Samstag, 1. Mai 2010

Finding myself

it's been quite a wile since I wrote something here on this blog the last time. I'm looking for excuses like that I've been too busy or I had far more important things to do - however, the truth is that I was just too lazy to write. And this laziness I'm pushing through my life is the main point why I am restarting this blog: currently, my most importat goal is overcoming procrastination and get myself more productive and creative.

In order to overcome procrastination, I firstly need to figure out why I am procrastinating. Is it because I want to escape from the preassure around me? Am I waiting for a better moment for doing certain things that never arises? Do I know what I want to do and why I want it?

Probably, the latter get closest to my problem: I procrastinate because I don't know what to do or when I have to do something, why I (should want to) do that. This situation gets me unconcentrated, inefficient and therefore inevitable frustrated. The solution for this seems quite obvious: clearly define my goals and stop caring about things I don't really like anyway. Interestingly, I tend to stop working for my goals and start to procrastinate again as soon as I get stuck somewhere. If I reach such a point, my natural reaction seems to be hiding from it and rather work on an other goal. Thus, it takes me a rather long time to achieve my goals and I consequently get stressed by them so that achieving them is not something encouraging but rather something I have to do so it can't get me any excited when I finish it.

Samstag, 7. März 2009

My first day in Jiaoda

Two weeks ago, I've started studying Chinese language here in Chengdu at the Southwest Jiaotong University. The guys there straightly sent me to the second term, claiming that I already knew Pinyin (the Chinese romanisation which is taught in the first 10 lessons of a term) anyway and I might catch up easily with my classmates.

The real reason probably was that my uni wanted another student who pays, as there is no first term class starting in February anyway...
Nevertheless, I was quite stunned when I went to my first class and the teacher, Ms. Wang, started to introduce some new vocabulary in a spate of words, all in Chinese. As I've indeed studied some Chinese before, I managed to follow the lesson, but it demanded an extraordinary effort and I had to pay attention all the way, 'cause I was asked questions rather often, as my class that day merely consisted of me and three other students.

The second class that morning,extensive reading, was taught by another teacher, who was also called Ms. Wang. We were reading a rather boring story about some students studying Chinese in Beijing. Their teacher's name, by the way, was Ms. Wang as well.
Anyway, her lesson was the first success I experienced that morning, as I could recognize most of the characters.

My class is rather small, we're only 7 students. What surprised (not to say disappointed) me was, that 6 out of them were guys - I've actually thought girls are more likely to study languages...
Now 5 of them are African, sent to China by Microsoft to study the language and some computer science. Whilst 3 of them really study hard, the other two are usually not attending class. Then there's a girl from Canada whose parents are Vietnamese and who wants to get to know Asia. She's just started studying Chinese two weeks ago and therefore doesn't really manage to understand the teacher, which is why she usually doesn't come along either.

I myself try to not miss any class, but this is rather hard, as I had to experience. On one hand, there's my gf who doesn't like to sleep before 1 am (and I gotta get up at 6:30), and, what's much more important, there's an over-eager exchange students agent who calls me up nearly every morning, so that I find myself spending the morning in his office, discussing some visa issues instead of learning Chinese, more often than not. Anyway, I feel I am getting settled and will be able to study seriously soon. Hopefully.

As Chinese natives like to mistranslate Mao's famous statement: Good good study, day day up.

Montag, 3. November 2008

A learning-friendly environment

Now that I am standing right before my University entrance exam, I want to have a look at which factors influence ones learning mood most:

1. The subject itself:
No matter how good the school, if you're not interested in what the guy in front of you is talking about, there's no way of getting it into your head. So what is the first thing to teach students is the relevance of a subject. This is probably also one of the reasons why my French is so poor:
My French teacher handed out some rules and once somebody in the class was unhappy with the way he teaches, he refers to them saying that according to rule n° 21, each and every student had to motivate himself to study. I think when you read something like this it's not hard to guess the number of genuinely interested students: right, 0.

2. The class.
This leads us to the second most important influence on the learning environment - the class itself. If you ever sat in one room with a bunch of totally uninterested guys it's nearly impossible to listen to the teacher, no matter how interested you are yourself. My present school force pupil to visit all classes, what of course increases the amount of uninterested pupils in one room - and just like a virus, disinterest spreads around a hot spot.

3. The teacher.
Last but not least, it's the teacher himself who is responsible for a good learning environment. Listening to that guy shambling through the room with attitude , explaining some facts, is by far more absorbing than listening to a mossback in dungarees standing in the front and expecting to be listened to.
Personally, I believe that the relationship between students and the teacher is crucial to the success of a lesson - and often enough also to whole life; it's much better to listen to a friend than to listen to an opponent. Thus the antiquated policy of certain schools, that puts the teachers officially over the students, actually leads to nothing but fights between teachers and students.
A teacher should be respected because of his vast knowledge, not just because of his mere position - a teacher who insists on discipline to gain power shows that he's not up to the students and therefore must use different means to get the class listening to him. As a result, both, the teacher and the students, lose - a classical school disaster, a trapdoor that still a lot of teachers fall through.

But on the other hand, preparing a good lesson demands tremendous efforts - and there's no objective inducement for teachers to take them, as they get their salary anyway, no matter how little they work. So in my opinion, a bonus system would be a very good solution for schools - and I am saying this in a time that banks are blamed for distributing bonuses!

How to measure a teacher's success then?
Here, a nationwide exam is necessary to compare pupils - otherwise, a teacher could just give high marks for cash. But this country is still by far too federal to ratify such a thing - so that's something we could learn from other countries, including China!

Donnerstag, 30. Oktober 2008

earthquake & eclipse

2008 was a rollercoaster year for China and its people. The earthquake, the Olympic Games, the unrests in Tibet and now also the financial crisis, which is probably going to hurt Chinese economy more than the government wants to admit. A Swiss economist, Marc Faber, even predicts that Chinese growth of economy could slow down to 3% per year. Anyway, this guy is famous for his pessimistic predictions - but also for his habit to be right; and personally I believe that he knows what he's talking about, as he's been living in Asia for now more than 35 years and also predicated the Asia crisis in 1997, which destroyed more than 70% of the money on Japanese stock markets - sustainably!

But now I wonder: What might 2009 be like?
According to an ancient Chinese legend, earthquake and eclipse precede tremendous changes in social or political order. The earthquake we already had in may 08; also we had a small eclipse on august 1st - and there's going to be a larger one in June 2009.
What nonsense, you might think - but in a lot of Chinese people's mind, nature is led by heaven - and heaven decide who should govern the country. If the country is not governed well, there are natural disasters - that's how heaven tells China that it needs a new government.

Beside superstition, there are of course some more facts making 2009 quite a promising year:

- real estate crisis in China: what was not mentioned in Western media, might be a major problem in near future: Chinese real estate markets are totally overrated, because a long time, real estate used to be the only opportunity people had to invest, and a lot of local officials abused this fact to make their own money, too - and increase the price of flats and houses virtually. Now that the central government is fighting corruption, it's getting too hot for a lot of them. And the inflation caused by rising resources prices and the strength of the Chinese currency due to the financial crisis in the west force a lot of investors to sell there investments, liquefy there money - and this would have made the Chinese real estate bubble burst, if the government had not introduced a penalty tax of 100% (!) for sales of empty apartments!
Now of course the investors are in quite a bad situation; they feel betrayed and need money - but they could only sell their real estates for half or less of the price they would have got before the penalty tax; if they can sell it.
That might lead to big troubles for Chinese economy as it stops people from investing AND consuming and adds an inner threat to local economy, which is already suffering from the financial crisis that strongly affects Chinese exports.

- 60 years China: October 1st 2009 will be the 60th birthday of the people's republic of China and therefore make great quantities of people come together - which has always been dangerous to the communist party of China.

- 90th anniversary of the May fourth movement and 20th anniversary of the Tian'men massacre:
In 1919, the student's movement against Japan was the beginning of nationalism in China and led in the foundation of the communist party in 1921.
In 1989, students were demonstrating for free speech and democracy went on a hunger strike - and thousands of them were killed by Chinese military in a bloody massacre to prevent the unrests from spreading and to safeguard the party's power.

Let's see what's it going to be like in 2009 - the situation is quite promising, at least.

Sonntag, 26. Oktober 2008


That's probably the most fitting word to describe my actual situation. I'm now in my final term of high school and I stopped going to university beside school because I thought I'd be very busy in this term - but that was a total misestimation.
The final term in my school seems to be nothing more than just an excuse for teachers to not have to correct the final exams of the FMS and the matura classes - the 12 weeks school we have are just another occasion to chit-chat with classmates, but no opportunity to learn anything new.

In general, I must say I've made quite a lot of mistakes in the past 3.5 years, and the most severe out of them is following the minimization principle: define a goal and use least possible effort to reach it.
Thus I only learned what appeared useful for me - and nothing more. That seems to be quite reasonable, especially because we're told that universities will accept every student with a Swiss Matura diploma, only in a few cases ask for a numerus clausus, an entrance exam, that everyone holding a Matura can take. What is true for all Swiss universities, does not fit foreign ones. I've been recently suggested to study in the London School of Economics, Europe's leading economy university. But unfortunately they demand - guess what - at least a 5.0 average for Swiss students. That's something I could have reached easily by putting a little more efforts in French and music classes - if only I knew that it could be useful someday.
Nevertheless, complaining that one can only study in the University of St. Gallen seems rather hypocritical, as most of the top students in countries like China can only dream of studying there. So I made up my mind, decided to stop complaining about my own imaturity and make the best out of this situation. If I still want an LSE master in 3 years, I change university after accomplishing my bachelor!

A digression concerning a Chinese who wants to study in St. Gallen:
Therefore he first of all needs to graduate from high school with a top mark, then go to university and study three years, then learn German and afterwards pass the entrance exam of the uni. Sounds insane, but it's true.

Mittwoch, 30. Juli 2008

Wisdom and empathy in Chinese society

Chinese government is more and more afraid of losing its power. The mind control (see below) is just one sign of this...
But the helplessness of many people here when it comes to interaction with others is not just a problem on the top - it's a problem that can also be seen on the base:
Yesterday I was out with my girlfriend and her mum. We went to swim, afterwards had some barbecue and then returned home. In the front yard of our apartment building, a petite boy, maybe 18 years old, walked up to us, telling us that we are not allowed to enter the yard waking through the backdoor of the nearby hotel (although we didn't); we shall use the main door. We told him that we actually used the main door.
As a result, he started to insult us, telling us he has got eyes and so on... well, I didn't really take him serious, told him good night and headed towards our apartment building. My girlfriend and her mum didn't take it quite that easy and started to insult him on a volume that was absolutely not suitable for a yard surrounded by apartment buildings in the middle of the night. Well, it came the way it had to come. The guy and his friend started to shout back and I therefore climbed down the stairs, going to persuade my fellows that it was far more comfortable in the living room of our apartment then down here.
Too late - they already walked over to the guys, shouting at their face (some neighbours were getting curious, gaffing out of their windows or even coming down to the yard, some in sleeping clothes.
I was getting fed up with this kind of childish behaviour, so I stand between my them, asking my mates to get back home. They did not even think of listening to them, kept on blaming the uneducated prole guy. Of course the boy finally couldn't take it anymore and so he hit my girlfriend. I therefore took him aside, told him that hitting a girl was the most spiteful kind of behaviour he can show. This was not enough for my girlfriend - she wanted revenge, therefore hit him. He wanted to hit back but I made him get some distance. Then I asked my girlfriend and her mum to go back.
Boiling blood in their veins, they but kept insulting the guy on, asking for apology. The guy didn't apology - he preferred starting to fight again, so I had to walk up to him again, but it was too late - he already hit my girlfriend's mum on her face with her fist.
Enough was enough, the boy needed to be cooled down.
I then took him on his neck and pressed him on a nearby table, asking him not to touch any females anymore (I didn't shout, because I wanted to cool him down). After maybe 10 seconds in this position, he calmed down a little, but the rage in my girlfriend's mum arose and she wanted revenge. Just like a fury, she started to attack the guy, so that I had to take her, put her on a chair and ask her to not get up anymore for the next ten minutes, to prevent her from being hurt even more.
My girlfriend and the guy were meanwhile cursing on another again. I was now getting really annoyed by this, I just wanted to go enjoy my evening instead of playing nanny.
So I tried to get my girlfriend away, but the guy followed - until I asked him to go back. Meanwhile the fury on the chair called the police.
Like this it went on until the police showed up...
When the police finally arrived, the 3 fighters were taken to the police station, I was finally able to go back home.
Later I shall get to know that the went to hospital showing it to the doctor, asking the guy (who earned maybe 1000 Yuan or 100 Euro per month) to pay for it. Anyway, he was lucky, his boss did - but this shows the society here quite well.

People here do not want to give up - they don't want to lose their face and therefore embarrass themselves even more.
Who won this fight in the end?
No one. The guy was hit, the mum was hurt, everyone around was waken up - for nothing at all.
If one party was strong enough in mind to give up for peace's sake, no one would have been hurt, no one would have been waken up, the police could have enjoyed their soap opera they were probably watching in TV and I could have enjoyed my evening.
But this is just the way it works here; I didn't expect the guy to give up - he didn't have any education, he was one of the vast mass of proles, one of the losers here in China. How can he be expected to know hot to express himself?
But my girlfriend and her mum really disappointed me (which I also pointed out as soon as they were back from blaming the guy). He grew up in a patriarchal society, so for him it seems to be perfectly OK to treat women like that - it's the only way he knows to deal with them, the only one to get what he wants. Of course he is an idiot - but this is also his place in society.
Anyway, a middle-aged women who already worked as a manager and a university student should know how to solve a problem like this, they should be able to discuss something out without insulting or even fight. How can a society like this ever compromise, how can it come to a rational solution for problems?

Pressure still is the only strength of many people here - discussion is too difficult. Chinese should learn to understand others, to understand their friends and families - and even their enemies. It's time that this society starts to understand that an ally is better than an enemy and a quarrel will only be won when both parties are friends in the end.

Sonntag, 27. Juli 2008

How to learn

For most people I know, learning means remembering things, building a knowledge stock up there in ones brain and access on it once this knowledge is needed. To the ones who think so: sorry; that's bullshit. That's definitely NOT, what our brain is built for!
Learning means obtaining an ability, understanding how something works.
Unfortunately, most schools and teachers also didn't get it and so they ask students to learn books by heart, even if they know that these students will forget about the content of the book approximately 2 hours after the exam.
So wake up!
And here is how to:

When learning, no matter what you are learning, your brain is linking, not storing. Get rid of the thought that your brain is bio-computer, a huge database - it is not.
So to learn means you gotta let your brain make these links, so understand and use the stuff your learning, get interested in it, go in deep. It's not about learning for an exam - that would just mean you are pushing the responsibility to obtain the skill for you on your teacher. I know that a lot of teachers are often enough not able themselves to remember how they learnt what they know; they therefore teach a some unlinked mess and in the end, the only thing you've got is a bunch of knowledge-chaos which your brain will get rid of as soon as possible.
Let me give you an example (you already know which one I am going to give. Right, learning Chinese).

A lot of people spend hours on learning Chinese without getting any remarkable results, getting frustrated after at most one year and therefore drop it. What makes learning Chinese different from other languages is that it is made up of two parts:
the language itself (words and grammar) as well as learning the characters. I suggest you to learn both at once - one alone is nearly useless and it's impossible to understand crucial parts of the language without knowing the characters.
Anyway, apart this tiny (but time-consuming) difference it's quite the same as learning any other language.
1. Getting started
The most important thing in learning anything but especially in learning a language is to be patient but extremely constant. Don't try to learn 50 words per day - even if you remember them all on some stupid cards or something, you won't remember them in a conversation and you are probably going to forget them very fast again. Be slow. 5 Words a day every day will do it. If you do so and you manage to remember all of them, after year you will know more than 1800 words which would mean that you know the language fluently. So my suggestion for a beginner would be
: start with 5 words and 2 characters per day; after 10 weeks go up to 4 characters per day. Like this you will learn 1000 characters in one year what means that you can read more than 98% of them.

2. Use it!
Now that's the really big mistake most learners do. As described above, they just learn it without using it. Put all the new words in sentences, write a short story using them, use them in a conversation with a native (or an other student) when you are a little more advanced. It's useless to know some words passively in the back of your head, get them into your active vocabulary.

3. Repeat them.
When you write your short story, try to include all the words of the past 5 days in it, also do so in conversations. Only saying them once is just not enough, you gotta try to think of several situations where the new word is useful, so that you explain to your brain: hey, snatch it; it's something crucial.

Keep it up one year and you did it!
But this is another problem for most of us: keeping it up. The 30 minutes everyday are not really much but I know it from my own experience that it is sometimes just too seducing to just place oneself in front of the TV and relax instead (especially after the first few weeks when you're first arise of passion for the new language ebbed down). Well, there is something that helps: Just do it!