Monthly Archives: May 2009

Congratulations to Andrew McLaughlin

Another piece of YLF (Young Leader’s Forum) news: Andrew is going to be the Deputy Chief Technology Officer of Obama Administration. (Source: Google’s Top Policy Executive to Join Obama Administration).

Congratulations to Andrew McLaughlin to play a big role! Interestingly, I saw Andrew one week before the YLF 2007 in Nanjing in Google’s office, by introduction of Isaac Mao. Then I get back and go to Nanjing, and at the forum, I saw someone with familiar face. It turned out that he is Andrew.

Great. Another YLF Fellow hit a new height of challenge.

Gulangyu Photos by Wendy

Wendy gets back from Gulangyu with some nice photos. It compliment to my journey record about one month ago. I didn’t take too many photos the last time.

Photograph by Wendy Fan

Photograph by Wendy Fan

Photograph by Wendy Fan

Photograph by Wendy Fan

Photograph by Wendy Fan

Photograph by Wendy Fan

Photograph by Wendy Fan

Photograph by Wendy Fan

Photograph by Wendy Fan

Photograph by Wendy Fan

ENFP is Incompatible with GTD

ENFP = Extroverted iNtuition Feeling Perception type of MBTI

GTD = Getting Things Done – a productivity methodology by David Allen

I bought a Moleskine notebook, and attached tags, and wrote my to-do-list on it, and categorize them as GTD suggested. It looked pretty promising at the very beginning.

In a conference, I met my friend Akio Tanaka (who should be of similar personality type as myself), and showed off my notebook. He asked: How long have you tried this system? I admitted that I only started two weeks ago. He said, let’s talk about it after a while.

Now, a while has past, and I admit, that to-do-list driven life is not what I want and what I am good at. GTD must be very useful for many people, and there must be some part of it suitable for everyone, but as an ENFP, I just feel that I am not compatible with GTD, and I am at the edge of quitting it (again).

I am curious to know what Robert Mao is doing with the GTD, because I GUESS he is also an ENFP.

End of a Holiday without Wendy

Three days past so quickly, that I need to face a working Sunday tomorrow.

I didn’t feel well at begining (as I said, I felt like caught by flu), but I am fine very quickly, with temperature always between 35 -36 °C (my meter IS working very well).

Wendy went to Xiamen, and Gulangyu Island with her friends. So it is a dragon boat festival without Wendy. I slept for long hours in the last three days. Elliot Ng was right. If getting sick happens to be at the same time of a long holiday, that is a sign that I need some rest. There is a theory in Chinese medicine (which I don’t really believe in) that when people starts to slow down, the body gets a chance to get sick, something it does not have time to do when you are working so hard.

So, I feel I am fully rested already, but the challenge is, how to get back to the fast track tomorrow after sleeping days and nights for so long.

BTW, Yifan is very happy when he always can find his father around him. Even though sometimes I am just sleeping, he would come and try to use his small hands to make my eyes open. He is also happy to follow whatever I do. I stood by the wall, and he did it. I walked and he followed. I sat down at the stairs, and watch a book, and he sat down at another stair and played his red car.

Yifan is turning two years old the next week.

Nikon D50 CHA Error with SD Card

Wendy just called from Xiamen (she went there with friends) and complained that she got a new SD card, and put it into our Nikon D50, and got error message “CHA” and cannot take photo.

I did some research and confirmed that Nikon D50 is incompatible with any SD card larger than 2G.

P.S. I posted a short message on my twitter about feeling like being caught by flu, and got many response. I am feeling better now.

Happy Dragon Boat Festival

Happy Dragon Boat Festival to everyone. It is now a Chinese national holiday.

I tend to call it Zongzi festival. Zongzi is the food that everyone eats (well, not everyone, at least not in my family) on this day. It is a pyramid-shaped dumpling made of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves.

The holiday continues tomorrow (Friday), and ends on Saturday. The cost of the three day holiday is, people get back to work on Sunday.

US Congressmen Visit Shanghai

It is pretty late after I left the Ritz Carlton Club on the 43th floor of Ritz Carlton Portman hotel. US congressman Rick Larson (Democratic, Washington) and Mark Kirk (Republic, Illinois) are visiting Shanghai (news), after they arrived in Hong Kong, and visited Guangzhou, before they fly to Beijing. With the two congressmen is the inimitable Steven Orlins (as we always used the interesting word “inimitable” after the tradition of usage before Chairman Mao).

I am still not very sure about the publicity level of a political figure like a congressman in US. I suspect that everything they said would be on-the-record, and Rick confirmed that the meeting can be blogged, but I am, well, still not so sure about the field I have no idea at all. To be honest, I don’t have too much sense of how politics works. I don’t have knowledge about it in China (as most people, and exactly as what the Party wanted us to be), and don’t know about the US. So, I don’t want to talk too much about the content of the meeting.

BTW, this is my second time to see Rick Larson (the first time was a sea food dinner at Pine Market in Seattle), and it was a pity that Mark didn’t came downstairs.

Bribe for Driver’s License?

Many of my friends are trying to get their driver’s license. The driver’s license exam consists of different stages of exams. Here are my experience:

If you want to Learn to Drive, you first sign up to a

driving school, and pass the Written Test for Driver’s License then Pass the Field and Road Driving Exam. That was pretty straight forward.

However, the straight forward thing is not so simple in Shanghai.

Give Money (bribe) or Not

My friends are discussing everyday is, whether they give the standard 200 RMB fee for each of the three exams (600 RMB in total). It is the “industry standard” that almost everyone knows.

For the written test, most people don’t pay the official for the 200 RMB, since if they can remember the answers, they can pass by themselves. Those who need “help” can pay the money, so the person at the test room will give you hint so you can make sure you pass.

For the stage two and three, especially for the field and road test, the rule of thumb from the previous people are, you should always pay the money. Since if you don’t pay, it is for sure that you don’t pass, and you have to pay another 100 RMB to take the exam again and you may not pass again.

For field test, and road test, four persons get onto the same car with the policeman (the person who gives you pass or fail result), and the four will drive in turn, and the “boss” will decide.

The rumor is (not verified, and I don’t think any person can verify), if three of the persons pays, and one person don’t way, it is for sure the person will fail, since there is quota. If all the four person pays, they will switch one person with another not paid (bribed) person, so they can give fail to at least one person for that car.

My survey is, more than half of people paid the government official to get passed.

System Problems, and Do We Still Hold the Hope

This is just one of the many small instances to prove that the system of this country does not work. No one is really upset because of the existence of this. Along with the red bags for doctors, and kick-backs of many transactions, I found it is a system combined interest, and power, and thus that can be pretty hard to fight against. It is especially hard with censorship, and control of media – most people are not aware of it (although everyone with a driver’s license in this city should have faced the dilemma).

I was happy that I didn’t pay anything the time I passed the exam. The initial result for me was “fail” – there are one thousand thing that you can say if the standard is just one person’s subject judgment. My tutor was nice and got back to the room to talk with the policeman, and 10 minutes later, my result turned to “pass”. I would suspect that I fail for the first time was because I didn’t give him the 200 RMB This was just my guess, since I don’t want to defame people for something I don’t have evidence. But, I have a pretty high confident that my guess can be true depending on what I heard about.

It is Easy Said than Done

I know many people who claimed to have higher morale standard will jump up and say: “Don’t Pay! Don’t Pay!” It is easier said than done.

I am the type of person who would stop at a broke (always red) red light at mid-night for 15 minutes, and then call the TV station, and then report the issue on the hottest TV program (the full story). I know there is something that we need to do, but I admit that even after reporting to Oriental TV, and waited at the cross road of Nandan Road, and Caoxi Road, around 11:30 PM for 15 minutes, I finally choose to pass the street at red light. My point is, we can do our part to fix the problem (like what I am doing by letting more people be aware of the issue), we are still individual living in this world, which already have so many rules (unwritten rules) that you need to follow. I just want to put a disclaimer here before tens of negative comments flow in pointing fingers to my friends who actually paid the money – pretty similar situation as you are stuck in the middle of a cross road with all directions showing red lights.

The Only Beach in Shanghai

This morning, the whole family went to the Daning Green Land 大宁绿地, at the west of the Shanghai Circus. The reason we went there was, it has the only beach in Shanghai.

Well. I admit that I made a mistake here. It is not a beach. It is just a lake with some sand on the north side of it.

However, it is the only place in the whole Shanghai that I can bring Yifan to really play sand. There are some other man-made beach in Fengxian, and in Jinshan, but none of them are as child friendly as the place we went to.

Yifan was very happy that for the first time, he is able to sit on the sand, and play with the water. There are many kids there.

Be prepared that since ti is just by the lake, the water is pretty dirty compared to real beach. But, it is somewhere worth to bring kids to.

Hijacked Education by Scientists

This is a series of articles on education in Shanghai (I tried to avoid big topics like Education in China:

Worry about Yifan’s Education and

Worry about Yifan’s Education – Part II
Is China Changeable?

Chinese or International Eduction?

University Education = Hukou in China

Schools Conducted by Gaokao

Hijacked Education by Scientists

After writing for a week about all the pressure the Chinese educational system put to students, let me spend one article to discuss about the output of this system.

The idea and even title of this article was inspired by Hong-Wei Hua’s previous article with the same title. He did great job in analyzing the current situation and answered one question: “Why University Students Cannot Find a Job after Graduation?”

Reality of University Graduates

After 16 years of school education (9 years preliminary + 3 year high school + 4 year university), and high pressure education, the graduates from universities seem should be very capable. The reality is just the opposite.

The university students today cannot find a job!

To be fair, one of the key driver was there are too many graduates compared to 10 years ago, and there are impact of current job market, but it is far beyond that reason.

Since all the students were educated in a way to pass a certain exam, I am sure they can do it much better than other students. My bias is, if you put the same students from all countries to do exactly the same paper of the College Entrance Exam (the version China is using), they may win over others.

Unfortunately, after they graduate, they are facing challenges of real world, no longer an exam. Students got lost, and suddenly found out that they are not taught of the practical skills to handle the job.

Student’s Perspective

From a student’s perspective, let me share my own story. In the third year of university, once I walk over the job posting board on campus, and started to read the job requirements: SQL Server, Java, PowerBuilder … I was so puzzled that all the skills a company required never appeared in our books – we are still struggling in C. That was the main trigger I shifted my focus, and self-studied by my own in the following two years. To be honest, I skipped most of the classes, and learn the useful things I chose. I am proud that I did it.

Company’s Perspective

As a business owner, I also hire students. My feedback is, I need to invest huge in education. University students don’t have the basic skills to do the job, and we need to turn ourselves into a training center in the first half year. The dilemma is, all best performing students go to good universities. They have huge potential, but knows very few. The students who go to not so good universities, or who didn’t go to university appeared to be more skillful, however, with limited potential.

University’s Perspective

That comes to the point why I would agree with Hua that our educational system was hijacked by scientists. Look at the courses even in today’s university in China – the goal of most of the courses is to train an academic researcher, not for working in a company.

The reality is, most of students (more then 90%) in undergraduate education have to be given up by the system because they don’t really qualify to do the academic research (and they are not interested), and those small portion go to graduate school, and then the non-qualified will be thrown out of university, and those continue to go to doctor degree.

It seems to me that the whole high education was aimed to select a certain type of people (academic research) at a cost of 98% of students’ future.

An analogy will be: thinking about a school with the only goal to select and build the fastest runner and send him to Olympics Game. But the school has the authority to recruit all young men in this country. Yes. Finally, after tough selection, there will be one or two succeed in doing that and get great result, the cost will be, however, millions of other runners who were abandoned get out of the school, only to find out that no runner is needed in this whole society.

Well. A another interesting thing is, although the goal is to find the best academic person, Chinese system failed miserably because students are lack of research skills, and creative skills. That is another topic to discuss though.

Schools Conducted by Gaokao

This is a series of articles on education in Shanghai (I tried to avoid big topics like Education in China. The previous several articles are:

Worry about Yifan’s Education and

Worry about Yifan’s Education – Part II
Is China Changeable?

Chinese or International Eduction?

University Education = Hukou in China

I didn’t expected that my first blog about my thoughts of Yifan’s education led to so many articles about the current education system in China. Sure. I am thinking about solutions, but to help more people to understand how the system works is the first step.

In this article, I am trying to describe the life of a middle school students in the Chinese traditional education system.

Middle School under the Conductor of Gaokao

As I said in the previous article, the Gaokao (Exam to Enter Colleges) is the only thing that tells exactly what teachers, students, and parents what they need to do.

Disclaimer: I don’t know very well about today’s situation. I guess many things have changed. I only can tell what happened when I was in middle school from 1992 to 1995 in Luoyang. Different cities may also have different situation.

Since there are two tracks of Gaokao – the engineering direction, and the literature direction. From the end of second year of Middle School, students are divided into two type of classes – one just study Engineering related courses, like physics, and chemistry, and the other studies stuff like history…

Every night, students stay as late as 11 PM, or even later everyday. Since the school wanted all the students to go back to dorm and sleep, they shutdown all power supply in both classroom and dorm, and most public places. Most of the students will light up the candles, or go to the public toilet, and read behind the limited light, or use electronic torch to read with quilt covering head. The teachers will go to these places to force all the students to go back to sleep. After they leave, many of the students got back to where they were and continue to study.

That was the everyday life when I was in middle school. Everyone knows how important the Gaokao is to their future lives.

Anything else? Sorry. Don’t bother. The students will be the first to stand up if you ask them to participate in anything not directly related to Gaokao. So will the parents. The teachers think exactly the same because all the middle schools are measured by the percentage of students who pass the entrance exam.

In my previous post, I mentioned “good school”, or “common school”, that was always classified by the rate the school successfully send their graduate to the next level of education.

It is the Problem of the System

Don’t blame students. They are fighting for their future.

Don’t blame the parents. Gaokao is still a pretty fair game. Otherwise, it is a game by the power of their parents (rank in the hierarchy of any system), or how rich their parents are. So far, that is not too big a concern yet. The only thing they can do (no matter how smart, how rich, or how powerful the parents are) is still to try to push/help their children to get a higher score in Gaokao.

Don’t blame the schools, and teachers. They are doing their best to HELP the students to get a better future.

So, the tough question will be, who should we blame to?

1. The Scarcity of Education Resources. The root of all evils is, there are far less high education institutes than what people needed. No matter how fair the system is, as long as there are much more demand than supply, the problem cannot be solved.

In the recent years, everyone saw the high GDP growth of China, but investment in education, and health care are far behind the growth.

2. Imbalance and Unfair Social Resources Distribution. Hukou is just one of the example. Since university education is bound to Hukou, and Hukou is important just because different Hukou causes huge difference in the social resources an individual can get from the society. The chain of huge demands all go back through the loop and leads to one thing: social resources.

“I Have a Dream”

If I use what Martin Luther King’s format, I would say:

I have a dream that my little kid will grow up in a nation where they are judged by their characters, not what Hukou they hold, or whether he goes to university

In an ideal world, people are valued because of the person him/herself. If the person is good in personality, has skills, and is smart, hardworking, or any good virtue a person may have, we surely don’t need to pay too much attention about whether he/she enters a university. BUT, in China, we are still far from that ideal world.

In China, people are not created equal. One cannot receive education, just because he/she don’t have Hukou – just like I cannot receive even kindergarten education in 1980s because I didn’t have the right Hukou (this has changed already). He/She cannot get the job. Not because you cannot do the job better than others, just because you don’t have a university graduate certificate (this also changed a lot, but still far from what it should be). I think that is the deeper reason of why the educational system in China does not work.

To be more exact, it is because the social system does not work, and the education system is just one of the subsystem that was directly impacted.

University Education = Hukou in China

This is a series of articles on education in Shanghai (I tried to avoid big topics like Education in China:

Worry about Yifan’s Education and

Worry about Yifan’s Education – Part II
Is China Changeable?

Chinese or International Eduction?

University Education = Hukou in China

Schools Conducted by Gaokao

Hijacked Education by Scientists

After I talked about the choice between Chinese and International Education, let me dive into details about how the current educational system, and why it has failed.

This is a pretty complicated issue. Let me start with an article about how the University Education is bound to Hukou system, so my readers outside China have a sense of why people want university education so much (seems much more motivated than other countries). Let me tell you, it is not just education itself.

After this article, I will continue to write about how the pressure pass all the way from College Entrance Exams down to middle school, to primary school, and further down to every kids in China.

Then, I will try to answer the question, why this happens and how the Chinese education system actually fails.

The University Education is Bound to Hukou

I hope it will change in near future (and I have seen the positive move toward this direction), but till today, the university education in China means much more than most people outside the system thinks.

China has a Hukou system, or residential permit, a system to bind a person to the land and do not allow people to relocate easily. You can read more about it in my previous article about Hukou System in China. To put it in simple sentence, your Hukou follows your parents. It does not matter where the kid is born. Even the kid is born in Shanghai, if the parents have Hukou of a village, the kid also have to register back to the village, which may be thousands of miles away.

Is Hukou important? Although it is not as important as before, it is still pretty important. You don’t have medical insurance, or social insurance, and most of the benefit the city offers to its citizen. A typical example of this weird situation is that someone who live in Shanghai for 10 years still needs to get back to the place where he came from to get a passport, or do most of the government related tasks.

Is there anyway to get Hukou in another city? Very hard, if not impossible. You can think of Hukou as a green card for US. Some research shows that the criteria to “immigrate” to Shanghai is higher than to immigrate to Canada. Most people cannot get it.

Village Hukou vs City Hukou

To make the situation even worse, inhumanity, and confusing, there are basically two types of Hukou – the Village Hukou, or the City Hukou. If you have a Village Hukou, it is like a sticker that follows you all your life time, and passes down to your child, and grandchild… not a big chance to remove it. So what is the difference? Huge difference. Village Hukou can own farm land, but don’t have most of the social benefit like medical and social insurance as the people in city has. That is an area the government is working on.

Before the situation change, people has village Hukou always wanted to have a city Hukou (at least at the time I went to university).

The only feasible way (if not the only one) is to get to a university first. A university admission a first step to change people’s identify. If you lose the chance when you are 18 years old, you almost lose the chance forever.

The Struggle to Get a Hukou

Even though you complete university education, only a limited number of people can get a local Hukou. It is less than 10% I guess. I got it partly because I signed labor contract with big companies like Microsoft, and they have quota to be allocated to you – one of the criteria you must meet to get a local Hukou.

Although university education is just one step to get closer to the Hukou you need, it is already a big step.

OK. Enough about the complicated process, but I just want to tell a simple fact: To get to university is much more than the university education itself. The improper analogy is, it is just like studying aboard is one of the easiest steps to get a green card or other type of permanent resident status of another country, university education is the same for people in China, if they want to change the permanent sticker on their body. The difference is, it is way much harder.

Example: I have a remote relative who tried 7 years to repeat to take the College Entrance Exam, before his final fail to get to university. Do you really believe a young man want to spend 7 years to read the same textbook just to get a higher education? He is trying to get a ticket to legal stay in a city in China. It is a ticket for his health care, job, house, and his children. He is not the rare case before the gates of universities in China.

China is a very diversified country with the mixture of the richest group of people, and the poorest people in this world. What a city or village can give an individual is widely diverse.

Meanwhile, urbanization is shaping the face of this country so fast, and more and more people lose their land and start to move to cities, and smaller cities becomes bigger cities, and more and more people from smaller cities rush into bigger cities. Hukou is the barrier, and education is the way out.

College Entrance Exam Shapes the Chinese Educational System

By understanding the importance university admission is to most of people in China, you may start to understand why the entrance exam, or Gaokao is.

In China, the National College Entrance Examination, or Gaokao, was named as the conductor of the whole educational system, especially the schools before university. If you can imagine the faculties and students in the tens of thousands of schools as members of an orchestra, the Gaokao is, maybe, the only conductor that tells what they should do.

If you criticize the middle school (specially the three years before Gaokao) are short sighted and only train the students to pass a single exam, and don’t care about anything else, I would agree, but for many teachers, parents, and students, nothing is more important than passing the exam and get a chance to get a Hukou if they don’t have the preferred status already. Very sadly, stuff they abandon may include happiness, health (look at the thick glasses, and heave school bags), morality, and many other critical things a person needs.

My father told me three years before my Gaokao: “Gaokao offers a ticket to the stage where you can perform. If you don’t get the ticket, it does not matter how good you are.”

To be continued

Chinese or International Eduction?

This is a series of articles on education in Shanghai (I tried to avoid big topics like Education in China:

Worry about Yifan’s Education and

Worry about Yifan’s Education – Part II
Is China Changeable?

Chinese or International Eduction?

University Education = Hukou in China

Schools Conducted by Gaokao

Hijacked Education by Scientists

I will continue the topic around which school should I send Yifan to today. As I always did, I am trying to share the options I have, and the dilemma I am facing to help my readers to get some ideas about the tough decisions to make for people in this city. Again, I tried not to generalize it as a question people face in this country. For example, Shanghai and my hometown Luoyang is very different.

Primary School is Not Important, If…

Although everyone won’t say primary school is not important – every stage in people’s life is important, but it is not THAT important if you have to make a lot of effort to send your child to a good primary school. I believe this is the commonly accepted concept. However, the real situation in Shanghai tends to be: primary school is NOT important, if it is not tightly linked to a higher education, say, the middle school.

In a society where the resources are so scare (think about a city with 16 million people, and limited schools to choose from), the system has been twisted into a chain of selection process. Just because to enter university is so important (and hard), to get to the right high school is important. Just because most high school put so much emphasis into where the students graduate, to choose the right junior high is important. Similarly, the junior high choose by the primary school they went to. The most ridiculous thing I heard from my friend who just went through this was, the primary school put which kindergarten the kid went to as a factor of selection process.

How this happens?!

We can easily dig into details about how this happens. If you were a HR manager of a company, say Google, and there are 100 candidates seeking for the same job. By the first round of selection, will you consider their educational background and working experience before you call him/her for an interview? A Harvard or Stanford degree obviously give you some advantages.

The ridiculous thing is, everyone understand the selection process for a company, but for kids, it is completely not acceptable. Even the United Nation Human Rights Declaration passed in 1948 confirmed that all children need to be given equal opportunities for education, before they enter a selection process. That means, the selection I described is actually against the human right declaration.

The problem is even further beyond that. The current system in Shanghai actually at the surface level, follows with the spirit – students are equally allocated to the school near them, and there is no such a difference. However, the faculty resources, and budget resources are far less evenly distributed. As long as there are clearly identified good schools, or bad schools, parents mobilize to get to the better school district by buying houses.

So the key is, although it seems to be fair, as long as the schools are not created equal, and more importantly, as long as the university education is so scare a resource, the problem is very hard to fix.

The Hard Choice

Before Yifan was 1.5 years old, Wendy and I have decided to send him to the school within walking distance from where we live. However, when we realized that if you mis-step in this chain once, you may lose the opportunity for the kid in the future. It is not as easy a decision to make as we thought. Let me repeat, the choice is no longer a primary school choice, it is the education style much further than that. The chance to get to a better middle school for Yifan is much lower than the selected good primary school, based on the information I collected so far.

This is a tough decision to make.

One Kid, Two Systems

Another tough decision to make is, which path I want Yifan to go – Chinese educational system or the international one. Again, the two path is not compatible with each other.

It is very sure that a kid from international school cannot (at least it is very hard to) get back to the Chinese educational system. You are smarter than others, and you know how to sing and dance, and are extremely well developed, but you cannot pass the exam! Especially many exams are very weird if you are not educated in that system. Politics in Chinese educational system is something interesting. What you need to remember is what the propaganda that you know is far from truth.

It is also not easy for a kid from Chinese educational system to get to international system. Well. This is relatively easier than the other way, since many people (both at university, graduate school, or high school level) have proved it. I guess that a student from Chinese system will find it a paradise in an international school after the initial culture shock.

In Shanghai, there are many international schools (English school, American Schools, and schools from all nations, and some plainly called International schools with students from everywhere). It seems to me a very attractive choice. The serious fact to consider is, if you choose this path, you kid will need to say good bye to Chinese universities – it is not an option any more, since it is for sure that the graduates cannot pass the college entrance exam.

Primary School Education is the Foundation for Cultural Identity

Another even bigger question in my mind that I am trying to seek an answer is, culturely speaking, whether you want Yifan to be a Chinese, or, English speaking “foreigners”.

I am not kidding. I read a lot about the culture differences (as you can imagine, a topic I have devoted myself in the last 7 years), and my conclusion is, it is the primary school which determines one’s cultural identity. If the kid went to primary school in US, he is culturally an American. I said I preserved a Chinese identity myself (Why I Don’t Have an English Name), and if you ask me, I would prefer the same for Yifan. I surely understand the confusion, internal struggle of a mixed-blood (culturally).

Then the question will be, although I know it makes better sense to send Yifan to an international school if I just want him to be happy, it proposes a question in the future – Yifan will feel more at home when he sees western drama, than watching Beijing Opera.

I Haven’t Decided Yet

I still have about one year to consider, and I don’t have an answer yet. It is not an easy decision to make.

P.S. My readers asked me in the previous article about what happens if the parents are not Shanghai resident. They can send their children to a school until middle school. They have to get back to where they original live for the exam, which is much harder than Shanghai. I am happy that even today, the policy is much better, because, as I stated in the story in this article: Hukou System in China, I never receive kindergarten education myself, since no kindergarten accepted me just because I didn’t have a city Hukou. See. That is the reason on one side, I am struggling to make this country better, and at the same time, I am optimistic about China’s future.

Is China Changeable?

This is a series of articles on education in Shanghai (I tried to avoid big topics like Education in China:

Worry about Yifan’s Education and

Worry about Yifan’s Education – Part II
Is China Changeable?

Chinese or International Eduction?

University Education = Hukou in China

Schools Conducted by Gaokao

Hijacked Education by Scientists

>谁也改变不了中国的这一现实 (Whoever cannot change the reality of China)

This is the reason why China will not change. Wang Jianshuo, you have this attitude too.

Posted by: Micah (external link) on May 18, 2009 10:06 AM

I appreciate Micah’s honesty in expressing that I also have the “China will not change, and cannot be changed” attitude. Obviously, I don’t have that attitude.

To further argue on that part, let me explain why by first addressing the question: Is China changeable, or is China NOT changeable?

The Answer is Obvious

If you generalize that question, and ask in the way I asked: “Is China changeable?”, the answer will be widely accepted as “Yes. Surely China can change”. Those visitors who visited China 30 years ago, 20 years ago, and 10 years ago surely would agree that China will change – huge change.

However, if you dig into details of the change, you may further find few areas:

  • Can China’s appearance change? Sure!
  • Will the culture change? Sure! Look at the younger generation in big cities.
  • Will the economy status change? Absolutely. What do you think the economic reform is about?
  • Will the political system change? No any sign for the change yet, but considering everything else, it SHOULD be change, in near future.
  • Will the educational system change? It had changed a little, but still not as far as we expected.
  • Will the few famous bad behaviors of Chinese people change, like spitting, or jay walking? No obvious sign to change yet, but it is much better than 10 years ago.

In any way, from any perspective, and in all standard, China IS changing, if you put China into a scale of 30 years.

However, it is NOT as fast as expected

Considering the last 30 years, even the last 100-200 years, China changed a lot. However, just because China had closed its door too long, and it is too far away from the international world, today, there are still many things that people don’t understand – some of which, I agree that China should go one step further to join the international community, but most of them, it is the international community who need to accept China.

People have the feeling that China don’t change partly because, China does not change as fast as they want, despite that China already changed a lot.

Taking the bad behavior #1, spitting, as an example. It takes time. Although we can try all effort to make it better, it takes time. That is what my article Beer Can by the Highway vs Spitting is all about. It WILL change, but it takes time. So does the education system I talked about in my previous two articles about Yifan.

Parents’ Choice in the Current Situation

There are always long term goals and short term goals for any one. To change the educational system and further, to change the whole society to make it better for the next few generation is surely something we should do in long term. Why I am writing this blog? To foster communication between people inside and outside China, and to make a positive change to both.

For Chinese, to bring more people from other countries (who can communicate in English, no matter where they are) to discuss topics of China give us fresh ideas (where you want to post your comment about Chinese education system besides this blog?)

For non-Chinese, this blog provides an opportunity to understand China’s problem better, and at least start to think about China problems in a slightly different angle.

Besides this blog, there are many different things I am doing to help to make the long term change, including speak on TV, go to more than 20 universities so far to deliver speech, to have a small fund in university (although paused for a long time), and to evangelize democracies whenever I can… Yes. Everyone is trying to make a difference.

The challenge is, regarding the short term goal – for Yifan to have a nice future, the long term goal does not fit.

Is it Brave or Not to Find a Solution?

Nothing symbolizes individual’s fight with bigger system as well as Jew’s fight in the World War II. I just visited the Jewish Community in Shanghai where 30K+ Jewish people flee to Shanghai during the World War II, and survived in Shanghai. Are they coward, or hero? By theory, to stand up against Nazi, and die before them are more politically right, but no one, I mean no one, can point fingers to them and say, dye is your best choice. That is the long term and short term approach.

One of the comment in the previous article reads: “it (if) got you where you are today, no reason why yf (Yifan) can’t do the same!” I don’t believe so. It is as crucial as if there is you survived from the war, why you son cannot do the same? Send him to the war field, and then pray. If I have a chance, I mean, if I do have a choice, I will never choose the same thing.

I may continue the discussion about my dilemma in education in the next few articles. I said dilemma, not my choice, since I don’t have a choice yet – it is so hard to choose

Worry about Yifan’s Education – Part II

This is a series of articles on education in Shanghai (I tried to avoid big topics like Education in China:

Worry about Yifan’s Education and

Worry about Yifan’s Education – Part II
Is China Changeable?

Chinese or International Eduction?

University Education = Hukou in China

Schools Conducted by Gaokao

Hijacked Education by Scientists

In the previous article about Yifan, I talked about the choices I am trying to make for Yifan’s education. As some of my readers pointed out, this is a pretty private decision. I post it here, just to help my readers to understand the challenges, and the environment I am living in – not just from the point of view of a tourist, but also from the local residents.

Education Resources are Limited

As I mentioned many times in this blog, although the GDP of this country grows very fast, the public resources like education, and health care is still far behind the demand.

To put things into perspective about why and how I am worried about education of my son, let me first describe the environment. The bottom line is, you should not use the standard of education resources of most developed countries as a basis to make decision for China.

My Story in Henan

Let’s talk about the university education and my story first. Back to the year of 1995, when I entered the Gaokao (The entrance exam for colleges), there are more than half million people as myself stepped into the exam rooms with me in Henan province. Think about half million people as smart as you are, and as anxious about the future as you are, and as hard working (or more hard working) than you are.

The result? There are very limited opportunity to win in that game. There are not many good university for the students. Shanghai Jiao Tong University, for example, offers 55 positions, and Tsinghua, at that time, offers less than 50, I remember. Considering the good universities you will be happy to enter, that is 500 slots there at most.

That means, if you are not the top 500 students out of the 500K students, you are over.

There are many other colleges that you can go, but everything considered, the majority of the students entering the exam rooms will be disappointed and get back to their home with no university to go to, and they have to throw themselves to the low end labor market – construction workers, or low end sales people, or farmer, maybe…

Today, I checked the web. Congratulations. The total number of students competing for a permit to enter university in Henan province raised from 500K to 950K, and universities get more students. SJTU, as an example, raised their quota from 55 to 84. In short, competition gets tougher, than before.

The Best or the Fittest

“The fittest survives”. It is from the Darwin’s law. The very sad reality is, in a tough selection process like the one I described, the best may not survive, only the fittest one survive – the fittest one to exams. That is a reality that no one can easily change.

It is just like to get a train ticket in the Spring Festival. If the rate is 6 out of 10 people can get the ticket you want, you can safely assume that the one who made reasonable effort can get a ticket, and those who don’t want to wake up early to line up for a ticket will fail. However, in a competition where only 1 or 2 ticket out of 1000 people is issued, what qualification the one or two luck guys need? Smart, or hardworking is not the complete answer. Luck plays so important a role.

Back to Primary Schools

The weird thing that I just discovered after Yifan was born (I didn’t pay attention to it before) is, the pressure from university went down all the way to middle school, to primary school, and even to kindergarten. If you miss step once in the chain, chances are, you are over.

I think I already tend to give up for kindergarten entrance, since it is so competitive in Shanghai. You need to prepare the kid so well ahead so they can pass the entrance exam – at the age as young as 3. I heard the story from my friend, that his son was rejected, just because his son chose cake, instead of bamboo for a panda.

Crazy!

That is the reason many of my friends already chose to immigrate to other countries to get out of this. Think about the pressure and the heavy school bag, the deep degrees of glasses in very early years, I almost tend to quit this competition. I may survived in this crucial race myself 15 years ago, but what for, for the next generation?

To be continued in part III

Pudong House Price Rise Sharply

During the Spring Festival early this February, the apartment near where we live was about 13,500 RMB per sq. meter. To put it into perspective of US standard, you can safely assume it is a 100 sq. meter house with 2 bed rooms, one living room, one dining room, and it costs 1,350,000 RMB.

Today, we find out the price has raised to 17,000 RMB per sq. meter, based on real transaction price. The same apartment of 1.35 million RMB is now 1.7 million RMB, 25% increase in a very short period of 4 months.

To further put it into perspectives, it is at the deep bottom of the world financial crisis, and spreading real estate crisis.

Why This Happens?

Disclaimer: I know nothing about economics although I have a wife whose second major is Technical Economics. :-)

I guess this happens because of the relaxed financial policy the central government put into place. The house agents are pretty sensitive to any policy that affects their business. They said, they can settle all finance related requirements for you if you want to buy a house. For example, they can help those who cannot get mortgage to get it, and they can get 80% of mortgage amount of a house for people who already have many apartments. The previous policy set very high bar for these type of risky borrowers.

That obviously works. When the buyers have financial lever to make the purchase, the house market is activated, and ridiculous thing like 25% increase in 4 months happens.

Worry about Yifan’s Education

This is a series of articles on education in Shanghai (I tried to avoid big topics like Education in China:

Worry about Yifan’s Education and

Worry about Yifan’s Education – Part II
Is China Changeable?

Chinese or International Eduction?

University Education = Hukou in China

Schools Conducted by Gaokao

Hijacked Education by Scientists

Which primary school should I send Yifan to? Every parent wants their child to receive the best education, and there is not standard of what best education is. Here are some choices we have:

1. To enter the public school.

There are always a public primary school in your community. However, most of the time, it is either new, or just so-so. Be definition, the most common schools are not best school.

In our case, the Chang Yi Primary school is the school Yifan can enter, but we don’t feel that we like the school. There are many other great schools out there.

2. Best Public School

There are some schools like No. 5 Primary School at Jiang Su Road at Chang Ning District, or Yuan Yuan Road Primary School – they are top schools of Shanghai. However, you need to buy an apartment in that school district three years before the child enters the school. That is very similar to the school district concept in US. I checked around, and the price for that area has raised to 4 million RMB for a two bed room apartment – way too expensive.

3. International Private Schools

There are many other great schools in Biyun International District or other places in China. They accept students from all over the city, as long as you want to pay the high tuition, and their education system is aligned to international standard. Well. International standard in primary school is a negative word. Although kids are more happy and can learn in a more open environment, and have more time to pursue what they are interested, it also means the kid is kicked off from the mainstream education system in China.

Look at the public schools. They push kids to the limit to learn unlimited stuff – primary school students have to work as hard as to 9 PM to finish their homework, and their weekends are also occupied. This does not happen in international schools.

What is the choice? There are not many months for us to decide – if our choice is a very good public school, we need to act now to secure an apartment (and sell the current one at the same time). Both need time.

Time Matters in Communication

This week (May 11 to May 15, 2009) is my communication week. I talked with people. Today, I talked 12.5 hours in total (including 2.5 hours with Jack and Jim), and the other 10 with TL, and ZR. Yesterday, I talked about 7 hours with Joanna, and Bobo, and the day before, 5 hours with Vince… Nice to chat with everyone and to get fully synced. The last week, I also talked 9 hours + 7 hours in two days with Matt.

When we think about communication, we often think about how often we talk, but I realized that time is one of the most important factor for any communication. Many times, you have to spend the time together first, to allow enough information to flow between people. Time is so key that the depth of the communication is directly correlated with the continuous time spent together. Sometimes, you need several hours to warm up, to have all the routine, and surface problems to be addressed, before people mention about the real key issues. Total time spend in one conversation really matters.

Meanwhile, I am very happy to recognize my personality type ENFP – the idea people, and the people people. I am happy about who I am and what I am good at… I am a very unique ENFP.

When I talked with Jack, he mentioned that he don’t like Spring Airlines. I love it a lot. I joked with Jack, that they know who their customers are very clearly. If you keep complaining and if I were the CEO of the airline, I will record your national ID, and ban you from buying their ticket. :-)

Update May 15, 2009

Added another 8 hours for Gary and York. To include the 5 hour with PH, I spent 35 hours talking with my team members in this 40 hour working week, and 3.5 hours talking with Mark, Jack and Jim. Tiring week, isn’t it?

Friendship Binding vs Interest Binding

For a company, whether it should be bound by friendship (“I really love to work with these guys”), or should it be bound by interest (“I maximize my value in this company in any other company in the world”)? This is a key question in my mind recently.

The easy and simple answer is, sure, you need both, but if you have to decide, what comes first? When there is a conflict, which comes first?

May 12, 2009

One year anniversary of the earthquake. To be honest, today just slip from my fingers, another crucial way to tell us (sadly) that no matter what happens, the world still keep going…

I spent 7 hours talking today, and had two pretty important meetings in the morning. A long and tiring day. I said communication is the key to any success. I do mean it, and that is the reason I will spend the rest of the month purely on communication.

Another thing to notice, that the Atlantis space shuttle (it was delayed launch many months ago) appeared on news. It is arranged as a rescue ship. Its sister ship, Space shuttle Endeavour will prepare to be launched in the middle of June. My YLF friend Christopher will be on board to fly to the space station. They are also using twitter to update their status in the space. Good luck Christopher, and his team members.