Category Archives: Foreign Experience

Why I am here

I came to the states for the cause of education/learning. I have identified the education as the most important thing for China, as the thing that will make the real change. I recognized that for the macro-environment, it is better to do it in America. I believe what I am doing here will eventually benefit China greatly. So I came here.

But here in this foreign culture, I am limited by my micro-environment. I have been trying here for about 9 years. When I first came here, I made my decision that if I could not speak English like Americans (I don’t mind accent. As long as I can express myself freely and people can understand me without any problem, it is ok.), I will definitely go back. Now I already passed the deadline I had set for myself. The restrictions the US government put on foreigners make it very difficult for me to have free time to make the breakthrough. Chomsky says language is what makes human being human being. Many times when I look at the cats, I feel I am in a state between the cat and the human being. Yes, not only are the immigrants/foreigners slaves, they are also not human being. I wouldn’t go to graduate school if I stayed in China. To come to the states, I chose to go to graduate school and wasted a lot of my time there. I came to the states for the purpose of unschooling. But to come here, I need to put myself into school. How ironic is that?

I surely had my fun here, and it is always good to learn new things and meet new people. But my life is limited. I have to choose where I am going to base myself.

People who believe in national border is very short-sighted and lack of knowledge and imagination. I thought America is about Equality.

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Consciousness/experiences cannot be transfered

In Zen, it is well-known that the masters insist that they have nothing to teach. They insist that their words cannot become the students’. The students have to experience for themselves.

Yes, the consciousness/experiences cannot be transfered from one person to another. You have to experience it yourself.

What I realized after coming to US is that the consciousness/experiences also cannot be transfered from one culture to another culture. Even it is within the same person, for what you have experienced in your native culture you will have to experience them all over again in the new culture. Otherwise, the old experience will just fade away and become not accessible anymore. So you have to rebuild the whole new experience on the new substrate.

I always tell my oversea Chinese friends that it is a battle of life and death living in US, which they cannot totally comprehend. But for our brains, it is certainly a battle of life and death. Although many oversea Chinese try to get by by associating with the oversea Chinese communities, it is certainly very different from living in your native culture. Their consciousness was locked up and cannot keep growing anymore.

I was talking to a friend the other day. He asked me about some of his impression of Chinese. I told him that Chinese coming to US in different time are very different. When they came to US, they were pretty much stuck in the time they came. So the Chinese coming to US 50 years ago were trapped as Chinese 50 years ago. Even China itself has changed over the past 50 years, these Chinese don’t change much. The new generation of Chinese coming here certainly realize those Chinese are very different. So each generation of Chinese immigrants become a museum of that generation. They cannot “melt” (a common word used, but I don’t feel that is an accurate expression) into the western culture. They cannot grow together with their original Chinese society anymore. So they got locked up. For China, it had gone through countless of wars and turmoils in the past 150 years. The trauma and humiliation these wars had caused in the people’s minds are very deep. And it takes many years of peaceful time to rebuild the order of peace, and people can start rebuilding the manners of their society. So people in a society grow together. But the Chinese coming to US a long time ago cannot grow anymore and was locked in that historical period forever. It took their second generation to start making a little change.

In Buddhism, we say there is no time. What happened in the past is not in the past. It is in the present. It is in your memory. So the past is just the space in our memory. We access that space by living the present. So if you are more able to interact with the present, you have more access to the past (the space in your memory).  We are constantly reshaping and restructuring our memory so that our past experience and our knowledge can be more readily available with no thinking. When you are crossing the street, how do you know you need to pay attention to the cars? How is that memory recalled? During an emergence, for example, how to put out a fire on oil? How do you recall your knowledge and reconnect things on the spot? It is reasoning. You have the subject and object. You take the experience of the object as the object. The subject and object are not separated. But when you are trapped in thoughts, the subject and object are separated. Then you are thinking.

Learning, is to constantly restructure our memory so it can be more readily available. When you can connect things at the bottom level, it is much easier for you to hold things together. When you are able to hold all your experience together in your hand, you will feel very good. When you bravely engage with the present space, the emptiness of the present will recall the emptiness stored as patterns in your memory (according to the current brain science, the revoking of memory is based on pattern mapping). Such pattern mapping doesn’t have to be visual to visual mapping. Visual might be mapped to audio and so on.

As in the previous post, our memory is also stored externally in the material culture. By interacting with that external material culture every day, we have access to our memory. Thus living in a community has essential meaning to human being. Being extracted out of that material culture and transported to another material culture means you lose part of your memory. Thus you need to familiarize yourself with the new material culture and have that as your new external storage of memory. By interacting with it day to day, you are accessing your memory stored in it. The ability to interact with this new material culture certainly determines how fast you can build up your new experiences and be able to access that experience from time to time.

Some stuff above is more hypothetic in nature.

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A Puerto Rican fighting the whole west

Overhead a conversation of a dinner table besides me. The guy is from Puerto Rico. He is talking about Puerto Rican here don’t want to learn English and don’t want to learn all the things they don’t know here. They just stay with other Puerto Ricans.  He, however, wanted to learn of English and things here. He said that he was totally overwhelmed. He had to fight against the whole west. (This is interesting to me. I thought Puerto Rico was part of the western world.) The other person he was speaking to didn’t seem to understand him. I, however, totally understand him and his desperate tone.  I always wonder what are the oversea experiences of  people from countries other than China. It seems that what we feel is quite universal, no matter where we come from. However, to people who have no such experience, it is just totally beyond their comprehension.

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A free life by Ha Jin: how lonely can you be

I went through Ha Jin’s novel A Free Life quickly. One of my purpose of reading this book is to see what he has went through in his oversea life as an oversea writer who accomplished writing in English. The oversea experiences he exposed in his novel is quite typical.

I spent a long time trying to find the original quotes in the book but failed to locate them in this 700 page book. So here are just some sentences I recalled from my memory:

If you live in America without a wife and friends, after 5 years, you will feel extremely isolated and lonely. After 10 years, you will have a mental problem.

Nan was trying to take on English writing and forfeit writing in Chinese. He worried it might mess up his whole life without getting anywhere. The challenge is like climbing a very high mountain without even the summit in vision.

There are more quotes. But one week after I read it, I cannot recall all of them now.

During my first two years in US, I had spent quite a lot of time with oversea Chinese here, and had an idea of the general conditions of them. What the book mentioned is quite typical. Living oversea for many years is a very unique experience that is very hard to imagine if you have never gone abroad for a long time.

My friends used to describe coming to US like living in a dream. For me, my feeling is it is like floating in the air, my hands and feet cannot touch anywhere, cannot be grounded. All the strong feelings in China gradually lost. I couldn’t feel those feelings anymore. They used to be what I felt of my existence from, which I used to guide myself through life. They are those essential so called “precious things in life”. It was strange to see them all gone.

Yes, after 5 years, most of the memory in China will be lost. For 10 years, it is probably completely gone without much trace left. You lose the whole system of reference. If the person cannot take root in the new culture and obtain a new frame of reference, I don’t know if the reader can imagine what it is like.

One word oversea Chinese used very often is the feeling of “Dry”. Like all the water gradually leaves the body, we feel very dry. We say “dried to death”. Life needs to be enriched with water.

I felt this gradual loss of feelings and the sense of groundless immediately after I came to US, and I knew my most urgent task was to grow myself in this culture, (just like a cell growing on matrix). I knew this is a matter of life and death. It is a matter of survival. If I had free control of my time, I would definitely devote all of it to learning of this new culture madly. I had never expected this struggle to be this long.

I remember a question on blogpost is: if you dig a hole to China, where should you start? My answer is: the closest way to China is to dig a hole right through this thick American culture. That is the only way we can go back to China. You have to go beyond, stay on top of the game, if your choice is to stay. The world is already becoming one country. Just like in China, there are many provinces so you learn the cultures of various provinces. Since the world is becoming one country, you also need to learn other cultures. If so, I guess it is better for me to learn here. It is actually quite a lot of fun, if you can stay on top of the game. Recently I just realized that I need to enjoy my life here. Find good food here. Do whatever I like to do. Relax and enjoy my life here. I’ve been too hard on myself, always prepared to endure long time of pain before the taste of accomplishment. Life is in very simple things. Realizing this, the raw material of life start growing in this culture. After all, this body is capable of experiencing life, sensing the world, feeling the emotions, synthesizing beauties and recreate with its powerful force of life. The heart just needs to be exposed, be touched so it can grow big and strong.

People need to be good at two things: one is to be able to work just by oneself; the other is to be able to work with other people. There are always time you need to endure a long time of working just by yourself.

Anyway, thought of taking this chance to record the oversea experience. I couldn’t have imagined this kind of experience before I came abroad although I was very confident of myself then. As far as I know, the oversea experience wasn’t talked much in the literature. This article hopefully can give you some idea of what it is like. It feels so good to be in the mother language. Like fish going back to water.

Extra about oversea experience:

The endless creativity I had felt before going abroad gradually left me. In a class, when asked to come up some creative use of an invention (a material change color responding to temperature), I could not come up with anything, while other students come up with many things from their daily life. I felt so bad.

I have forgotten a lot of concepts since I don’t know their English words. When I googled them and saw their Chinese version, I was stunned that I had forgotten that concept for so long. For example, magpie.

I thought losing YY will be very painful. But here in US, I didn’t even feel much the pain. No intensity at all. Nevertheless, the pain was there and lasted for a very long time, and sometimes it suddenly became very painful when i realized what I had lost.

Reading Ha Jin’s novel Waiting, I had the feeling that I am part of them, we are one.

Sometimes reading the journal since childhood or just looking at pictures from the past, it recalled what life is used to be like, how rich it was when I was not confined by language. How different it was! It was totally a different mental state!

A friend graduating from the best university of China couldn’t argue with an American when they had a car accident.

Doctors said detainee of Guantanamo bay may suffer brain damage because of extreme isolation.  National Geography’s special issue about Intelligence of animals points out that social interaction is responsible for the intelligence in animals.

Not being able to speak the language in a culture is like living in the darkness. You don’t see much light around you. But you are requried to do your job here.

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No Chinese food anymore–continuous exploration of space

I decided not to go eat Chinese food anymore except when I am going with some friends and they want to go to eat Chinese food. For myself, I am going to stay away from Chinese food. Initially I was frightened by this decision. So from now on I have to eat American food (or non-Chinese food) for a long time. What if I don’t like it? Well, I told myself, go find American/western food you like! Immediately it opens up a big space for me. I start paying attention to many things that I didn’t pay attention to in the past and start making sense of them. Things start to be connected.

When I first came to US, faced with this new space, I was so excited about exploring it. There are tons of questions that I want to find out. However, graduate engineering school can be very intensive, and thus I couldn’t allocate much time for me to explore the space. So I had to just get by. Gradually I got used to not being able to understand what people were saying and felt ok of it. I got used to not being able to communicating with people and felt ok of it, got used to not knowing what was going on around me… You know, I stopped asking those questions, and gradually forgot those questions. The space closed up. I got used to just getting by. I guess it is like the frog in the slow cooking pot of water, I am in the slow process of dying. Only occasionally, for example, when the school dining hall I used to work at caught fire, I didn’t know what to do, even though I had studied a lot of chemistry (but staying in US, I barely recognize any conversation related to chemistry. And just like math, chemistry don’t register with my daily attention since my top concern is to find time to learn more frequently used English words.) I was the only guy there, and they expected me to give them some answer. You know how bad to feel so helpless. Anyway, generally speaking, the space is closed up, although I never stopped fighting back. As time goes by, I get used to just getting by and forget the urgency of changing the situation.

So, you see, life is about continuous exploration of space. It is a very exciting thing and it is the energy that sustains us. Life is full of life that way. Look at many adults, why most of them have become so passive? Because they lost the continuous exploration of space! Look at the kids. They are always very excited, playing around. The world is brand new for them and there are so many things to explore. When did the change happen to them?

When kids become teenagers, mostly they have finished exploration of nature. For about 10 years, they have been awed by the wonder of nature, and to some degree, start getting used to it. Many kids, at this time, start to getting interested in adult’s world. When they are kids, they don’t like adults’ life, which is incomprehensible. So cartoon is much better for them. Cartoon is much simpler. 🙂 But during teenage time, they are about ready to take on human world. They start getting interested in knowing about how the human world works, what is like to be a musician, and so on. They also know intuitively (partially society also demand them) that they need to take on responsibility in this human world soon. So at this time, a lot of time is needed to do a lot of reading (history, society, literature, many many things will interest them), or try many things in society (selling stuff on the street and so on) to figure out how the world works.

But we know, this is the time kids go to middle schools and become occupied by school work and home work (and TV).  It is very hard to find time to  explore their own interests. They are told by the school teachers to learn various things which are supposed to the basic learning material no matter they are interested or not. What happen then? As time lapse, even faced with the new space opening up for them, they stopped asking questions anymore, satisfied of just getting by and being passive.  So you see most students go through many years of schooling without all those important questions of life, society and their positions in this society ever asked.

Before they become adults and have to be financially responsible for themselves, that is the time they really have all the free time to freely explore all sorts of things. After they become adults, they don’t have that luxury of free time anymore. Worse, they already got used to being passive.

So life is about continuous exploration of space. That is playing. That is adventure. Life needs adventure.

So we see two stages that exploration of space are blocked.

One is in middle school and college. The result is people get dumbed down by schooling.

The other is coming to US (as an engineering graduate student). The result, as one of my friends said, is to create the high tech slaves for US economy. (BTW, I am not complaining. I made my decision and if I don’t like it, I can choose other options.)

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On self-help books and regrowing consciousness

This might be a little cynical. But I think there is some truth in it. I am sure someone else have said the same thing about self-help books before.

What kind of people write self-help books? People who cannot accomplish anything else. Yes, if you cannot accomplish anything, you write self-help books. People who can really accomplish something are usually too busy to write a self-help book. And if they really want to write one for the sake of sharing experiences and helping other people, they will feel self-help books are too shallow. Furthermore, people who are successful are more likely to trust other people to figure out things by themselves. Only fundamental principles need to be discussed. And they might want to write in the domains they are successful in, and require real life experiences in those domains. But their books, once written, are beyond the comprehension of the readers who seek self-help books, thus cannot be put into the category of self-help books. Thus it seems self-help books are doomed to be shallow and general.

If some posts on this blog appear to be self-help in nature (Are they?), that is only because I have lost my consciousness once. As I am regaining my consciousness in this new culture, I feel the need to record the growth of my consciousness for the fear of losing it again. Thus in case I lose it again, I can use what I have recorded to help me regain it. Usually when people are growing their consciousness the first time in their original culture, they are just in a hurry to rush ahead in their lives. And as your consciousness is attached to the culture/social space you are in, there is no worry of losing it. Also when people are growing their consciousness for the first time, they usually are not aware of it, and thus cannot record. As I am growing my consciousness for the second time, I am very aware of it and thus able to record.

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Language, Culture, Human Brain, and Consciousness

Language, Culture, Human Brain, and Consciousness

Human being are social creatures. A large part of brain/mind is for social functions. In a foreign land, because of the language barrier, those functions are rarely carried out, thus those parts of brain rarely exercised, and might go into hibernation for a long time.

Even foreigners/immigrants choose to stay within their ethnic communities oversea, these communities don’t form a large society at all, thus lack many social functions the brain needs to develop itself socially.

As a foreigner, s/he cannot feel any more those things s/he used to feel strongly. S/he cannot continue the social learning/development of the brain/consciousness, thus cut off from the life path s/he has been on (whether s/he is consciously aware of it or not).

Unless the foreigner can fully embrace the new culture and overcome the language barrier, thus get in touch with those collective social functions (attributes of the social space), the foreigner cannot overcome herself/himself and continue her/his growth or worse, s/he gradually dies socially.

Yes, the brain needs to be used socially, thus many aspects of it can develop as a space. These strong feelings, after all, are experience of brain of the social space. For example, the experience of no thinking and just experiencing.

With the mother culture, the brain develops in an organic way as the person grows. After the language development stage, the brain starts to develop socially. Compared to the brain development during the language acquiring stage, which happens naturally and most people or all people are able to accomplish without a problem, this stage of brain social development takes extraordinary individual efforts, and most people are not able to develop this stage consciously and completely.  The compulsory schooling and various other crowd control techniques are adopted by the ruling class to intentionally restrain its development and thus for many many people, this stage of brain development is not very much started and thus they stay as very dependent and immature people.

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