Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Happy Holidays to all. Grading is finished and we are getting ready for the long journey to see family and friends. I've just written a Christmas letter that you can see at the following:

Happy Holidays from Todd and family

Sorry for not posting much in recent months. A New Year's resolution for 2013 is to post at least once a month. I've been much busier than expected these last months.


Monday, May 14, 2012

Reflections: Gerry Benedict

I haven't posted to my blog for quite some time. After my last post I was busy with teaching and preparation for a one-week trip to Heidelberg, Germany in April. I went there to teach a class in Cross Cultural Communication at a US Army base as part of the master's degree program in International Relations through the University of Oklahoma. I have done this sort of thing many times over the past ten years. It was spring in Germany when I was there, with cherry, crabapple, wild cherry, and other trees in bloom. Spring flowers such as tulips and lilacs were out. It was very beautiful and reminded me of springtime in Upstate New York. I'll post some pictures later.

After my return I spent a couple of weeks in Macau to finish the semester. Then with finals graded returned to Norman, Oklahoma. So that's a brief update on my travels.

What inspires me to post is the sad news of the passing of one of my high school teachers, Gerald "Gerry" Benedict. (I learned about this through a posting on Facebook.) He was the coach of our high school Cross Country team. And he was in great shape. His routine was to run from his home in the countryside, about 14 miles from the high school, to school. Then he would teach all day. In the afternoon he would go on runs with us, usually 8-12 miles. Then afterward he would run home. Quite a workout. But he was humble and lived a simple life. You can learn more about him from his blog:


Coach Benedict was clearing a trail in the Catskill mountains. When his partner cut down a branch from a tree, it fell onto another tree that then fell on him. He passed away due to injuries from the accident.

I wish I had been able to see him in recent years. This humble man, teacher, and Coach, influenced me to be a better person. My condolences to his wife, children, and family.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Moved In!

Today I unpacked the last of the boxes of my books and put them on the shelves in my office. I have 6 book shelves and more than enough space for my books. This is fantastic! It really helps to work in a space where I have ready access to my books, unlike my tiny office in Oklahoma where books were hidden and often out of sight (and out of mind).

Here are pix of my office as of March 15, 2012.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Reflections on Iron Lady

I haven't posted for some time. I've been busy recently. Last weekend I went to Guangzhou (Canton) for the weekend on a research trip. I interviewed three young women, asking questions about dating, marriage, and relationships. This is a continuation of previous research that I did in Taiwan. Guangzhou is a big city. The subway system is great for getting around. The food is great. People are friendly. But the air quality was terrible! I was glad to get back to Macau where I felt I could breathe.

On Friday evening I went to watch the movie, Iron Lady. It stars Meryl Streep (fantastic acting as always) who portrays Margaret Thatcher, the UK's first, and thus far only woman to serve as Prime Minister. I'm old enough to remember M Thatcher, and perceive her like her counterpart, Ronald Reagan. I did not agree with her economic policies, but admired her for her toughness. The film does a nice job presenting both the successes and failures of her tenure as PM. But what is more interesting is the portrayal of her relationships to her father and late husband. Much of the movie focuses on Thatcher in her later life, after the death of her husband Dennis. She imagines that he is still alive and interacts with him as her loving companion. Finally she let's go of him.

What is touching about the film is its portrayal of what happens to us as we age. Unless something unfortunate takes our lives earlier, as we age we all experience the loss of mental and physical faculties. This is normal and to be expected. But the film movingly portrays how aging affects one who was one of the most powerful persons in the world. There is a tragic feeling to this process. At the same time it makes me think of how aging, and the concomitant tragedy of death, affects me and other loved ones. Death is the ultimate, cruel, and unwelcome separation from those we love.

Watch the movie and ponder these things. And treat all your loved ones with the lovingkindness they deserve.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Apartment Found

I've been busy the past couple of weeks trying to find a suitable and affordable apartment in Macau. When I came for my job interview June, 2011, I was led to believe rents were not that expensive. But, the situation is not what I expected. Yes, there are plenty of jobs here in Macau and business is booming. But that also means there is great demand for housing as many people are moving here. So after looking at 3 bedroom apartments, and not finding anything that I felt reasonably priced, I decided a two-bedroom would have to make do. On Saturday morning I found one that had some nice features to it: good location, near shopping, the university, and bus stops, next to a wooded hill, fully furnished, and the back door opens to a private access rather large balcony that is on the roof of the building (even though it is on the ground floor, if you can imagine that. Hint: the building is built into a hill.) I paid the deposit on Saturday and will sign the lease for one year with the owner on Monday. Then I move in this week. I've found it convenient to live on the university campus, but look forward to having a larger place with a kitchen and all the amenities of a "home."

In other news, I've been following the "Jeremy Lin" story along with millions of others. Today I read a news article and discovered that Jeremy's father's hometown is in Beidou, Taiwan. That's a place in Taiwan that I know very well as it is located next to my wife's hometown. The town is famous for it's food stalls and "Beidou Bawan" (Bawan is Taiwanese for a kind of meatball.) Every time we go to Beidou we always buy our fair share of Bawan. Two years ago I got new glasses and contacts in a shop in Beidou. I can say with confidence that I know the town better than Jeremy Lin. The town's residents must be going crazy with the Jeremy Lin phenomenon!

Below and on this link you can see some of the famous foods in Beidou. Bawan is the dish in the center. Very delicious!!


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Time Passes

It's been a busy week for me in Macau. I completed and turned in a document that has the "Methods" section for research activities I plan to carry out this year with support from a Univ of Macau grant. Then I learned that I had to turn in another form to recruit and advise PhD students. I finished that this week. On Friday, a potential student came to me and asked if I'd be her sponsor. So that was fast! Fortunately she is a journalist and teacher and does not need funding. That means I can supervise both her and one other funded student. I'm also preparing documents for my work permit, and my daughter's stay permit. And finally, I went to my first Cantonese language class on Wednesday. I've signed up for a 30 hour class that meets Monday and Wednesday evenings. My first impression is that the teacher is good and course materials helpful. I hope to gain a basic knowledge and then improve my speaking and listening ability on my own.

I'm preparing to run a full marathon in Taipei on March 18. Arrangements are now set and all I have to do is put in the necessary miles. Last Saturday I ran on the trails for 2 hours and 34 minutes. I knew that I had to run longer, and did this morning, running for 3 hours and 7 minutes. It's hard for me to know how far that is as most of the run is on trails. The terrain is uneven and there is a lot of up and down, so my average running speed is slower than it would be if I ran on roads. But I estimate that I covered at least 20 miles. (Trail running is physically more demanding than road running as you're using more lower leg muscles to maintain balance, in addition to the work of going up and down steep hills.) At the end, while I was tired, I didn't feel too bad. The final 20 minutes was on sidewalks and roads and I was able to pick up the pace and felt quite good. So I'm encouraged and am confident that I am in shape to complete the marathon, and hopefully run faster than I did last year in the Oklahoma City Marathon, going under 3 hours and 30 minutes. That's my goal.

Today is our anniversary. Donna and I were married 23 years ago, on a sunny day in Taichung, Taiwan. We've been together for every anniversary since, except for today. I miss her and the family. But it's only temporary. She's coming to see me in March and we'll celebrate then. Next year we'll be together here in Macau, with our daughter Pearl. Here's to many more years together!

I found these scanned copies of our wedding studio photos. We were so young and beautiful then!! Today we're still beautiful. But the beauty has gone from the outside to the inside.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Comment on Taiwan's recent Presidential Elections

I was watching the Presidential election in Taiwan with interest these past months. While my sympathies were with Tsai Ing-wen, I thought that Ma Ying-jeou would probably be re-elected. While he did not do all that he promised 4 years ago (what politician can claim that), and he seemed too close to China, my sense is that he did not do a bad job. Certainly the opening of direct flights with China, greater academic exchanges, tourism, etc., are positives. Taiwan's economy is very much connected with China and needs to be given space to grow in that way. Politically, however, the people of Taiwan are not interested in being ruled from Beijing. Most see themselves as "Taiwan Ren 台灣人" first, and some sort of cultural Chinese "Hua Ren 華人" second (or perhaps third). Taiwan does not see Beijing as the center, and I doubt that will change for this or the next generation. Tsai Ing-wen ran a great campaign and projected a professionalism and vision for Taiwan that was positive. Yet this did not seem to be her turn. She might win if she runs 4 years from now, but not this time.

The best explanation I've seen of the election results that focuses on the Taiwan-China, and to a lesser degree US-connection, is in this editorial by Yuriko Koike, Japan's former minister of defense and National Security Adviser. I'm biased in this assessment because it matches well with what I think. But this is right. I was in Taiwan when China shot missiles over Taiwan in 1996, and it was effective in bolstering Lee Teng-hui's support and pushing people away from China. Chen Shui-bian was also helped in his two successful campaigns by Beijing's objections. This time Beijing stayed quiet and the outcome was different. Let's hope this is good for Taiwan-China relations.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

First day of class after Chinese New Year

Classes began today after the Chinese New Year break. It's good to have things open and to see people on campus again.

Back on the home front, my son, Robbie, ran a fantastic time trial, 10.62 100 m fly, and 24.10 200 m standing start. Last year he pulled his hamstring early in the season and couldn't compete. Hopefully this year he'll stay healthy. His coaches told him his 100 meter time would count as the 2nd fastest in school history! He gets his fast twitch muscles from his mother and not me. I never ran faster than 26 sec for 200 m.

Those interested in seeing news from Macau, I recommend the Macau Daily Times. It doesn't have a lot of news, but gives some information about what's happening here.

I've just updated preferences allowing for comments. So feel free to comment.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sunny Day in Macau

Today the sun was shining after a foggy and cold morning. In the morning I went on a long run, going from the University of Macau campus to the trails of Coloane, then running the long circuit of the trails, and then heading back, for a total time of 2hrs 4 minutes. I've signed up for the Taipei marathon on March 18 and need to increase my mileage to get in shape for the race. So I'll have to increase the runs to 2:30 to 3 hours. The run was great! The only problem was lack of water. I didn't plan well and failed to bring any with me. But on the way back, after leaving the trails, I had my bus pass and hoped to use the money on my card to buy water, which you can do at convenience stores here. There was an Esso gas station near the bus stop. I went in to see if I could swipe my card for water, but there was no machine set up. The man in the store was nice and gave me a bottle for free. I guess I looked like I needed it!

Later at noon I took the bus back to Coloane, stopping at the village. The sun was out and it was much warmer. I had a wonderful lunch at a Cafe, then walked around and took pictures. The new University of Macau campus is located very close to the Coloane village, separated by water. I look forward to the new location as it will be closer to the great running/hiking trails in Coloane, and is far more scenic.

Some Pix below:

Looking across the bay from Taipa, current Univ Macau campus to Macau peninsula.

The new Univ of Macau campus under construction on Hengqin Island

The "turtle pond" at Univ of Macau

Lord Stow's Cafe in Coloane. A great place to eat!

Looking out across "Black Sands Beach"

Church and courtyard, Coloane

Black Sands Beach

The Port of Coloane. The man sitting there is at the border control. My guess is there is some boat traffic of people coming from HengQin Island, China.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Year of the Dragon

It's Chinese New Year, the year of the Dragon, "my year." The University of Macau has the week off, which gives me some time to get caught up and do a little exploring. This past week I went to Dongguan, China and visited a friend there. They treated me very well and took me on a trip to nearby Shenzhen and Hong Kong. We had wonderful meals and did a lot of shopping! I also met people from many parts of China and the world. The few people I met had stories similar to those narrated by Leslie Chang in her book, Factory Girls. "Jackie" is a 30 something woman from western China. She came to Dongguan about 10 years with no money, little education, and few connections. Now she is a successful manager in an international company. Likewise "Tiger" came from western China with only a junior high school education at about the same time. He now drives a nice car and handles orders in his shoe company that are made by Taiwanese managers. I also met a musician from the Philippines who says business is good. I met two Spaniards working for a successful clothing company based in Europe. And there are many Taiwanese working in Dongguan. It's a place where there is money and opportunity.

In Shenzhen, a sprawling and chaotic city located on the border with Hong Kong, we shopping in the Luohu district. There are thousands of small retail shops where you can buy "authentic fakes" at low prices, if you're good at bargaining. While my friends were bargaining, I spoke with some of the shop keepers. They were speaking what sounded like Taiwanese to each other. I could understand what they were saying. Most were young teenagers and adults. There was one young woman, noticeably pregnant, who I'd guess was 17 or 18, a middle aged woman, and young men with "fashionable" hair. They told me they are from Chaozhou, Guangdong province, about 300 kilometers away. They came together and have been in Shenzhen for 4 years. The middle aged woman said business is "okay." They're not making money like the people I met in Dongguan, but they are making it.

This is quite the place. There is construction everywhere, signs of wealth, expensive restaurants, shops, and a kind of vitality that has to be seen to be believed. If we were able to go back to Athens, Greece in the time of Perikles, or to Venice during it's golden age, New York in the first half of the 20th century, you'd see the same kind of vitality. It's messy and chaotic at times, for sure. But it's the place to be. Yesterday I spoke with a young man who has an American mother and Portuguese father and is studying at the University of Macau. He said many Portuguese are "coming back" to Macau.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Macau Musings

This is my first posting from Macau. These first few days have been busy as I’ve been filling out forms and navigating the local bureaucracy. Progress has been made on many fronts, although I’m not “finished” yet. The bad is that there is a lot of bureaucratic hurdles to overcome. The good is that resources for accomplishing what I want to do are available.

I’m just getting to know and understand the students at the University of Macau. I’m teaching two undergraduate classes this semester, one in Interpersonal Communication and the other in Intercultural Communication. Both are for non-majors. Most students are local residents of Macau. A sizeable minority come from other parts of China, and some are international. In my intercultural class I have two students from Japan who are English majors. They are polite students. Yet what is bothersome is that many come to class late. I’m trying to break this habit by commenting on it (it is disrupting to me when they come in 10-20 minutes late while I’m talking), and holding quizzes at the very beginning of class. I did this with both classes, but did not count the grades. Next time I will. Another thing that bothers me is that these students’ classes, with few exceptions, are conducted in English. Yet I can tell from their writing and speaking that most are not strong in English. I think it is a mistake for the university to instruct so many courses in English only, and would prefer it if there were a mix of languages. My fear is that students are not comprehending as much as they should, and the quality of their education is lessened. Of course, I do enjoy speaking and using Chinese in the classroom. Yet I’m also having a difficult time adjusting and figuring out what interests these students. I recall that when I started teaching at the University of Oklahoma this was a challenge for me in the first several years. But with time I got better. In fact, I believe that my last semester at OU was my best—indicated by the highest teacher evaluation scores I’ve ever received. It may take me a year or two to get the feel of teaching here. But I’m confident I’ll learn.

As a place, Macau is both good and bad. I’ll start with some of the bad. The air quality is worse than expected—worse than it was during my two previous visits June, 2011 and April, 2008. Since I’ve been here every day there is a brown haze, which must be coming from factories and power plants nearby. When looking in the direction of Macau peninsula, and toward Zhuhai, I cannot see much. With the winds blowing mostly from the north and west, the pollution is blowing this way. But when the weather warms up in the spring, the direction of the winds will change and the air should get better. Fortunately, the air quality is not “terrible” here. There have not yet been any days when the air has a taste to it and causes a scratchiness in your throat, as they would sometimes do when living in Taipei in the 1990s.

The good, I have found wonderful running paths on the nearby “mountains” of Xiao (small) Tanshan and Da (big) Tanshan. The university is located right between these. I run down the hill, along sidewalks for a short ways, then climb up to wide dirt paths that run around the circumference of each. In this way I can quickly find wooded areas and look down at the surrounding landscape. This is great and will help me keep my sanity. I also enjoy the food. There is a great variety of reasonably priced restaurants, that in USD are 3-5 dollars. Of course there are more expensive places, but I go to those only when someone else is paying. I’m getting to know my colleagues and they are all friendly. But I sense that I am the outsider and need to work at developing these relationships.

This past Sunday I went to the park that is located near the Venetian Casino and encompasses the row of houses built by the Portuguese in the 1920s. When I visited in June the lotus pond was full of flowers. Now the lotus are dormant, but they’ve built a beautiful gardens next to it where I took lots of pictures. This is adjacent to the tourist area that has wonderful restaurants and shops.