Tuesday, October 24, 2006


This weekend I made it to the Great Wall - I must be one of the few visitors who leaves it 5 weeks in Beijing before visiting it!

It's a bit of a shock to realise I've been here for 5 weeks! The counter on the Olympics was 692 when I arrived. Now it's 655!

I went to the Great Wall at Simatai. Fortunately I managed to negotiate what I thought was a relatively fair price for the taxi. I was a bit paranoid about getting it as they are normally trying to rip you off and I'm not prepared to drive a killer bargain because it's really not fair on them either. So I have this thing about taxis. I suppose then it was the best thing to challenge my comfort zone!

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I did get an OK price - at least I only paid just over half the original price so I suppose I did OK. I got to the wall and powered up to the top in half the stipulated time. There was a woman who was trying to sell me a book who walked all the way up with me. I didn't ask her to but she basically guided me up - not that there was much guiding required. I was annoyed at first but then decided to go with the flow and started to practice my Chinese with her.

When I got to the top I was a bit disappointed that there was a guard stopping people go to the higher watch towers with the more challenging walking/climbing. Still that did mean I wasn't tempted to take the risk. I almost ran down with the local lady following/leading. I did buy the book. Not sure whether out of guilt or actually wanting it - the photos are quite good. Then I went straight up the other side - killing the legs but actually this less crowded section was far more interesting. The wall was narrowing and in worse condition but this gave it an authenticity that enhanced the experience of walking on it.

I am not sure about the Great Wall - it is a bit of a myth as it was never 1 entity - it was built by different people at different times and a bit like China was united by various people at various times. It was also built with the cost of large numbers of lives. Is it wrong to enjoy such a thing even hundreds of years after the crime? Will people look at the places we look down on now as unacceptable? I think it is certainly a part of a global heritage - a feat of human determination more than anything else. Also a clear signal of man's need to feel domination over all things other men, plants, animals and mountains. When you look at the Simatai ridge from a distance, it itself looks like a wall - what other reason can they have had to build it except to try and send a signal to an enemy that we are more powerful than you and if we can do this then how can you conquer us?

So for me it was really just a great way to access remote hills and a great walk taking you quickly up and down steep slopes and giving you great views.

Great Wall - tick box. It makes a nice trio - Machu Piccu, the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China. Three landmark places / constructions, three different countries, same theme - let's a build a building that makes a statement and shows everyone else how amazing we are. Just goes to show that while people and people's products look different, they are all the same underneath!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Sadness is a Choice

People can choose - happy or sad. If you see something nostalgic is it a happy or a sad moment? You choose!

Sustainable Development and Motivation

I'm planning a session on SD currently for an AIESEC Conference in Beijing.
It was an interesting process. Firstly I started off identifying with objectives. Then I slightly changed my mind on the approach and I began to identify what, why and how factors and elements. On the precept that why is the most important I only spent a few minutes on what and how - they are quite obvious really. I then began to think about what motivates people to act sustainably and more generally 'make a difference'.

My theory is vaguely as follows. There are two sides to peoples' motivations. The positive and negative. Positive means that the motivation is created by a personally derived desire for action. Negative means that the motivation is created through force or imperative from an external source.

Some positive motivations can be:
Potential Impact
New knowledge that inspires
Personal gain
Personal experiences – all
New experiences and connections

Some negative motivations can be:
Personal Responsibility
New understanding and connections
New knowledge that shocks
Personal experiences – all
Social Drive

Take an example of someone who is 'making a difference' - Bill Gates (I will assume he is making a difference). Without speaking to the man it is impossible to say. I can visualise his motivation deriving from a variety of my identified sources though. Perhaps, for example, on the negative side he feels guilt - he has an extraordinarily privaleged life - even though he's worked hard, he has been rewarded over the odds and on some level may feel a requirement to pay society back. Connections may also force some action - he may feel that Microsoft has taken from society and that some positive contribution must be made to balance that. This last one would seem unlikely given the field his foundation concentrates in. Unless there is some 'reverse psychology' going on - this seems a little too contrived though.

Taking an alternative perspective, Bill may be positively motivated, and personally I feel it is more likely (his committment suggests desired rather than forced action). He may realise his opportunity in being the richest (or as good as) man alive to make a truely positive impact on society. He may realise that he has the potential to make an impact like no person before him and this may be making him try to make a difference.

Well anyway! The session will attempt to identify what motivates the young Chinese students which will be of great interest. It will then try to give them some positive motivation - asking them to build new connections in their knowledge which will generate some desire for action. Later in the day they get specific knowledge and understanding of key issues and they can use the desire for making an impact to combine with this and generate action after the conference. Great in theory - we'll see what the outcome is.

This is my theory of motivation to make a difference though. What do other people say?

First search for "theory of motivation to make a difference" showed no results.

Second search for "what motivates people" gave this CLICK HERE (google link). - mostly sales articles, same-old-leadership stuff and nothing interesting.

Next search for "what motivates people make an impact" (click here) yielded mostly random sites and a non-functioning site on youth aids work - getting closer?

There was one broken link to a paper which asks similar questions. Maybe I should be an academic and do research into it across the world. Or maybe not!

Enough rambling!

Hasta luego.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Teaching! Ahhh!

Can't decide whether I just had a good or a bad experience.

OK so according to my continual insistence that all experiences are good, I've had a good one. I had a class of very tired, slightly confused and slightly disinterested 12 year olds who I was reciting the following lines of randomness to. I expected them to write it down:

I want to enter the head
To meet the chief of the meat
Be sure to get a receipt
For it is clear there is a deer here.

Until I touch my son's blood
I have few cues to use on his suit
If fur works the earth when they were birds

Crazy huh!? So I admit some fault in providing something so random. But they know almost all the words so I thought they might just do it one by one.

The problem is that they're so used to being cooped up and told not to talk as soon as you try and loosen the environment they start to take advantage. This means you feel like you have no option but to punish them.

The problem I face is that I want to teach them as much as possible as they have paid for the lessons and they deserve a good job. But the lessons are so late (starting at 7.40pm!) they can barely concentrate so I have to do less material that I think they can cope with (in normal hours). There are also too many of them!

So anyway got silence and I hope a little more respect from them. Next lesson is more relaxed.

It really makes you think about handling people - they are acting in the same way that all people do but simply more instinctively. I am trying to draw parallels with companies. I think people are over or underchallenged and this makes them disruptive. When disruption starts, it spreads leaving the very studious who continue working and the majority in dis-array. Authority is essential but can be used too bluntly and can create more problems in the future. It is equally important to understand the reason for the disruption and tackle it as it is to assert authority and earn respect.

Respect isn't something you give, it's something you earn - so said someone very wise!

So I will work harder to make the lessons at a better level and to make the interaction more simple for them. I will expect them to work harder to listen to each other and to me! I suppose the point is - it's not their fault, it's not my fault. We must work together to improve.

We shall see!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Dongtan Eco-city

"the aim at Dongtan is to achieve an “ecological footprint” of two or less, meaning that two hectares of land would on average accommodate the consumption and waste of each person." From the economist technology quarterly last week.

I just read this article. I've heard about the 'Eco-city' before. It's interesting to get more information.

As ever I think there are several points to consider:

1. You can't consider on city in isolation and purport it's environmental credentials. The world is a system - there are so many equilibria that the positive effects of the city may be equalled or exceeded by some negative effect that while not contained in this city will nevertheless exist.

2. Should China be investing capital in white elephants (or is it pink elephants...whichever!?) or alleviating poverty and reducing the income gaps?

3. Sure it would be better to start simple and try to cut emissions in Beijing and Shanghai? Improve transport. Improve planning regulations and enforcement of them to keep construction under control.

4. Dongtan seems like a short term show piece. It's function to me seems to be about showcasing technologies but does not fit the social/financial sustainability measures that a truly sustainable city would have.

I have been thinking about this and I really don't think that China has such a huge responsibility to the environment as we do in Europe and N. America. In countries where wealth levels are so high, we should be putting huge amounts of resources behind making out entire societies sustainable (not, incidentally at the expense of other countries as can currently be the case). China's responsibility is to develop and increase wealth levels among it's entire population and ensure development is even and educated.

With the news that the number of $ billionaires has doubled in a year (from seven to fourteen), I hardly think that China is developing evenly. The country could do with getting this right and implementing more simple environmental measures (planning and emissions controls) before building eco-cities.


Amazon link
Author Interview

This book must be read.  There is nothing else to it!

I started reading it abot 6 weeks ago when my sister gave it to me and said - Henry - I think you'd like this book!  I thought - hmmm - it's a good length - will last at least a month and probably will keep me going while flying to China.  I looked at the back and it was apparently about a guy who'd escaped prison and lived in Bombay with various exploits.  I thought it looked good so took it along.

Little did I know.  I think the words in this book will seep into my consciousness and change the way I think.  The reason I love to read is that it transports me to another world and allows me to live out two lives.  I can pick up the book and no matter where in the world I am I am living the lives of those characters.  I can look up and see the world around me and then I'm inexorably drawn back into the world created by the author.

This book was something different.  It is the first book I've read with such a poetic feel.  Reading it for the first time is one of those experiences that can never be repeated and I can duly envy all those in the world who have not read these words in this order before.  It is like watching Faulty Towers for the first time - for people that have never seen it before there is a treat, an ultimate pleasure open to them that is closed to those that have seen it.

The I cannot and will not seek to explain the book.  There are no words other than the authors that can do that and you must read every one of the 900+ pages to understand this.

The book ends with the author finally moving on and reaching the place he seeks.  I think he accepts his lot and embraces it.  This is his life and he finally realises that the only way to survive (let alone be happy) is to let the experience flow over him.  I have just realised too that this is something that he comments on far earlier in the book when a friend tells him that he cannot resist experiences and must let things happen to him.  Although this is attributed to an Indian personality trait, I think that this is the most profound realisation in life.

When we realise we must accept our lot and we embrace our situation that creates our future we can begin to control our fate.  I suppose it's counter-intuitive that accepting what could be termed fate allows us to control it but I think resisting the inevitabilities of life forces us down a line we do not control, while accepting them allows us to mould the situations we face to suit us.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Teaching English

Here are some of the things I am using to teach english in the school:

We are switching the children from a phonetic pronunciation system to a phonic one. I have been trying to teach them the sounds so that they can use the system.

I have started most of the children on a, e, i, o, u. The class I take in the evening is further ahead though as I have more classes. For Monday's lesson I invented the following rhyme/limerick/poems:

One day I went to the zoo
At the zoo there was a fruit
But the fruit was so chewy
And I didn't have a clue
Why the chewy fruit was in the zoo?

The next day I went to play a sport
And the sport was with a ball
Then the ball had a fault
The fault was from a claw
But I'm sure I said it was morning

In the evening I hit my toe
The toe was hurt to the bone
But the bone was old
Even older than the snow
When the snow had landed on the road

One day I put on my watch
That day I put my watch on
When I put on my watch
And put my watch on
I was surely putting it on

The owl said to the cloud
How will an owl speak to a cloud
And the cloud said to the owl
A cloud cannot speak to an owl
So how can an owl speak to a cloud?

If I oil my toy
My toy will be oiled
But if I oil my toy
My toy will by oily
So what's wrong with an oily toy?

They are a bit random but that's the idea - hopefully the children will remember some of the sounds at least!  I'm determined that the classes are useful for them!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Another video

Hopefully this won't overload peoples' connections. Here is the embedded video of my school where I work. It's a pretty large school and most students board during the week. The video is taken out of my room on the 9th floor of the teachers' dormitory building.

Video Tour

I am trying to see if I can insert youtube videos into my posts. The first attempt is the video of my room that I uploaded yesterday. Welcome to my home away from home in China!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Fantasy Share Trading

So I'm about to foray into the fantasy share trading world. I wonder what the future will hold for me? Perhaps I will make some fantasty millions. More likely I will take undue risks and lose most of the money. Perhaps I should focus my fantasy money on ethical shares and observe the outcomes? Perhaps I should go for the money. Who really knows!?!?

I think I will invest in the Co-op because they do good stuff. I will probably look for random and innovative companies because that is just more interesting than the Microsofts of the world who just do boring computer stuff.

I suspect that time will tell and chance will decide my fate.

Got some photos coming from China but my camera has deleted the nice ones from Wuling Shan at the weekend! Damned technology!

Travelling the World

I found this link on Dan Cunningham's blog ( Turns out I have been to 21 countries (counting only those that I have at least stayed one night in):

If you count all the countries I've visited overall - even airplane stop-offs then it comes to 29!

create your own visited countries map

Yes, OK, 29 is completely spurious and I really did only stay in the UAE for about 2 hours...but it's fun to think! Only about 160 to go.

Notable exceptions right now are Iberia - I've never been to Spain or Portugal - they should be pretty easy to add to the list. Russia would make the map more complete. Africa will be a challenge but I will definitely be there in the next 5 years or so!

Thanks for the link Dan!