Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas 2010

Christmas 2010

Dear Family and Friends:

It is Christmas Eve and we are in Alabama visiting with my parents, Bob & Becky, and two sisters, April and Lorrie, and their families once again. As it is every year, the time leading up to this blessed holiday is always very busy as our lives revolve around school calendars which demand many tasks be completed before we are able to celebrate the season. Hence, my apologies for a belated Christmas greeting. It has been a busy year for all of us as I will briefly narrate.

May, 2010. Our eldest daughter Sarah graduated from Norman North High School, earning scholastic honors and achievement for her hard work and effort. She is now a freshman at the University of Oklahoma studying International Relations and planning to go to law school.

Summer, 2010, Taiwan. Since the previous summer Sarah went by herself to Taiwan, we decided that this summer she was to stay home and work while the rest of us headed east. In addition to visiting family in friends in Taiwan, I gave lectures at Fu Jen University where I had previously taught. This was followed by a trip to Singapore for a conference, and then onto Kunming, China where I taught students from the University of Oklahoma on an inaugural 4-week study abroad program. Robbie accompanied us for the first part of the trip to Taiwan and then returned home on his 16th birthday. Robbie is now a Junior at Norman North High School.

Summer, 2010, China. Donna and Pearl joined me, a colleague, and 8 OU students for a memorable 4 weeks in China. We stayed on the campus of Yunnan University in Kunming, the city of eternal spring. Pearl, now a 7-year-old first grader, was the star of the group as she made friends with the university students as we took trips with them to such scenic places as Xishuangbanna in the south and Lijiang in the north. It was a memorable time and I plan to lead another group back to China summer, 2011 (regrettably without family

this time).

We are blessed to have had so many opportunities in 2010 and look forward to another exciting year. May you enjoy this time when we celebrate the birth of a savior who brings us hope for blessings and peace.


Todd, Donna, Sarah, Robbie, and Pearl

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

End of Semester is Near

As 2010 draws to a close I must admit that I have not been a very good blogger this year. The time when I probably had the most time and incentive to post was while I was in China this past summer. Yet alas, the Chinese censors blocked access to this blog. Then upon returning home life was less interesting and busier. Well here's hoping that I do better in 2011.

Some musings: I'm one of those who according to the pollsters is in the minority on our government's fiscal irresponsibility. All the tax cuts should expire! Close the loopholes! And cut spending where feasible (ag supports, defense). At the same time we need to invest for the future by spending more on education, energy transformation, and infrastructure. It is disheartening to see the poor state of education in this country, to see crumbling roads and bridges, and to not see the high speed rail network, subway lines, the growth that I see across China and Taiwan. Perhaps we need to suspend democracy for a time and let a benevolent dictator, who is not beholden to special interests and the whims of a near sighted populace to run things for awhile. Perhaps Plato was right to design a Republic run by philosopher-kings. The smooth talk of Alcibiades that persuaded the Athenians to invade Sicily led to their ruin and defeat at the hands of the Spartans. Will this country look upon wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a 21st century Sicilian fiasco?

On the other hand, I would not want to live in a place like China where rulers are unelected. Sure they maybe more efficient. But then they may be replaced by crazy tyrants, like Mao, or Kim Jung-il.

Friday, June 11, 2010

We are enjoying our time in Taiwan and the hospitality of Donna's sister and family. This past few days we went to Taipei as I delivered lectures at Fu Jen University. I also discussed the possibilities for establishing an exchange agreement between Fu Jen and the University of Oklahoma. It was nice to see how the environment surrounding the campus has improved as most of the small, polluting factories, which formerly made the air and water less than desirable, have closed or moved away. There are also more shops and places to eat just outside the campus. When the MRT station finally opens, hopefully by the end of this year, it will become even better. So I am excited and pleased by this opportunity.

Taiwan's universities, however, are facing some challenges. There are now too many universities and not enough students. Fu Jen is doing well, as it has been long established and has a reputation as one of the top universities in Taiwan. However, lesser universities are seeing enrollments plummet and find it harder and harder to attract students. Some need to close and/or downsize in order to survive. While some of this problem can be alleviated by students from the mainland, it is hard to see that this will solve all the problems.

Friday, June 4, 2010


I just arrived with my family to Taiwan this past week. I'll spend the next 3 weeks here, then a week in Singapore, followed by 4 weeks in China.

June 05, 2010 Taiwan, Changhua 溪州

On the airplane I was reading Leslie Chang’s book, Factory Girls. (An excellent book I highly recommend.) The section I was reading narrated her trip with a factory girl to her hometown in the rural interior during Chinese New Year. She spoke of the journey made by millions, and how important it is. Such a journey is something I am most familiar with as I have done it many times in Taiwan. But as I was reading I realized that I was engaged in another journey: the summer vacation, end-of-school, flight back “home.” This is a new kind of migration, not done by car, bus, or train, but through the air. It has arisen due to the technology of air travel, and the wealth that the expatriate community members have generated in recent decades. The longest leg of our journey went from Dallas to Narita, followed by a long layover there before our final leg to Kaohsiung. In the section of the plane I was on, the number of those going to Japan as their final destination was in the minority. Others, like us, were flying to Taiwan. Some appeared to be Indian. But the largest number seemed to be Vietnamese. There were many families with young children who looked like their parents, but unlike their parents spoke American accented English as their primary language. So while Chinese New Year is still the most important migration event, the after-school, summer-vacation migration is growing, and strikes me as the newly emerging migration period for the East Asian diaspora.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Be Humble

I read this editorial by David Brooks of the NYTimes this morning. (Click here) It resonates with what I believe is the mark of a good researcher: know yourself (and the cultural values/beliefs/behaviors which shape you) and then use that knowledge to inform and shape your research. Research and researchers who are "bold and brash" may make a big splash and gain a lot of attention, but will their work stand the test of time? Rather, as Brooks argues, the better way is to be self-reflexive throughout the process of research. Test your ideas and thoughts carefully and you are more likely to produce something of lasting value.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Summer in China Program

I am scheduled to be one of two instructors June 28-July 23 at Kunming, China. However, student enrollment is not what I hope and the class may be cancelled. If you know of any University of Oklahoma students who may be interested, let me know. Karen Elmore ( of Arts and Sciences is in charge of registration.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Here are some thoughts inspired by the This I Believe series:

I believe in asking for directions. Growing up, every summer our family went on a two week summer vacation. We didn’t have a lot of money, so we would economize by staying at campsites, or on rare occasions, not too expensive motels. We would also tend to plan too many activities, and because we were “in a hurry” to get to someplace, would get lost. (These were the days before GPS or Google Maps.) Usually my dad would be driving at such times, and he would never stop to ask for directions; he would keep driving forward, believing that “we would get there eventually.” At such times my mom would not be happy. She’d say, “Stop Bob! Ask for directions! Turn around!” But he kept going, and only when all hope was lost reluctantly back track in the direction we should have gone.

Years later, when I was a junior in college, I spent a semester abroad in Greece. As part of our educational experience, during holidays (and they happened quite often), the school would shut down and we were told to leave the city, go out, and find our way using the Greek phrases we had been studying. On one of these trips I decided to go visit a city in the northwest, Ionnina. But I didn’t know the way. I didn’t even know where was the bus station to Ionnina. However, I had learned the phrase, “Apo pou fevgei ton leoforenon ston Ionnina?” (Where is the bus to Ionnina?) And I knew from experience that I had to ask at least three different people to make sure I was going the right way. Greek people are very friendly and feel obligated to answer you whenever you ask them a question. But an answer doesn’t necessarily have to be the “right” answer. So I kept asking, and after a time I did find my way to Ionnina. When I got there I was somewhat disappointed and did not find the place to be what I expected. But on the way back to Athens I realized that the journey, not the destination, was the real gain.

I took this attitude and practice of asking for directions with me when I went to Taiwan. When I arrived, I spoke not a word of Chinese, could not recognize a single character. But I asked, and I learned, and I traveled. Sometimes I did not reach my intended destination. Nevertheless, what was more valuable was the journey, and the unexpected pleasure of making a connection with a stranger whenever I asked for directions, receiving a warm smile and note of encouragement.

One time I went on a trip to China’s Sichuan Province. We were hosted by a university, and they hired a driver and took us to visit the world famous panda research center. However, with roads going up every where, and seemingly overnight, our driver got lost on the way. We kept circling around and around an intersection on a newly built freeway. I wondered why he didn’t stop and ask for directions. Then I noticed that there were people standing along the side of the road, holding signs which read, “Wen Lu,” which literally means “Ask Road.” These were people who could tell you directions! So I asked the driver why we didn’t ask these people. He said these people would only give you directions if you paid them, and they might even purposely tell you the wrong way, and then when you were lost want even more money for the “correct” information. We didn’t ask, but fortunately our driver finally found the way.

I believe in asking for directions. Sure there are some who won’t tell you the right way, or will want unreasonable payment. Others may politely tell you “a way” that may not be “the way.” When you are lost you can stubbornly keep going forward and maybe figure out the way on your own. But for me, I’d rather ask along the way; the journey is more important than the destination.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Are Americans Outliers?

As a professor of Communication, a field of study some consider to be a "Social Science," like Psychologists, Sociologists, and Economists, I am interested in studying and understanding human behavior and beliefs. However, I am unusual as most of my research and interest comes from the years I have spent living on the small island of Taiwan. As someone born and raised in the US, Taiwan strikes me as a fascinating place full of interesting surprises and contrasts with what may count as "normal" in the US. But then my wife, native of Taiwan, often asks me why anyone would be interested in learning about Taiwan? Why would Americans care about this island nation-in-dispute?

So should I be like most of my colleagues in the US who spend most of their time and interest surveying, conducting experiments, observing, recording the activities and reactions of Americans? Or, to put it more accurately, should I follow the vast majority who spend their time studying samples of students at a "major university" in the US? If I did so, then I wouldn't have to be concerned with the "culture" problem every time I write up a study. Or would I?

The more I reflect upon Americans' behavior and beliefs, the more convinced I become that if there exists a "central tendency" of universal human behavior, the US of A is not the place to find it. Americans are far more individualistic than most peoples of this world. For example, it is most disheartening to see the political discourse and see so many people protesting/blocking/impeding health reform. How can anyone see that the US does not have a health care system (it only has markets), what exists now is dysfunctional, out of control, and must be reformed now? But my guess is that those who yell loudest look at their own situation and think that it's okay. They don't want to risk having to pay more, sacrifice any more for the benefit of others. I'm not saying that Americans are not generous and don't have many excellent qualities, that make this a far better place to live than most other places. Nevertheless, we are not the norm; there is no "universal" norm; all people, all cultures, all groups, create and constitute what for them is "common sense."

Monday, February 8, 2010

Blog theme--seeking wisdom

I've been talking with people about my newly created blog, and someone suggested to me that to write a good one, you need to have a theme. This is a great idea. One theme could be reflections on my work and experiences in Taiwan. But I'm currently not in Taiwan. So, at present I am more interested in the process of analyzing, writing, and reflecting. This is what I am doing in my "job" as teacher and adviser at the University of Oklahoma. And what comes from and through this process is the theme of "wisdom." How can wisdom be pursued, understood, and conceptualized? This is my theme.

My first reflection comes from notes taken from a wonderful book, Senses of Place (1996). Edited by Steven Feld and Keith Basso. The second chapter in this book, by Basso, is titled "Wisdom sits in Places." In it Basso discusses the process of learning and understanding wisdom from the point of view of the Western Apache of the Cibecue reservation. Below I'm pasting notes from this chapter:

What if scholars, such as those in the field of Communication, saw the world as the Apache do? How would this affect how they study communicative practice and belief? Would they be interested in the thoughts and behaviors of 18-25 year olds, who are mostly unmarried, who are not financially independent, who have limited life experience? No. This is a highly unlikely group of people one would look to if you were interested in pursuing, acquiring, and understanding wisdom. It would also mean that you would not want to look for the medium response, those within one standard deviation of the norm. Those who are considered wise are the few; hence they cannot be the norm. Rather, you would want to study the exceptional.

Now here is the Apache understanding of wisdom, a "folk theory" of the mind:

On page 71 Basso lays out this ethnotheory of wisdom: “Apache conceptions of wisdom differed markedly from those contained in Western ideologies. . . . Apache conceptions were grounded in an informal theory of mind which asserts that wisdom arises from a small set of antecedent conditions. Because these conditions are also qualities of mind, and because they vary from mind to mind, the theory explains why some people are wiser than others.”

Wisdom is a “heightened mental capacity that facilitates the avoidance of harmful events by detecting threatening circumstances when none are apparent.” It is “produced and sustained” by three mental conditions: smoothness of mind, resilience of mind, and steadiness of mind. “Each must be cultivated in a conscientious manner by acquiring relevant bodies of knowledge and applying them critically to the workings of one’s mind. Knowledge of places and their cultural significance is crucial in this regard because it illustrates with numerous examples the mental conditions needed for wisdom as well as the practical advantages that wisdom confers on persons who confess it.”

Such knowledge is contained in stories “attributed to the ancestors” that are symbolically linked to and expressed through places. Furthermore, wisdom is “present in varying degrees” “and only a few persons are ever completely wise.” Those with such wisdom have “unusual mental powers” and “are able to foresee disaster, fend off misfortune, and avoid explosive conflicts with other persons. For these and other reasons, they are highly respected and often live to be very old.”

We see in the above a number of cause and effect relationships:

Those who are “wise” are those with a heightened mental capacity that is “smooth, resilient, and steady.” They have acquired (through cultivation) knowledge of places and stories of the ancestors. This knowledge, which they understand, has the effect of serving them well, marked by the ability to avoid and fend off a host of problems.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Winter in Stuttgart, Germany

I am in Stuttgart, Germany this week and next week go to Ramstein, Germany. I'm here to teach two courses for the University of Oklahoma's Advanced Programs, a graduate program for military personnel, contractors, and dependents. There is snow on the ground here in Stuttgart and reminds me of the winters I experienced growing up in Upstate New York, and when in college in Massachusetts.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


I recently saw the movie, Avatar, twice! It was that good. The story works well on many levels--hero's adventure, love story, man (Navi) v machine. But it also can be criticized for some typical Hollywood stereotypes--the white guy saves the people!

I've recently been re-reading Jared Diamond's excellent book, Guns, Germs, and Steel. It's interesting to think of his book in light of Avatar. The parallel story would be that the indigenous tribal people of New Guinea (or the Native Americans, African pygmies, Australian aborigines, etc.) were somehow able to fight off the invading Europeans. But this didn't happen in human history.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Day

Today is the first day of 2010. This morning we each uttered our resolution for this year. Mine is to finally put together a book proposal for the 外籍新娘 (foreign brides) research I did in Taiwan. I have already written several papers, and the task will be to put them together for a more complete argument.

I just found out from Facebook that my friend, Scott Milsom, just passed away. He was 46. Scott and I were great friends. I always thought of him as my "best friend" but he did not call me his "best friend." That was what he called a friend he knew in Pennsylvania, or something like that.

I believe that it was when were in high school that his step-dad died suddenly from a heart attack. Apparently the same just happened to Scott. I can't believe it. I'm devastated.

I've enjoyed the life that I've led, but my regret is that I don't keep up with friends from the places that I've lived in the past. This takes work, and I don't do enough. Thanks to Facebook I can have some contact with others. Even though I haven't seen Scott in years, memories of the times we spent together live on in my mind. They are vivid.