in China. The sequence of the book is chronological which serves as an effective writing style to create a narration of his stay. He progressed from being an English teacher to a clipper to a fully paid freelance writer for major US publications. The memoir did not stop at detailing the progress of Peter Hessler’s career, but it also included a vivid episode of sheer emotion. When I write about Peter Hessler’s vividly emotional episode, the memorable scene of Peter Hessler waking up in the middle of the night to a thief with his belongings may immediately come to mind. Next he runs after the thief until he catches up and starts to beat the man. With each punch he yelled, “Motherfucker!” until the thief broke free and fled. The emotions of the event made him write that he “recalled [,] the overwhelming rage, whose memory left [him] unsettled” (Hessler, 65). This eventful scene allows for a glimpse into another side of Peter Hessler that results in the reader to learn more of the author’s character and thinking during that period.

While Peter Hessler describes his own American challenges from living in China, Peter Hessler’s past students serves to describes the native Chinese challenges from living in China. The most common problem was escaping from the rampant disparity. The school Hessler students were in a poorer area of China, so the students had many incentives to move to away from their hometown when they got the chance. The students who were able to move away were often the student who also did better in Hessler’s classes. Emily was one of Hessler’s students who moved to the city of Shenzhen to work as a secretary in a jewelry factory.  At the factory she negotiated higher wages for herself and the other workers, but she had a common problem among people who moved to larger more developed cities. When migrant workers moved to these larger cities, they sometimes felt isolated and alone. This is not a surprising result considering the culture of China in regards to other individual’s problem. Hessler wrote about this Chinese attitude towards other people’s problems when public opinion did not sympathized with the Falun Gong incident.

“Regardless of what kind of problem an individual had, it was his problem, and only he could do something about it. Without the sense of a rational system, people rarely felt connected to the troubles of others. The crackdown on Falun Gong should have been disturbing to most Chinese – the group had done nothing worse than make a series of minor political miscalculations that had added up. But few average people expressed sympathy for the believers, because they couldn’t imagine how that issue could be connected to their own relationship with the law. In part, this was cultural – the Chinese had never stressed strong community bonds; the family and other more immediate groups were the ones that mattered most. But the lack of a rational legal climate also encouraged people to focus strictly on their own problems” (Hessler, 129)

Because of this attitude towards individuals’ problems being their own and only they could do something about it, individuals in the city may feel alone in their problems. With so many people in the city feeling this type of isolation, it is no wonder that the radio show At Night You’re Not Lonely fascinated Emily and one million others. Emily and the others in her dormitory stayed awake until the late hours of the evening listening to the radio show. The radio host’s, Hu Xiaomei, ability to listen to caller’s problems allowed both the caller and listeners know there are others in the city with problems similar to their own and that there was a sympatric ear. Emily benefited from hearing the advice from the Hu Xiaomei to a caller concerned about moving in with her boyfriend. Emily told Hessler in a letter, “Most traditional people say that you shouldn’t do this. But if the person seems mature enough, and if she’s considered the issues, then Hu Xiaomei says it’s fine to live together.” Emily took this piece of advice and many others to heart, quoting Hu Xiaomei’s advice towards common problems. Emily implemented the living with a boyfriend advice to her own life. She fell in love with a Sichuanese man name Zhu Yunfeng and she broke the traditional morality by moving into an apartment with him. She seem to have some internal quarrel with living because she still stayed at her dormitory during the week and did not tell her mother directly neither. Her actions shows some shame in what she was doing but that shame did not stop her from doing it nonetheless. She surpassed a point where other’s opinion would dictate her choices. This internal confrontation displayed itself in the real world in her on confrontation her boss. Emily skipped the dormitory curfew and her boss took notice of this the next morning. She did not back down from her boss asking if she had missed curfew but instead told him directly that she had only came back that morning. This change in character could be traced back to the Hu Xiaomei’s advice she listened to late at night on the radio.

Another set of Hessler’s students as well as Emily classmates, Willy and Nancy, had their own challenges in Yueqing city. They described in a letter to Hessler about the challenges of moving to a new place. This place had a strong sense of a single culture and people, so when migrants from Jiangxi and Sichuan moved to Yueqing, native people Yueqing city looked down on them and created stories about them. The stories the people from Jiangxi and Sichuan appeared in stories were used to scare children at night. Adults told children, “If you keep crying, the people from Jiangxi or Sichuan will come and steal you” (Hessler, 210). For once Willy and Nancy knew how it felt to be a foreigner like Hessler was when he taught them English in class. They irony was that Willy and Nancy felt like foreigners in their own country China.

As Willy, Nancy, and Emily’s challenges have shown, challenges in living China were not limited to foreigners like Hessler. Oracle Bones serves as the piece of writing to bring the reader closer to understanding the average Chinese person as well as a foreigner’s journey of living and working in China.

China Study Abroad Reflection

August 17, 2012

With our month long trip to China finished; I am able to write an overview of the experience in this final reflection paper. In order to take a look at the overall experience in China I will need to address my initial motivations in joining the trip. The largest opportunity I saw from joining the China study abroad trip was the chance to learn some Chinese. Learning Chinese was a major subject in my first reflection paper and the reason for this importance I placed on it was my love for language learning, especially East Asian languages. Most of my reasoning and expectations about learning Chinese on the study abroad trip was address in that first reflection paper, but I will summarize it here shortly. I have learned Japanese through self-study methods and I had a level of confidence in the ease of Chinese. This confidence led me to challenge Inteus in obtaining more of the language by the end of the trip. The exact words were, “I’m going to be better in Chinese by the end of the trip.” I planned to accomplish this by using my electronic flashcards and creating an immersive environment. These were my expectations before the trip, however during the trip I found more difficulty in achieving this goals than I initially expected.

The difficultly of learning more Chinese was a combination of both my classroom environment and my attitude. Because I had no history of taking any college level Chinese courses, I was put into the beginner level of Chinese. The first week of classes was spent on solely pronunciation alone. The following week was then spent on vocabulary presented in the first lessons. The pace was staggeringly slow. I had an idea of what the pace would have been like because I’ve taken language classes in the past. Students who are struggling with understanding the lessons presented would continue in a trend of holding the class back. Students who are at a higher level or faster to learn the lesson would be bored during class. The ideal classroom environment would be where the students are at a similar starting point and the class being taught at a suitable level for all the students. I fell into the category of the students who was bored during class because of the pace. The pace did however speed up but only to the days leading up to our final exam. During those days, a lesson from our textbook was taught in one class day and we were expected to understand and learn everything within that lesson for the next day. When this pace was in place, I enjoyed the class more than previous times in class.

The second expectation, that was somewhat inaccurate, was my assumption on Inteus’s proficiency level in Chinese. From talking to Inteus before the trip, I knew he had taken at least one quarter of Chinese at the University of Washington, but I did not expect him to have taken three quarters of the language. The difference and significance of the time is the amount of time he has already spent learning Chinese. I also had the goal of being better than him with the assumption that he had a quarter or so of actual in class Chinese instruction. If that were true, then my goal would have been more achievable. The way I discovered his level was higher than I thought was during the trip and his conversations with Chinese people. Inteus was able to speak and have conversations with some Chinese people with some difficulty, but he had conversations nonetheless.

During the trips we took, I watched as Inteus talked more Chinese and I started to enjoy the trip more of a time to relax. When classes start each quarter in UWT, I like to get work done early and get a head start on the work assigned in the quarter. In the same fashion I typed all of my reflection papers after each eventful trip or lecture we went to. Right after a trip or lecture was ideal because I remembered most of the details and assignments are better to get done with and out of the way early. Writing this quickly resulted in me being one of the first one done with the reflection papers during the trip. Because of my typical habit of stressing to get my work done, I didn’t recognize the other side of the trip, enjoying the trip in China. Eventually this changed after finishing my last reflection paper. I knew others were not finished yet, so I decided to relax and enjoy the trip more, and that was exactly what I did. I enjoyed exploring the places we visited and did not concern myself with any other work assigned. I did the minimum required for the Chinese language classes we had remaining and still found it adequate. My effort was adequate in finishing the necessary lessons in class but not adequate enough in learning Chinese. After the initial enthusiasm of learning Chinese and discovering the pace of the class, I came to the conclusion that these Chinese language classes would not provide me with what I needed in order to learn the language fully. Instead of learning through the class, I conceded to teaching myself Chinese at a later time through self-study. Through self-study I could enjoy the pleasures of going at a faster and more comfortable pace and not having to wait for anyone else. I could dictate what I wanted to learn and when I would learn it. The remaining duration of the trip I would focus on enjoying China and the trips we would go on.

My academic concentration quickly transitioned to enjoying getting to know the other students on the trip and getting to know China better through my own way. Before the trip, I only had limited contact with the some of the students from the Tacoma Campus, and I had none with the students from the Seattle Campus. This did not have a large effect on our ability to get to know one another through the one month living together. One month may seem like a short period of time, but I felt that it was just the appropriate amount of time to become familiar with one another fairly well. Combine that time span of one month and the fact we lived, ate, and travel in a foreign country together, the possibility of not learning about one another was low. The majority of my time was spent with the other guys on the trip. I am not completely sure how this arose but there seemed to be some gender segregation in moments of the trip. During some planned dinners, one guy would sit at a table and the others would simply follow. The end result would be a table with all the guys with a few girls and another table with everyone else. I saw this pattern and tried to purposely do something different for the sake of changing things up. After I would try to change this during dinner, after dinner I found myself going out with the other guys to look around the city.

The nightlife in Beijing is what to be expected in an urbanized city with millions of people, lively and concentrated in a few areas. I was able to explore these areas with the other guys in one of our many trips around the city. We would enter into clubs and enjoy our night with other people in the Beijing area. I was surprised at the amount of Chinese people able to speak English when I started to speak to them. The people I talked to had varied levels of comprehension and speaking ability, so I attempted to use the phrases I learned from class. I could say the basics like any beginner in a foreign language; Hello. How are you? What’s your name? etc. This conversation would rarely last long because of my limited knowledge of the Chinese language, but I was able to communicate through other means. I met a girl who couldn’t speak any English and there I was not able to say anything but those basic phrases. I thought quickly and I got my phone out and opened the Japanese-Chinese dictionary application. Through using my dictionary and knowing simple body language, I was able to communicate with this person for a couple of hours. We would then take turns handing my phone back and forth. I would write a word like “hobby” and the dictionary returned the translated Chinese word. It turns out that she liked to draw and so we spent time drawing on my phone together. This was a memorable experience for me because it shows the multiple ways people can communicate with one another even with a language barrier.

Aside from the time I spent out with the guys at night, I also enjoyed the conversations during our long bus trips or in the hotel. We got along well because our mutual interest in business and economics. Each of us represented a foreign country whenever we talked. Sonar gave the Mongolian perspective; Terrance gave the Chinese perspective, Ben the Korean perspective, and me a combination of the Filipino, Japanese and American perspective. This unintentionally resulted in a greater cultural trip then I expected. Each of our individual countries had strong historical connections with China, so conversations turned historical often. Sonar talked about the Mongolians that invaded China, and Terrance gave more historical Chinese context into the conversation. As I listened to Terrance talked about China I learned more from him than the rest of the trip. He taught us that tapping with two fingers on the table while someone pours you a drink was a polite way of thanking the pourer. This was one of the many mini lessons I had the pleasure of receiving each day.

Through Terrance’s Chinese cultural lessons, readings in the book, and other sources of valuable Chinese knowledge, I gained a greater understanding of the China’s culture and its people. Initially when I came to China I had the impression that the Confucian and modest way of carrying oneself in Japan, was not as strong in China. This struck me as surprising because China was the origin of Confucianism. In lectures and in my interview with a Chinese student I learned about the spread of competition and desire for money in China in the recent decades. There came a China where sacrificing old historical buildings and China’s past for new modern commercial apartments or buildings became common. Where becoming powerful meant doing many bad things. During our stay, I saw the changes from older traditional values to newer economic values appear in front of me. When I thought all the old values were gone I came across people who still adhered to them. Just by being with Terrance, a native Chinese person, I learned about the older traditional values some people continue to have. Terrance assigned himself the role of the host of his country China towards us. He wanted us to feel welcomed and enjoy our time in his country. At dinnertime he would wait for everyone else to get his or her food and eat before starting himself. When there were older people, he would pay the proper respect to them. Seeing his actions showed me there were still some of the traditional values in Chinese people.

While Terrance showed traditional values, there was the Chinese student I interviewed who showed me the modern forward thinking generation. 南韩 was fully aware of the situation and problems that arose from modernization within China. People are so competitive to the extent that they would try to sabotage others who were better. The connection with other Chinese is thin because a person cares more for the individual. From reading China in Ten Words people placed more importance on the self and their immediate family than they do on society as a whole. Even though 南韩 was not a full exception, she talked with a great sense of understanding of the underlying problems. She felt a bit different from the majority of the population. She is able to be more moderate and less aggressive towards her goals because her financial situation was not stressful. Not having a lot of stress in her life allows her to take a step back and gives her perspective on the situation in China. She even included that she was not a unique person for thinking in this fashion but there were many others she knew who thought that same way. Knowing this allowed me to see that there was not an overpowering gravitation towards one philosophy but instead many different kinds of people in China.

The people of China came in many different shades of colors but the environment was surprisingly familiar to the Philippines. I wrote about the similarities between China today and the Philippines more in-depth in one of my reflection papers, but I contribute my lack of culture shock in China to the strong similarity. Both countries are still developing, so the environment suffers as the economy and cities grow. The weather when I got off the plane in China was similarly hot. The views on the streets of Beijing and the Philippines were riddled with vendors and stalls. The similarity allowed me to learn more of the culture without worrying about getting used to the environment. It also allowed me to draw some conclusions based on the Philippines.
The overall experience of the study abroad trip allowed me to gain more perspective on the Chinese people and culture as well as gain good friends in the process. Now after the trip, I can now have a topic of conversation when I meet someone from China. Not only a topic for conversation but a way of understanding and connecting with a culture I had only limited exposure to previously. This would give a less shallow understanding of China. Instead of thinking of its growing economy and communist state government, the typical threads of conversation when a common American talks about China, I can talk about the beautiful variety of scenery throughout China, the hard working and competitiveness in the country, and how enjoyable the nightlife in Beijing was. One of the best ways to gain experiences and stories would be to travel to a foreign country. I found this to be true now at the end of our trip.