Saturday, January 16, 2010

Turbo And Cinnamon

On Christmas morning, we all woke up and opened presents. While opening presents, Julie and I unwrapped a hamster cage and two balls that hamsters run in. Inside the balls was money, just enough to buy two hamsters.

Julie and I have always wanted pet hamsters, but have never had the chance to get them. On the day after Christmas, Dad took us to PetSmart to pick out our furry, little creatures. But they were sold out...

When we came back home after spending New Year's in New Jersey with our family, we went back to the PetSmart in Rockville. Again, no luck.

A worker there told us we might try the Bethesda PetSmart. We called the store and were told they had two Chinese dwarf hamsters. That was one of the kinds we had been looking for, so we zoomed right over.

That is the story of how we brought home Turbo and Cinnamon, the newest additions to our family.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

I Have A Walkie Talkie And I Know How To Use It!

This past Saturday night was the Winter Ball at Julie's school. It was my turn to chaperone, so I threw on my Marillion concert tee and a pair of baggy jeans, ready to be comfortable as I worked the parking lot. Ready, that is, until Desi and Julie informed me that the dance was a semi-formal and that I needed to be dressed appropriately. Rats! (Note: I think I was about the most dressed up dad of the whole bunch. Not that I'm complaining!)

A year of living in northern China, where buses, restaurants, and other public places most often don't have heat, served as my model for how to dress. Under my clothes there was the requisite cold weather Under Armour. Throw on a heavy winter coat, a wool hat, and some gloves, and I was ready for an evening in the teens.

The only problem in all of this? In between outdoor stints at arrival and departure, I spent hours of my time inside, watching over hundreds of high schoolers as they danced and hung out in a stuffy gymnasium. Let's just say that I was not actually disappointed when the moment came to grab my light stick, walkie talkie, and head back out into the crisp night air.

The most interesting moments of the evening? There was the coach bus that pulled up, filled to the brim with dance goers. Now there's something you don't see everyday. And there was the family that got out of their car and asked me, "What is this place?" When I told them that they had just arrived at a high school party, they were puzzled and asked, "This isn't Strathmore?" (Strathmore is a performing arts center located adjacent to the school's property.) "No," I replied, "I don't think you'll like the music in there."


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What Do You Do With All Of Those Educated Young People?

As we lived and traveled around China last year, we encountered a lot of really, really smart young people. We're talking people who scored at or near the top on the gao kao, the national university entrance examination that pretty much determines one's educational pathway. These high scorers are beautiful minds who are awarded the privilege of attending the very best universities in their home provinces and, for the true cream of the crop, the country's premier institutions of higher education, like Peking University, Tsinghua University, and Fudan University.

More often than not, we found, through extended conversations, that the post-graduation prospects for these hard-working students tend to not be very bright. One truly brilliant graduate we know is right now finding that life in the working world is not a place where the full range of his abilities is easily appreciated and utilized.

Stories such as this have led us to continually wonder what might happen when the current generation of college graduates, millions and millions strong, finds themselves, in the main, not challenged or financially rewarded in their work lives, despite decades of sixteen hour school days. Will all of these underemployed smart people become discontented with their retail jobs and emerge as a source of social instability?

A recent announcement by Yin Weimin, the minister of Human Resources and Social Security, makes me think that the government is pondering this very question and has come up with a plan that may have the effect of placating, at least for a time, the emerging "lost" generation. According to Yin, "Chinese governments at all levels will accept more personnel with at least two years working experiences." By "work experiences," it has to be emphasized, the government means people who have worked specifically as farmers and blue-collar laborers.

This is no small announcement in that, in 2009 alone, about 120,000 people took jobs as civil servants. Like its American counterpart, the Chinese government is a big, big source of employment. Given the attractiveness of government work, one practical effect of the new policy is that it will likely, in the words of a Chinese researcher, "encourage more young people to find jobs in the countryside and alleviate the employment pressure at cities."

This "go back to the village and serve your country" message, as I see it, is likely to resonate well with the nationalistic pride felt by many well-educated young Chinese people. Once again, the government has seemingly found a way to tap into this deep reservoir of patriotism and chart a path toward maintaining, among a very key demographic group, the stability of the "harmonious society."