Reflections in China

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I’ve never considered myself to be a good writer, so I am going to write more.

As I lie here in my white walled apartment smack in the middle of China, I begin to reflect on the time I experienced here so far.

When I started my teaching degree, over five years ago, I was determined to teach somewhere overseas. It wasn’t until about a year ago when I realized that my aspirations would take me to an almost 1.4 billion person population with the world’s emerging greatest economy. So here I am.

Being in China has afforded me stable employment, which has consequently given me time to think. It amazes me that the time I now have has enabled me to process and reflect on my life more.

For instance, I no longer feel the need to meditate like I did in Canada. I noticed the trend in the West was to adopt and commercialize certain aspects of the east, such as meditation. Whereas here I am, in a city of over 10 million people, and I feel more at peace than I did when I was in a city of not even 400,000.

I think for most of my life I have underestimated the importance of stable employment. After being in university for nearly 9 years, living on a tight budget was just a way of life.

With my extra time in China, I have taken to learning a number of different perspectives. Recently, I have been learning about Ayn Rand’s “objectivism”, which seemed to me to be the opposite of communist ideals. I have also been learning about China’s mindset, history, and position in the global economy thanks to Kishore Mahbubani . It amazes me how different China’s history is from the West, yet, as China evolves it takes lessons from the West in order to adapt and grow into what will likely become the world’s most powerful economy.

Perhaps one thing in particular that stands out to me is “the China perspective”. Unlike the United States of America, China does not have a history of proselytizing (a fancy word I learned recently which means to convert or attempt to convert from one belief to another…) like America does. For more information, check out Kishore’s talk at Harvard.

I think the concept that one of the greatest countries in the world does not force their will or ideologies upon others is remarkable. Because for the past 250 years or so, that has been America’s core thrust into global dominance.

To be honest, I prefer learning from a country with this type of mindset. China reminds me of a silent warrior. And if you think about it, even the “heroes” that have come from China’s pop culture are the same. For example, let’s compare kung fu movies to American action movies. While American action movies are filled with big explosions, lots of weapons, and one man saving the day, kung fu movies tend to revolve around one person using their hands to fight against villains (PS. I am totally stealing from Susan Cain’s book called “Quiet…”, you should check it out – or this YouTube video if you don’t have time to start a new amazing book).

There are a few highlighted situations in the Western media today on Sino-Western relations. With these cases in mind, it is easy to consider that relations between China and Canada are not strong. Based on my experiences and research so far, but I do not believe this is the case. Foreigners, especially Canadians, continue to be respected everywhere I go. The Chinese are very polite and curious about Canada, and many of my students continue to wish to study there.

Without getting into details, I believe that the West is jealous of China’s economic success and is scared about their eventual economic dominance. However, China is a very different country than the current superpower, the USA (namely as mentioned above).

All in all, there are many things that have brought me to this moment. My experiences in Canada were invaluable and I am forever grateful for what I have learned and achieved. Those experiences have brought me to where I am today. Sitting in a white walled apartment smack in the middle of the world’s soon to be biggest economy. And to be frank, I like it here.


 

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Solutions to Toxic Masculinity

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(Image Source)
“It is up to [males] to decolonize [themselves] and question masculinity.” — Amy Quichiz
 
This is a quote I pulled from an article on the “men are trash” movement.
 
In my ongoing 8 year engagement of gender theory, especially matters related to women’s’ studies and feminism, I have found it very difficult to uncover solutions to toxic masculinity.
 
First, toxic masculinity can be understood as traits of dominance, devaluation of women, extreme self-reliance, and the suppression of emotions (Source).
So rather than finding solutions from other people and sources, I have reflected on what I believe are solutions to toxic masculinity.
 
To me, some solutions to toxic masculinity are:
– Empathy
– Understanding
– Observation
– Listening
– Putting the needs of others first
– Patience
– Being ok with being wrong, admitting it, learning from it, and taking action to correct oneself
– Understanding that to varying degrees guys get a “free pass” in life, identifying it when it comes up, and questioning who the “free pass” benefits
– Identifying cultural, institutional, and personal forms of toxic masculinity and coming up with solutions to eliminate it
If you (especially males) have taken the time to read this, I hope that these thoughts are concrete and constructive.
I welcome your feedback as my thoughts will always be incomplete.
– Mark
(I dedicate this article to Rowa Mohamed)

Fluid Thinking

I just finished a conversation with a good friend of mine about what he called “fluid thinking”.

One way to describe “fluid thinking” is to seek out nuance (subtle differences) in ideas.

For example, rainbows have many different colours.

Someone who has nuanced thinking can see the variety of different colours that makes up the rainbow, not just the colours that make up the opposing ends.

Moreover, ‘fluid thinkers’ may also ask questions which show nuanced thinking.

Such as, “what is a rainbow made of?”, “is every rainbow different?”, “do people see rainbows differently from one another?”.

Any of those questions could be answered in purely scientific ways with many references to physics.

Though the point here is that fluid thinkers have the ability to expand the way they understand something, rather than boiling it down to some limited definition.

Right or wrong, I believe that the human experience is even more complicated than something like the fundamentals of physics.

Perhaps social issues call for even greater forms of nuanced thinking.

Consider concepts of identity, mental wellness, violence, religion, love, forgiveness…the things that make up the human condition. Although there are “laws of physics”, I do not think there are “laws of love”.

When it comes to matters of the human condition, and perhaps beyond, I believe that nuanced thinking is a requirement for learning.

 

I firmly believe that a lack of fluid thinking leads to destruction, whether materially or immaterially.

If a parent cannot understand that their child wants to blaze a different trail than the parent expects, then the parent may ultimately force their child to be something they don’t want to be, or entirely lose connection with their child.

If we want to learn in order to improve ourselves, and our world, we owe it to ourselves, and we owe it to our world.

Canadian Values?

I was watching the local news with my roommate when I learned that the European court of Justice has declared that companies can ban staff from wearing hijabs (head scarves) because it counts as a religious symbol. In fact, companies can ban any religious and political symbols.

Though Canada has also experienced opposition about religious head dress. In 2015 Canada’s past Prime Minister Stephen Harper opposed the wearing of a niqab during an oath of citizenship because it’s “not transparent [and] that is not open”.

This topic ultimately struck a conversation between my roommate and I about cultural assimilation. The arguments I’ve heard generally fall under two camps: that Canadian rules and culture should proportionately reflect the diversity of its people, or, that newcomers to Canada should not expect their cultures to change the dominant “Canadian” culture and rules.

Simply put, if Canadian culture should be reflected by it’s population, then it makes sense that Ontario is driven by Christian culture – Christmas, Easter, etc. For Ontario is made up of 64.5% Christians, which includes 76 different denominations (Stats Canada). And when Europeans colonized what became known as Canada, the French were historically Catholic and the English were pushing protestantism with the Protestant Reformation. So both history and present times may suggest that Canadian laws and culture do reflect “Christian values”.

Perhaps the dominance of self-identified Christians explains the latter argument – which is, that newcomers to Canada should not expect their cultures to change the dominant culture in Canada. I’ve heard some of my Muslim friends explain that they shouldn’t expect their culture to be represented in Canada. Being allowed to practice on one’s own time is the gift of living as a Canadian.

Personally, I think that if a woman wants to wear a hijab, or if a man wants to wear a kippah, let them wear it. Regardless, I appreciate diversity because I learn more from difference than I do of similarities.

Lorne Ave & The London Intergenerational Community Centre

In London’s Sherwood Forest community, citizens were excited when Nancy Branscomb stopped their elementary school from demolition.
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 Over two years have passed and now and to the dismay of many neighbours from the Sherwood Forest community, the school will be turned into an intensified development housing hub.
 
Fast forward. Today we have Lorne Avenue Public School. Just like Sherwood Forest, we have two options for the beautiful Lorne Ave PS:
 
1) Come up with a great idea to fill in the school – including purchasing/renting
 
2) Leave to City to do as they wish – make money somehow (which is not necessarily a bad thing…depending on what the community is willing to do)
 
Although Lorne Avenue may not have hundreds of big windows where natural lighting can pour in, as some critics in education say, I do not believe that is more cause to take out this beautiful gem in the Old East Village Community.
 
I truly hope that Lorne Avenue’s public school can still be saved, and for some amazing purposes.
 
“These sites where schools are closing are key activity centres, key recreational spaces for the neighbourhood where they are located. It is important to the community to retain those wherever possible,” — John Fleming (Managing Director, Planning and City Planner)  

“Listen Linda…”

Over 40 million views hit Mateo’s hilarious video where he said “listen” 13x.

Though could Mateo’s infamous speech relate to an issue that’s deeply inbedded in the “western” world?

Well as an expert practitioner in the field of blatherskites, I surely think so.

I propose that if humanities’ most lethal virus is futile speech, then the essential antidote is to simply shuuuut, uuuup!

Thanks to Susan Cain, I’ve started to learn that perhaps real power lies in silence since we live “in a world that can’t stop talking”.

Since my visible identity screams normative privilege, perhaps I’ve learned one key takeaway from my courses on feminisms and the human condition…

Just SHUT UP & listen

If our world’s most lethal virus is related to talking, perhaps our only antidote is to shut just up and listen.

So…heeeere’s the part where I stop being a hypocrite…

Thinking…

Tonight I’m thinking…

Thinking has no identity.

Thinking has no name.

Thinking has no boundaries.

Thinking can hurt.

Not thinking can hurt.

Not thinking can be good.

But “too much of anything ain’t good for you baby” (Barry White).

But tonight I think.

“Oh, the things you can think.” (Dr. Seuss) and “Oh, the places you’ll go”  (Dr. Seuss).

I’ll never stop thinking for my thinking can help me meet all the right faces and take me to all the right places.

Where will my thinking take me to the places I’ll soon go?

Run

 

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The wind gently breezes against my face as I sail over the soft grass that parallels the Thames River.

You can smell the waters’ sounds swishing downstream in a steadfast direction.

The sun’s rays wrap me in warmth as I pace myself on the wood-chipped paths that twist and turn through the tranquil trails.

Nothing can replace the time I spend running.

It’s perhaps my most beautiful pastime.

I get to step outside and just breathe, just me.

Just breathe.

Sometimes that’s all we need….to slow down and breathe in order to find what we need.

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Serene

It was beautiful.

A walk in the woods was all I needed.

It made me feel like I came home after being gone for several years.

As I walked through Fanshawe’s property a flood of memories consumed my thoughts.

My father’s father helped to build the Fanshawe dam. 

The YMCA summer camp bus would drive us over the dam as we sang “The Beaver Song” or the YMCA’s morning camp song.

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As a child, my family visited FCA for many picnics by the lake. 

I ran countless cross country running races as we oversaw the water and were surrounded by sun and trees. 

That walk reawakened my sense of self.

It was beautiful. It still is beautiful.

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Transportation: The 21 Huron Heights (north) bus took me 5min away from the entrance of FCA. Check out this link for the Fanshawe Conservation Area trail network. 

In a World of Noise, Keep it Simple

Since being wrapped in the so-called ivory tower since 2007, I honestly thought that complicated language was the mark of wisdom.

And why not? After all, I was spending untold days dwelling in the words of philosophers, historians, the Shakespeares, and the Austens. So, long winded and confusing language was the way to go…right? Besides, it went so well with my love of speech, which has never been in short supply.

But I’ll never forget that crystalizing moment in the Huron College Library on a cold November in 2013. As I was ripping through piles of scholarship in pursuit of the perfect quotes, my perspective was forever shattered thanks to a single English professor.

This was my first experience in swimming through the pages of Pulitzer Prize winning Harvard professor. I was so shocked by his effortless writing that I actually wondered, “Is this even academic writing?” In hindsight, I can’t believe I stuck up my perspective was of the field I was being raised in. Thankfully this was the time my perspective of education started shifting.

Thankfully, the deeper I have dug into university the more I was told by my friends and professors to just “spit it out”. And it stop there.

Recently I was browsing through Harvard’s campus when I stumbled upon their “Ed[ucation] Magazine”. The magazine’s featured article was entitled “Keep it Simple” by Lory Hough, the Communications and Marketing Editor in Chief for Harvard’s Graduate School in Education. Although Hough points out that education is a highly complex process, Hough insists that sometimes we require simple ideas to overcome our biggest issues. This is why simple language is so key, especially in understanding our governments.

Our government policies are riddled with inaccessible language that leaves its citizens in the dark on many issues. Just the other day, I was sitting down with a friend as we were sifting through a local by-law. With our almost 4 degrees combined, it took us about 30 minutes to “unlock the mysteries” behind a part of a single by-law. What is wrong with this picture?

Although there are many solutions to these issues, here is one. It may seem a little random, but it’s far from it.

We need to spend quality time with our children and youth by responding to their questions; especially the difficult ones. If you don’t know the answer, consult a friend, a teacher, an expert, or even Google it.

Over my 8 years of service with children and youth, I have learned that the most complicated questions can be phrased in the most simple of ways. And since children and youth are always paving our future, we must give them clear responses to unlock more doors in their lives.

A good friend of mine once told me that “we’re always in a state of learning”. This has stuck with me ever since.

So let’s do our future a favour by keeping it simple. After all, jabber is just a disguise for our own ignorance.