The other woman

Because of the comic foundation setter or donor at Columbia University, my husband confessed (just kidding) to me his the other woman: a female student looked him up on LinkedIn, and sent him messages, and resume, to network, and to fish for a job. But her English isn’t really good. Ha, finally I found someone whose English is on par with mine. An advice: have someone to prove read your resume and solicitations.

.. I am very passionate about financial services or analyst. I have a corporation risk management class on this semester which inspire me on the Hedging, the service help people to invest their money and to avoid tax brilliant. My experience with Financial Director Assistant, …

But I did learn one thing from her: Bel Canto. Thanks girl.

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Studying aboard 留学

Specifically studying in USA 留美. Yung Wing 容閎 (Rong Hong; 1828-1912) was the first, graduated from Yale in 1854. Since then a skeleton of kids sailed to USA over the years, then stopped in 1881. Then the next wave of Chinese students came to USA was through the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship Program at Qinghua, starting 1909. Many my relatives had benefited from this.  Qinghua would become a full college in 1929. Those students were official sent – passing the exam.

The next wave of perhaps would be my generation, those who was born in the early 1960s, those were on their own, privately. Of course there were some official sent students too. This was lead off by China and USA re-established relationship in 1972. A daughter of my mom’s colleague [Xiong Hui 熊卉(?)] came to USA in the early 1970s, with the help of her aunt who was living in NJ (I think). She attended Iona College in New Rochelle, Westchester County, 16 miles northeast to midtown Manhattan. At that time, sending home color pictures was a huge joy and fashionable and affordable thing to do.

A close classmate married a guy who was on government stipend at Cornell in 1987. However, most my generation came to USA on their own.

Then .. in

98374eb31753TsbfsH3pAnd then then .. in 2015,

在哥大上学的朋友:在系楼外碰到了来自中国的一家四口,问我能不能通过给学校捐款/设立基金让他家姑娘进哥大商学院……诶嘛这是碰到土豪了吗?

A friend who attends Colombia University in NYC wrote in my WeChat group: a family of four from China asking me if he makes a donation so his daughter could attend the Business school at Columbia.

Irene 我:是真的还是你开玩笑?Was is [sic] it real or you made it up?

在哥大上学的朋友: It is real! (开始我还以为是问有没有什么奖学金,然后他解释了一下他问题的意思我就被震惊了……

It is real! In the beginning I thought he was asking if there is any scholarship but then he explained what his question meant, for moment, I was shocked.

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Immigration: Chinese Americans

IMG_7265New York Historical Society is exhibiting the Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion (September 26, 2014 – April 19, 2015) Here are many individual stories. The weather was great, we took a walk in the Central Park. At the end of the exhibit, on a narrow hallway wall, it compiled this profile of Chinese New Yorkers. More pix on FB.

There was a man who was giving a tour. At one point, he asked if any one is watching FOB – Fresh of the Boat, the Chinese sitcom on ABC. Only a skeleton of hands went up, which reminded me of Amy Chua, the Tiger Mom 虎妈. Within the Chinese immigrants, there are gaps, or groups that don’t really socialize or see eye to eye or mingle.

The earliest Chinese came to America was the railroad labors from the coastal areas of China, mainly Guangzhou Province, (Eng Association) in the 19th century. Early 20th century, students from inland came to US to study, mostly sent by the government or paid for by the foundations in USA. 1957 two Chinese Americans won the Nobel Prize in Physics.

The 1989 Tiananmen Square protests prompted the formation of Committee of 100. I still remembered New York Times’ Fox Butterfield in his Building a Voice for Chinese in the U.S. (1991.06.22), invoked a sentiment of Asian Week on the Committee: “a high school student without a date, all dressed up with no place to go.”

Second half of 20th century, toward end, most students came to USA on their own, included if not started by (all my school mates) the generation born in the early 1960s.

IMG_7278 IMG_7284 IMG_7286 IMG_7292

A timeline shows the Chinese Americans have been making a stride (work in progress):

  • 1820, railroad labor, wikiCPRR,
  • 1854, Yung Wing 容閎 (Rong Hong; 1828-1912) graduated from Yale; an under grade, the first Chinese studying aboard.
  • 1882, Exclusion Act of 1882
  • 1896, Li Hongzhang lobbied for better treatment of Chinese while visiting NYC
  • 1930?, Liu Zhendong (刘震东 1906?-1984?); Qinghua to University of Missouri
  • 1925?, Wu Shiwei (Swain/吴士蔚; 1903-1989); College of William and Mary
  • 1928? Wang Jigao  (Chi Kao/王季高; 1905-1997); Qinghua to Colombia Uni
  • 1935, James Eng (19 -) born in NYC, my fathe-in-law
  • 1944, Zhou Yiliang (1913-2001) graduated from Harvard, PhD, my mom’s cousin;
  • 1957, Nobel Prize in Physics, Chen-Ning Yang (Yang Zhenning; 1922-)/ Tsung-Dao Lee 李政道 (Lǐ Zhèngdào;1926-)
  • 1962, James Eng married Dora Tam (19) of Hong Kong, my mother-in-law
  • image1980, only Asian boy in the GNS graduating class (a couple of Asian girls; he skipped a grade)
  • 1984, Louvre Pyramid (complete in 1989) by I M Pei (1917- )
  • 1989, A Magazine (closed in 2001) by Jeff Yang (1967-)
  • 1990, Committee of 100Henry S. Tang
  • 2011, our children’s graduating classes at GNS 2011 & 2012 – over 50% was Asian

IMG_7294 IMG_7296 IMG_7299 IMG_7301

A few other facts:

IMG_7303 IMG_7304 IMG_7306 IMG_7307 IMG_7314 IMG_7315 IMG_7322 IMG_7288

 

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Profile of Chinese New Yorkers

IMG_7316

According to New York Historical Society’s exhibit Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion (September 26, 2014 – April 19, 2015) – Map shows percentage of Chinese New Yorkers by borough, and neighborhoods ! with large Chinese American populations:.

  1. 40% Queens
  2. 37%, Brooklyn
  3. 19%, Manhattan
  4. 2%, Staten Island
  5. 2%, Bronx

IMG_7317More facts:

  • Total NYC Chinese population 507,000 = 48% of Asian population = 6% of total NYC population
  • foreign-born NYC Chinese population 71%
  • Overall NYC immigrant population declined by -1% // Chinese immigrant population rose by 11%
  • NYC immigrants who becoming citizens 51% // NYC Chinese immigrants who becoming citizens 54%
  • Limited English proficiency: NYC overall 23% // NYC Chinese 61%
  • Median household income: $50,000 NYC overall // $47,000 NYC Chinese
  • Did not obtain high school diploma: 21% NYC overall // 38% Chinese
  • Household owning their home: 32% NYC overall // 45% NYC Chinese

 

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Brother Sway 北美崔哥

imageHe’s been pretty popular lately with his acid and timely jokes. (His weibo site and sina blog) I think the first post I read of his was the immigration joke, last year. Over times, I enjoyed reading more and, more. The other day, a friend asked if I’d like to have dinner with him I readily agreed. So we met at the EverGreen in the midtown. He’s fun and down to earth. He’s also an empty nester and looks like he is enjoying it, making a name for himself in China, USA and everywhere. 纽约桃花 was at the dinner and she wrote this: 眼见为实的北美崔哥, 好一个实诚的北京爷们   .. It’s very much what I heard and how I felt. Thanks New York Peach Blossom. The Chinese New Year is coming and he’s in town (New York) to celebrate with the world. Spring Festival Celebration 春晚 has becoming a such production, I ought to watch it tonight.

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Amy Chua and Experience: I’ve slept with 3,000 men

Reading this on the Guardian, I thought about what Tiger Mom said last night.

Her younger daughter Lulu who’s a freshman at Harvard, told her that she and her husband should go on a TV interview together – as a couple, so she could get paid $1000 as a fee. Amy was curios, asking what kind of TV program it is.

“Swingers Club” her daughter confessed.

在卫报读这篇文章,令我想起昨晚虎妈昨晚说这事儿.
她的小女儿露露告诉她,她和她的丈夫应该去上一个电视采访,为一对夫妇,这样她就可以得到$1000。

🐯妈问 “这是什么样的电视节目?”

交换伴侣俱乐部”她的女儿供认不讳。

image image image image

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A night out with Amy Chua

image

文学 wenxue

One cold morning in 2011 a Jewish friend sent me a link from WSJ and joked,

“How Chinese are you that you let your children have sleepovers?” Our kids had many sleepovers.

She referred to Tiger Mom 蔡美儿 Amy Chua’s book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I read it and enjoyed it as a light heart self-deprecating memoir to raise her two marvelous daughters. Three years later, she and her husband published another controversial book, The Triple Package.

If anything, she or they are shrewd marketers.

Both books, have confused the hell out of many readers and media alike – they just didn’t get it. So when I have a chance to break bread with her, I went, even I have to drive 40 miles into New Jersey, a state clearly doesn’t like me – every time I ventured south, I get lost.

Professor Chua is very slim and energetic, loves to talk and could talk up a storm. She is an extrovert, teaches international business transactions at Yale. She’s down to earth and blunt. She had a New York Times bestseller (World on Fire 2002) prior to the Tiger Mom but the immediate media assault was enormous and that she did not anticipated. The media descended on her, they interviewed everyone around them, camped out at her daughters’ schools. NBC Today show Meredith Vieira (?) asked her up front: “Yes or no are you a monster.”

I do wonder why the media and some readers didn’t get her books? They aren’t that difficulty to decipher. Just read the books. Gosh.

image image image image

Amy’s rather bitter when Thomas Friedman and Nicholas Kristof wrote her privately to lend their support but silent in public.

She’s on her sabbatical from school to do the publicity this year/semester. She entertained us with her trip to Davos in 2011, scheduled on the same panel with Larry Summers. However, the conference organizer decided to change subject at the last moment, to parenting. Chua mused: what does Summers know about parenting?

imageDuring the Davos conference, since she was never socialized at that level, felt kind of lonely. The MacKenzie party was the hottest ticket but she was not invited.

“I looked around, knew no one, totally alone. So I decided to cut my lose and go back to my hotel. My flight was following morning at 4am (not sure I heard it right)”.

She hadn’t have dinner and thought about the $60 hamburger at her hotel was too expensive. “The daughter of two immigrants in me” saw the nicely spread and used napkin to grabbed sushi. On her way out, she then saw the delicious juicy beef. Looked around, she saw no napkin. Too delicious to pass off, with her two bare hands, she grabbed two and put them into her coat pockets (I did not make this up! Her words.). Just then Sheryl Sandberg discovered her and came over to greet her.

she still uses crackberry

she still uses crackberry

“Hanging in there.” She encouraged Amy and asked if Amy would join her to MacKenzie’s party. Sandberg also called over Timothy Geithner to meet Chua .. then came Bill Clinton. All the while her beef was dripping.

There was an gentleman, in his 60s at dinner who said he knows a partner at the law firm (Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton) she once worked,

“I called him and said, ‘you missed the boat with Chua.'” The Partner obviously also read the WSJ book review, replied,

“Yes we did. She would be fantastic to train our new associates.”

I saw her on the panel with Jeff Yang after the Fresh Off the Boat sitcom a few days ago so asked her about it, thought she knew the host of saw the show. Neither. Did I detect a bit contempt or unworthy [不肖]?

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JP Morgan Chase and Jue

imageThis picture shows the father Gao Hucheng left, with US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. Look at their hand shake. Geithner seems grabbing better part of Gao’s hand, as if holding on to his dear life.

What is the ulterior motive for the father who welds so much cloud in China – he’s the commerce minister, yet was willing to go the extra mile to secure a banking job in New York for his son? The Americans like to say that three-strikes you’re out:

  1. Performed ‘very poorly’ in job interviews
  2. appeared to be  ‘irresponsible’ and ‘immature’
  3.  sent sexually explicit email to HR

I’m just wondering what did this poor fella have to do to lose? Daily Mail observes the following:

  • Gao Jue, son of Gao Hucheng, hired by JP Morgan in New York in 2007
  • Performed ‘very poorly’ in job interviews – but was offered coveted role
  • Also allegedly branded ‘irresponsible’ and ‘immature’ by senior banker
  • And he sent sexually explicit email to HR, according to JP Morgan emails
  • But despite his behavior, Gao Jue was kept on amid massive job losses
  • Father ‘said he would “go extra miles” for the bank if it did not fire son’
  • Federal inquiry has now been launched into firm’s Asian hiring practice 
  • Ex-White House Chief of Staff, William Daley, was also named in report

 

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They love their country

Red Army (2014) is a short (85 minutes) documentary by Gabe Polsky. We saw at Lincoln Center theater on Thursday 1/29.

I enjoyed it. It’s about ice hockey game, in the former USSR, the Russian Five; the NHL trying to recruit them. The Russians are relying more on finesse – they take chess and ballet, than brut force.

Slava Fetisov recounted his career. In many ways, his was similar to China: the training, the obstacles, being isolated, eventual was able to play for the New Jersey Devils and won back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings. He then would accept President Vladimir Putin’s offer to be the Minister of Sport. In this, he showed that he wanted to make his country better. It’s the same as Li Na, whom was featured on the 60 Minutes the weekend before.

Many Americans/media/journalists don’t understand, in spite of the harsh treatments, Li and Fetisov all returned to their own country and trying to make it better. I felt during this interview, Li Na’s victory, Lesley Stahl’s  questions, were lead on. Lesley Stahl was pandering to the public. The American, in general get their idea about China from Lesley Stahls. The general public doesn’t know any better.

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Florist 花商

It’s the flower time – Valentine’s Day is coming. I’ve used the following florists in the past. Blooms Today is primarily for overseas. For United Kingdom I used another one – can’t remember the name off handily. The review for 5-7 back in 2011. page
image

  1. Pro Flowers
  2. Blooms Today
  3. 1-800 Flowers
  4. Flowers by FTD
  5. Flora Queen
  6. Flora 2000
  7. Germany Flower Shop

This picture, a mixture of 20 ruby red tulips and 20 deep blue iris with Rocky Mountain chocolate is the most recent one I ordered. My decision to go with this one was because it’s a painting than photography.

I’ve dealt with them all and ordered from 1-5. I found the 1-800 Flowers is the most difficult to navigate. Other than this I do not feel one is better than the other. When in need, I get on their sites, and check quickly to see what do they have to offer. Usually a particular arrangement that catches my fancy hence the order.

Once I attended the funeral and saw the flowers I ordered from one of the sites, found the flowers were old – over blooming.

When you order the flower arrangement and chocolate, most times, you’ll have to play the shipping charge separately (it’s about US$15), unless it’s their bond-together promotional item.

 

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Chinese grocery stores in New York

In general I don’t have complains because I don’t look when I shop. My attitude is always, grab them and run. More than once the cashier told me that a few strawberries (or something) in the pack were rotten. I could not thank them enough.

imageI eat a lot of hot pot year around and have talked about hot pot meat in the past, specifically about New York Mart (on Yelp and here). The Koreans make better presentation but their meat are usually thicker and tougher. Two weeks ago, I picked up a pack of lamb at xx and was surprised by the good quality: thin and no garbage at the bottom.

Yesterday I went again and picked up a pack of lamb and a pack of beef (see pix above). The sliced lamb costs $7.99 per pound while the fatty beef at $7.59. I take three pictures of each, from the top to the middle and the bottom. The lamb is more or less stays true throughout.

image image image

However, the beef below is less desirable on the bottom:

image image image

Here are what the Koreans do with their meat

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Classic music in China

Last night we went to Lincoln Center for the Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. The last time we heard this piece was in 2007. As it happened, it was Long Yu’s Philharmonic subscription debut: in a program featuring Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, by Maxim Vengerov.

Shostakovich’s symphony requires a huge orchestra that filled the spacious stage to the brim. However it’s not my cup of tea, so my mind began to wander. I don’t read music notes nor play a music instrument but I love classic music. My interest developed when I lived with my aunt who worked for Central Philharmonic Orchestra (中央乐团) in Beijing.

At each of the music conservatories I visited in Beijing, I heard players with an extraordinary level of talent. They could all play the notes with astonishing dexterity, but they didn’t understand the music. They wanted to play the fast, flashy, loud, difficult compositions, display their technical virtuosity. They hadn’t had sufficient time or instruction in basic musical values that were part of the old European tradition, and they also thought that technique alone would get them the best jobs. I tried to show them that technical excellence was a necessary part of good music-making, but that it wasn’t everything; I talked to them about emphasizing the mind, about playing each note with the ear and the heart.

Isaac Stern wrote in 1979. I clearly remembered his visit to Beijing, his sardine packed rehearsals and sold out concerts. The first time I saw him, after meeting Seiji Ozawa, I found he looked a bit off … his limbs were short. But his warm personality won us over. Although Seiji Ozawa and Herbert von Karajan’s appearance were sleeker, their demeanor were drastically cooler and sleeker, especially von Karajan. Fast forward to twenty first century, which has brought Lang Lang (郎朗; 1982), Li Yundi, (李云迪; 1982) .. into our view. In 2004, New York Philharmonic hired Zhang Xian (张弦; 1973; since 2005) and Long Yu (余隆) just debuted, just to name a few. Is China improving fast, or the classical world needs new market? Maybe both.

 

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So you want to be a performing artist

A friend’s daughter wants to be a singer, is applying for a college now. NYU, Carnegie Mellon, Pace, and an array university in Chicago, in London, etc.  The totally number of schools she has applied is 25. (My kids applied 6 or so ..) She has been accepted by many. However, to get into the performing arts department, is another round of battle. Aside from application, it requires video too. If the performing arts department wants to give you a chance, then she gets to go to the audition.

She is thankful for living in New York. Because the universities in London have sent their representatives to New York to audition the American kids. As her parents took her to audition in the city, they met other parents from Portland Oregon, Chicago, or Toronto, etc .. The parents were all musing over the future of their kids: most of them will waiting tables.

I suppose audition means to the average applicants. I met two kids from our school, both accepted into Julliard. One was friend’s son who plays violin (he ultimately graduated from Columbia University, gone into investment banking) and another one dazzled us in their school opera, the Marriage of Figaro. It was our first time to attend school opera. At first, we thought it was a CD .. He was that good. You could hear him down in Florida. Reportedly Julliard came calling. The rest of the cast were impressive too. Our high school, is the only public school in the nation that put on a full length opera. And each year is a different opera. In the pit, more than three quarter are Asians.

文学城 wenxue

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daffodils 水仙花

Chinese New Year is coming
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image image

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I’m offended

file 20887

There is a school of thought that (I don’t want to re-post it), although they oppose killing, but they see the death of French cartoonists is justified because they asked for it – they offended the Muslim at large. I really feel offended by this thought, am outraged. Whoever wrote this piece – I saw two people in my circle posting it – is someone who doesn’t really know what freedom and democracy is. Trust me, there are plenty of people with foreign degrees still think and reason as in China where there isn’t a freedom of speech. The residue of being growing up in China.

China feels she has arrived and wants respect. But really, she hasn’t, yet. Opposing the developed countries doesn’t add to your credit. No one will pay respect until you have earned it – those paying lip service, are counties who only use you as long as you’re willing.

How could the writer pens out a decent article yet failed to see the meaning behind these cartoons? I sincerely hope the writer is only out to get more eyeballs. 哗众取宠 that this piece doesn’t represent the opinion of the majority of Chinese. Just another Rui Chenggang 芮成钢, despicable.

This piece is an assault on the fundamental value that the developed countries hold dear. This is also the fundamental differentiate the arrived vs those have not. Human is the base of the society, if you don’t know how to respect each individual and their opinions, you don’t deserve any respect.

….

I’m a housewife, maybe I should only man the stove.

 

有种说法(我不想再重复它)- 虽然反对杀害 – 但他们看到的法国漫画家的死亡是有道理的,因为他们自找的 – 他们得罪了穆斯林。我真的觉得被冒犯了,我愤怒。谁写了这个 – 我看见两个人在我的圈子里张贴了 – 是不真正知道什么是自由和民主。相信我,有很多人有外国学位但还是不知道言论的自由的重要性。成长在中国的残留物。我真心希望中国早日成为世界第一.

中国认为她已经到了,希望尊重 …. 不过说真的,反对发达国家不会增加你的信用。没有人会敬意,直到你已经赢得了它.

想象下出能写出一个像样的文章,但还看不到这些漫画背后的意义?我衷心希望作家只是出于获得更多的眼球。哗众取宠. 希望这并不代表大多数中国人的意见。只是另一个芮成钢,卑鄙。

这件作品是对发达国家珍视的基本价值的攻击。这也是基本区分。人是社会的基础,如果你不懂得尊重每一个人和他们的意见,你不值得任何尊重.

….

我是一个家庭主妇,也许我应该只该围着炉子转.

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An agrarian story: three sons

Screenshot 2015-01-11 16.18.07I heard this story at my children’s weekend Chinese school in late 1990s (couldn’t remember if I’ve heard this when I was in China). This story is taught to second graders in China, using two classes time.

Three mothers are getting water. One mom brags her son is not just smart but also has strength. The second mom brags, “my son has the best voice.” The third mom concedes her son is nothing special.

On their way home with the heavy buckets of water, they take a break. Their sons walk by. The first boy does summersaults; the second sings and the third picks up his mom’s bucket and carries it home.

The women ask the elder man behind them how good are their sons. The elder replies that he only sees one son.

My thoughts on this is:

  1. god forbid it is Jet Li and Michael Jackson ..
  2. the way this story portraying ‘good son’ or a good kid is wrong
  3. each kid has his or her own talent, shouldn’t use chords as yardstick
  4. how a kid behave is largely rest on their parents

二年级, 二课时

三个妈妈在井边打水.一个白胡子老爷爷坐在旁边的石头上休息。
一个妈妈说:“我那个儿子既聪明又有力气,谁也比不过他。”
又一个妈妈说:“我那个儿子唱起歌来好听极了,谁都没有他那样的好嗓子。”
另一个妈妈什么也没说。
那两个妈妈问她:“你怎么不说说你的儿子呀?”
这个妈妈说:“有什么可说的,他没有什么特别的地方。”
三个妈妈打了水,拎着水桶回家去,那个老爷爷跟在后边慢慢走着。一桶水可重啦!水直晃荡,三个妈妈走走停停,胳膊都痛了,腰也酸了。
这时,迎面跑来三个孩子。
一个孩子翻着跟头,像车轮在转,真好看!三个妈妈被他迷住了。
一个孩子唱着歌,歌声真好听。
另一个孩子跑到妈妈跟前,接过妈妈手里沉甸甸的水桶,提着走了。
一个妈妈问老爷爷:“看见了吗?这就是我们的三个儿子。怎么样啊?”
“三个儿子?”老爷爷说,“不对吧,我可只看见一个儿子。”

 

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An honest grocer?

I bought this pack at J Mart in Flushing Mall. The lamb is thinly cut and there isn’t many garbages at the bottom.
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image image image

 

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Gaokao “high test” in China

 

Reading the New York Times Inside a Chinese Test-Prep Factory. Then I searched Maotanchang on google, two more article emerged:

  • NYT, by Brook Larmer on DEC. 31, 2014 has 278 comment
  • Business Insider, by Harrison Jacobs  on Oct 18, 2013 garnered 2 comments
  • Foreign Policy, by Rachel Lu on Oct 11, 2013 has 720 shares

My comment on the article. I hope I’m ok at math here: According to wiki, as of Jan 2, 2015, the population in China is 1,367,440,000 (19% of the world, ranked at top) and USA has 320,105,000 (4.44% of the world, ranked as 3rd after India). SO .. China’s total population is 77% more than USA but their student body and exam takers are only 32% and 61% more respectively. Meaning USA has more kids and more exam takers.

total pop student pop exam takers
China, 1st 1,367,440,000 31,000,000 9,000,000
USA, 3rd 320,105,000 21,000,000 3,500,000
my math: 76.59% 32.26% 61.11%

Screenshot 2015-01-03 11.56.57 Screenshot 2015-01-03 12.02.23 Screenshot 2015-01-03 12.21.10 Screenshot 2015-01-03 11.56.26

Two, the 1300 years long keju system is a great mention here since it was very fair because it opened to everyone, rich and poor and it did not reserve a quota for the alumni (not a critic of the USA system but making a comparison). Also the fact that keju was so admired by the Western observers, according to the Cambridge Encyclopedia of China, “the introduction in 1855 of competitive written examinations for entry into the British civil service, and their adoption in 1883 for the United States service were very probably the indicted result of respect for an institution that had been a feature of Chinese political and cultural life for more than two millennia.” I’ve not a supporter nor a distractor, before anyone could come up a better solution, gaokao will remain.

..
Today, more than nine million students take the gaokao each year (fewer than 3.5 million, combined, take the SAT and the ACT). ..
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The radical expansion of the education system has tripled the number of Chinese universities and has pushed China’s student population to 31 million — greater than any country in the world. (The United States has 21 million.) And every student must first pass the gaokao.

Xu grew up as one of China’s 60 million “left behind” children, raised by his grandparents while his parents worked as migrant fruit sellers in the distant city Wuxi. His grandfather summoned his parents home to Hongjing village, however, when Xu spun out of control in middle school — skipping classes, sneaking out with his friends, becoming obsessed with video games. The family income dropped when his mother stopped working to devote herself to his education. Despite bearing down to please his mother, Xu still faltered on the high-school entrance exam, ruining his chance to get into the region’s best high schools. His mother was so upset that she barely spoke to him for days. With few options left for high school, Xu turned to Maotanchang. “I only knew that the school was very strict, to the point that some students had supposedly committed suicide,” he told me. “That convinced me. I didn’t believe I could discipline myself otherwise.”

Yang was just waking up when his mother knocked on his window. His luggage was packed the night before — a small bag for clothes, a bigger one for books — but his grandfather seemed agitated. He had wanted to leave earlier to avoid the hundreds of cars and buses that would snarl traffic in town. But there was another reason for his testiness: Somebody — a school official? a neighbor? — had warned him that he would get in trouble for speaking with me. A year after trumpeting its success in the Chinese press, Maotanchang was now seeking a lower profile, in accordance with the Chinese adage that “people fear fame like a pig fears getting fat.” Now, with a trembling voice, Yang’s grandfather asked me to leave. I bid the family farewell and, from a distance, watched them pile into the bread-loaf truck for Yang’s final gaokao journey. As they passed, his father gave a quick toot of the horn.

“Ma dao cheng gong,” which means “success when the horse arrives.”

Weeks later, when the gaokao results were released, I called Yang. After our last encounter, I feared that he might have stumbled in the exam — and that my presence would be partly to blame. But instead, Yang sounded ecstatic. His score far surpassed his recent practice tests.

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