Tuesday, October 9, 2012

UC Berkeley and foreign students: PC-ness run amuck!

I used to teach graduate school English as a Second language in China. Here's a real e-mail I recently got from a student of mine. This part of the UC Berkeley graduate school application. He was thinking of studying there for electrical engineering.

From: @fudan.edu.cn>
Subject: Question on PS
To: "'Peter Huston'" <
Date: Tuesday, October 9, 2012, 10:54 AM

Hello, Pro. Huston,
Recently, I was writing the personal statement and faced some problems, mainly about how to organize the writing and what should I write.
The words below are the instructions of two different types of purposes, I even could not distinguish them.

Personal Historical Statement :
Please describe how your personal background and experiences inform your decision to pursue a graduate degree. In this section, you may also include any relevant information on how you have overcome barriers to access higher education, evidence of how you have come to understand the barriers faced by others, evidence of your academic service to advance equitable access to higher education for women, racial minorities, and individuals from other groups that have been historically underrepresented in higher education, evidence of your research focusing on underserved populations or related issues of inequality, or evidence of your leadership among such groups.

Statement of Purpose :Please describe your aptitude and motivation for graduate study in your area of specialization, including your preparation for this field of study, your academic plans or research interests in your chosen area of study, and your future career goals. Please be specific about why UC Berkeley would be a good intellectual fit for you.
So, could you instruct me how to write these two purposes when you are convenient?

I’m looking forward to your reply.
Thank you!


Here's my response. I've cut out all the general stuff on writing a personal statement for graduate school, I sent him and instead just focused on the UC Berkeley weirdness.:

To explain, UC Berkeley has a reputation as one of the most "PC" / "Leftist" schools in America. As you know, in the USA many groups traditionally had trouble going to college. (i.e. Blacks, women, Indians, poor Whites, etc.) They are now often called "underrepresented groups." They basically want to know if you are from one of these groups and how have you helped them get access to education. If you have ever helped a minority (even a Chinese minority) with their education now is the time to tell the story.

Honestly, if you were to tell a story about how you fought against the prejudice of your own society to help the poor Tibetans get into school and attend college, they'd probably love it.

Do you know any Tibetans? Miao? Mongols or Uighurs? How about a Manchu in a wheel chair? If you ever helped any of them get into college that's what they want to hear.

And, really, that's what they want to see from us White Americans too, ("I learned at an early age that our American society was unfair and mistreated many people. It made me ashamed to be White. However, I worked to overcome the stigma of my race and did so by helping others, under represented minorities, attend college while others  of my kind fought to keep them down . . .blah blah blah blah  . . .) sorry I have to go throw up now. This is making me sick.

Honestly, American history does show our society has many problems, but I think UC Berkeley sometimes goes too far.

And, honestly, it is a very strange question.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

In Saudi Arabia they kill you with rocks, in Khazakhistan they slash your face iwth a broken glass.

Sometime ago, I posted my views on an incident where a minor SF writer went to a party at an SF book convention, had a bad time because a man she didn't like (another minor SF celbrity) repeatedly flirted with her, and then repeatedly tried to apologize. She complained about this to the management (although not apparently to the man who was bothering her) and they spoke to him, he said he'd misbehaved and then they banned him from the convention for two years. This violated a posted statement that people who engaged in "harrassment" would be banned from the convention for life. A large number of people became outraged and demanded he be banned for life.

The woman who had allegedly been harassed took advantage of this to demand that all men everywhere should act as she wished. (In other words, basically act like women.) and then went on to act as if, now that she had proclaimed herself a "victim," had the power and authority to be taken seriously with such a ludicrous demand. Of course, this did not work, as, well, some men still are not acting the way she wishes.

One of her publishers however, has now announced that she is a victim of "sexual harassment" and is using the situation to promote her writings. Meanwhile, a thousand people or so came to this blog to see who that very nasty man was who said "In Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, they kill people like you with rocks." (That was me, by the way.) However, please note I never said that this person should be killed with rocks. I merely said that her compliants were ludicrously trivial compared to what many other people have gone through, and tried to say that when you go different places you must adapt or you will get hurt. In some situations, this means that you must be prepared to tell a creep at a party to leave you alone. In other places, you must be prepared to flee for your life if you don't follow the local customs, be they right or wrong.

Which sort of brings me to the last time I recall someone threatening me with serious violence. It's a bit dramatic, ludicrously so in its set-up, but it does make my point.

Near Fudan University in Shanghai, China, lies a dive-bar called "The Hardrock Cafe." Now, this Hardrock Cafe has no connection with the international chain. Instead, its Chinese owner, in fine Chinese fashion heard "Hardrock Cafe" was a good name for a bar and decided to use it to name his bar. (Lesson #1= Things are different in different places and copyright laws don't work well in China.)

Traditionally, Chinese don't drink much in bars. Instead they tend to go to restaurants and drink there while ordering food. So a bar in China is an imported foreign concept. Most Chinese don't go to bars.

The Hardrock tends to get mostly Chinese (aka Han Chinese) but often you get a few tables occupied by either foreigners (of every kind, ranging from Austrians to Americans to whatever) or Chinese minorities. (Uighur students from the University, for instance, are not uncommon.) But the bulk of its clientelle are Chinese and they tend to be heavy, hard drinking people.

One night, about two years ago, while bored, I went in there looking for a beer and, more importantly, something interesting to happen. As they say, be careful what you wish for.

I was soon approached by an already inebriated man who asked me, in badly accented Chinese, if I'd like to drink with him and his sister. I said, in badly accented Chinese of my own, I'd like to do that but I didn't wish to get drunk this evening. No problem he assured me, and I joined him in a booth where a woman was waiting.

Some would say that was my first mistake of the evening.

Others, however, would argue that since this decision led to misadventure, and therefore I became a victim later in the story, that it is inappropriate to question anything that I did that evening. All is forgiven because it resulted in something bad. According to this school of thought, because these actions led to a bad event, I am, somehow, excused from taking responsibility from my actions and learning from them. In fact, if I understand things correctly, then because bad things ensued, not only am I excused from being stupid,  I actually increase my social status, become nominated as "a victim" and get the power to demand societal change, and all truly good people everywhere will listen to me when I do. And through actions such as mine, no matter how stupid in other contexts, societal change would come and thus actions such as mine would not be stupid anymore as society would change around me to accomodate them. i.e. through my victimization would come strength to make the unsafe actions safe and thus the world a better place.

Er . . , whatever. Let's get back to the story.

So I sat at this booth with two people, a man and a woman who appeared to be around college age. They were sort of tan skinned and appeared to be mixed Asian and Caucasian race and told me they were Kazakhs from Xinjiang, China. (Many Khazakhs appear to be of mixed race.) He had dark hair and she had sandy colored hair. This interested me a great deal as I was not aware that Kazakhs lived in Xinjiang and, if they did, my picture of the region and Chinese minority life were about to become a little more complex.

For instance, I'd always been told that the Uighurs, a central Asian, Turkic Muslim people predominant in Xinjiang, the northwestern most province of China, were the only non-racially Asian minority in China. It appeared I was wrong.  (And, just for the record, take that idea that Muslims don't drink and throw it out the window. I've seen plenty of drunken Uighurs in this place and now I was face to face with a drunken Khazakh. Yeah, Muslims don't drink and Catholics don't use birth control. )        

The woman, who was variously introduced as his sister or his girlfirend, a point that becomes relevant later, had never met an American before and spoke some English and was eager to speak with me. As stated, I speak Chinese (with a terrible accent) and zero Khazakh, but when attractive women wish to practice their English with me, I usually let them.

Some would say this was my second mistake of the evening, letting myself stay in the presence of a drunken stranger because I wished to speak with an attractive woman.

Others, however, would disagree. No! The problem was not the drunken man. To presume he was dangerous simply because he was drunk would show a very poor frame of mind and outlook on life. And to presume this about a foreign gentlemen, well, that's simply disgraceful. And, furthermore, the gentleman was a Muslim! How will we ever have peace with the Muslim world if people like me presume that Muslims are dangerous. (Actually, Mulsims are not inherently dangerous. Unhappy drunks are though, and as we'll see later this man was very unhappy.)

No, these people would insist, the mistake was trying to talk to a pretty woman in the first place. It presumes that women are sexually available and should be treated in a way different from men. Furthermore, it's simply (GASP!!!) heteronormative! Surely, I should know better than to try to talk to women in bars in the first place.

Er. . , okay, understood. Back to the story,

So this woman began speaking to me, asking me questions about America

(i.e. an actual question was "Are there any poor people in America?" -Which I answered with, "What's poor? I think poor is when your tooth hurts and you can't afford to see a dentist. So, yes, there are poor people in America." --her reply, "I think poor is when you have no food." A ha! Basic third world wisdom and definitions.)

Unfortunately it proved impossible for us to have a conversation as the Khazakh man kept interrupting with drunken statements. He'd switch back and forth from Chinese to his (very) limited English. In Chinese he would apologize for not being able to speak English and then tell me that the Chinese were bad because they had taught them only 'Chinese instead of English. Then he'd switch to English and yell, loudly, "All Chinese are rubbish!"

This is not, by the way, a good thing to yell in a bar full of Chinese people. If one has spent much time around Chinese people, you'll learn that the way they anger (or show anger) is not the same as Westerners. For long periods of time, they show no anger. J.ust little by little, getting more and more pissed off as the problem builds. THEN, they suddenly explode. In other words, the Chinese in the bar would probably ignore this behavior of his right up until the point where one of them, without warning, hit him with a chair and then ten other Chinese jumped in to hold him down and beat the crap out of him.

(FYI, at this point, I'm going to stop counting both the mistakes I made and the ones other more PC people thought I'd made.)

However, I figured I was safe enough for the moment, as the people who worked in the bar knew me. They knew I'd never caused them any trouble and was polite and so on. I'd even gone to the museum with one of the bar maids on her day off not too long before and although that had ended with a "Let's just be friends," it had ended on good terms and we were friends. (She'd never been to a museum. The plastic people in the exhibits fascinated her more than the exhibits themselves. At one point she'd leaned over the railing to touch one and see what it was made out of.)

The drunken Khazakh man told me (and anyone else within shouting distance) that he was particularly upset that day with all Chinese people everywhere, because a friend of his had died the day before in a motorcycle crash in Shanghai. (Shanghai traffic is terrible.)

Fortunately, the Chinese in the bar, ignored him.

I stayed there, sitting across from him, listening and trying to talk him down. Strangely enough, one of the things I enjoy doing is talking down dangerous people. I've got a few years ambulance experience and over a decade all told of concert security experience so it's something I'm better than average at, although, of course, one has no real way to judge one's ability at this save to judge from the successes (which aren't guaranteed) versus the failures (some of which are guaranteed.) So I honestly have no way of judging how good I am at this but I think I am better than average at it.

So the time rolled on, him dominating the conversation with his stupidity and very little else being able to be discussed. The woman was impressed that I taught at Fudan. I don't think she quite believed me until 'I showed her my I.D.  She showed me her card saying that she studied there. He showed me his I.D. card that said that he studied at the Shanghai Television College. The woman explained to me that the Shanghai Television College was for people who wished to work in television and be news reporters and such. (Actually I later learned that this, alas, was a lie, and instead it was an institution that used the MEDIUM of television to offer instruction to people who would then take tests at a test center and receive credit for the courses they'd passed.)

Ultimately, he asked if I wished to get more beer and I excused myself saying "Sorry, I've had enough. I don't want any more beer."

At that point, he exploded and basically demanded that I have more beer. I said "no," and reminded him that I did not wish to get drunk.

Again he demanded that I have some beer and again I said no.

At this point, he took a drinking glass about four inches tall and about four inches in diameter, held it by its base in the palm of his hand, smashed it against the edge of the table, and began explaining why he was going to hurt me. Honestly, I don't think his reasons were very good. I mean they wouldn't really have stood up in a debate. (FYI, none were political, one was that, like everyone else at the table, I'd become confused over his relationship with the woman who was sitting at our table and whether she was his wife or sister. I never did make sense of that.) But then again, he wasn't planning to debate me. Instead he was planning to take a palm full of broken glass and shove it in my face.

This was interesting, I thought, as Id never seen anyone turn a drinking glass into a weapon and hold it  that way and the analytical part of my brain was noting that this looked like something people did where he came from. I was also weighing my options.

Seizing the weapon arm and pinning it to the table was on the list, but it just looked like it was too far away to seize properly especially with a handfull of sharp, broken glass at the end of his arm. It looked like it might be more possible to grab him by the top or back of his head and smash it on the table, forehead first, a few times until he stopped moving, but the possibility of serious injury to him and with it lots of serious questions for me, probably from the Shanghai police, seemed very likely too. Regardless, there was no way to smash his head on the table without risking serious or lethal injury to him.

Fortunately, about that time, he cut his hand badly on the drunken glass. His attention shifted to his bleeding hand, and he stopped paying attention to me. So I stood up from the booth and began heading towards the exit.

The bar maid who I'd taken to the museum shouted to me in Chinese that I should just go and not worry about paying my bill, I could do it later. (And just to thoroughly offend any feminists who might still be reading this, did I mention she was awfully cute, half my age and spoke no English and I still took her on a date the month before?)

So I left walking briskly, and, actually did come back later that evening to pay my bill.

(FYI, it was about that time, after stopping to make water in the bushes with "my mighty penis" |(ask Arin Dembo to explain) that I became a bit scared.

The Chinese staff told me that the Khazakh had left later and emphasized repeatedly "Ta de naio you wenti!" or "His brain has a question/ problem!"

So, I set the incident aside. My initial assessment of the situation was that I'd made the mistake of drinking with an asshole wrapped in pain who had been waiting to explode.                

But later I told the story to others and I got another piece of the puzzle. A friend, an anthropologist who'd spent time studying Mongolian culture in Inner Mongolia, told me that with central Asian peoples (like Khazakhs and Mongols) if you stop drinking with them once the drinking has started, then it is considered a deadly insult and violence can erupt over it.

Hearing that, I asked a friend of mine, a Mongolian woman from Inner Mongolia if this was true. (Inner Mongolia is a province of China. Outer Mongolia, AKA Mongolia, is an independent nation. They share the same ethnic group.)  Although a bit embarrassed, she admitted it was.

So, among the list of mistakes made that evening I'm afraid I have to include "Stopped in the middle of a drinking session with a Central Asian." Apparently, out in the steppes and deserts of Central Asia this just isn't done. And if people do it, well, it's perfectly sensible to hurt them real bad.

Which is a good thing to know perhaps and I intend to file it away in my "life's lessons learned" folder in my brain.

Some, however, hold a different view. "That's not your problem," they say. "It's a problem with Central Asian cultures and you don't have to conform to it if you do not wish to. Ignore them, if you wish."

Let me remind those people, someone was threatening to slice my face with broken glass.

And, that is something that cannot be ignored and is best simply avoided, rather than allowed on grounds of intellectual freedom.

"But wait!" some say. "Why don't you proclaim youself a victim and use this as a platform for creating social and societal change in Khazakhistan! Surely that's a better way Don't acquiesce. Demand that all Central Asian peoples everywhere conform to what you want them to conform to. After all," such people might say, "Because you almost got badly hurt, you're now a victim and you have the right to demand this."

To those people, I say, "Er . . , thanks guys. I'll keep it in mind. But until I do, remember that no matter where you go, there you are,* and it's your responsibility to find out what the expectations of behavior are in that place before you get there." And if that means you've got to know how to tell a creep to get lost learn to do so. (Bill Kipp created a great DVD, by the way, that teaches one exactly how to do that,: It's called "The Missing Link" and it's purchasable here:  http://www.paladin-press.com/product/The-Missing-Link ) or if it means you've got to th ink carefully before joining a Central Asian for a drink in a bar, then think carefully.


* As Buckaroo Banzai said, of course.

** By the way, this cultural quirk might have something to do with the fact that during theBeijing Olympics Chinese bars were not supposed to serve Mongols.