Changing Course in My Studies

So, the classes that Jumped into are much harder than the Elementary level courses. The HSK class has proven to be one that will kick my butt repeatedly. As one of my classmates stated, he felt like he was the worst in the class. My answer to him was that that is impossible since I am in the class and I know I am much worse in Chinese than him. So, HSK and Chinese Culture are proving to be the most difficult so far. I know what the teacher is talking about in Chinese Culture, but I sometimes don’t understand what she is saying. History is my thing, you know. HSK class I maybe understand 30 percent.

One of the major obstacles in studying is my own fool self. I have not been studying and when I do the homework, it is either incomplete or for the wrong lesson. I had a serious self-criticism session this week and resolved to do better. I must, because if I don’t, I am only wasting my time and money. Both are unacceptable.

School & Nerves

20140405122239355My first week of school was one of frustration and anxiety. The frustration was due to the registering process. I spent a great deal of time in great many queues. I have no doubt that my school, Beijing Language and Culture University, endeavored to streamline the process with helpers directing hallway traffic and answering questions. Large placards detailed every paper and other items needed for each line. I am just that guy. You know that guy – the one who seems incapable of standing in line. No because I am incapable of reading the instructions, just incapable of following them.

In addition to standing in line, I also had a 2-3 minute conversation with a teacher that placed me in the Upper Elementary level. She wanted to place me in the Lower Elementary (the lowest), but I talked her out of this. I was really nervous during the conversation and stressed. I spent about a week in this level and on Friday, I changed to Lower Intermediate. I was extremely nervous about this switch, even though I found the Elementary class to be of little challenge. I understand literally just about everything the teacher said.

Today, I had my first class from this level. It was 中国文化 (Chinese Culture). The teacher spoke pretty quickly, but I understood at lease 75%, if not more. It was an interesting class. It was partly history and a great deal of detail on China’s minorities. I really enjoyed this class and look forward to more of it. Tomorrow, I am having an HSK class (teaching the Standard Chinese Language Test) and a regular class for the level I am now in. I still remain nervous because I, as always, doubt myself. The nervousness my also be because I have to go to the hospital tomorrow for my required physical exam.

I will definitely include an update of how the classes go tomorrow.

Becoming Barzenick

This past Wednesday I taught my first American history class to undergraduates at Beihang. I knew that after lunch most of them would be quite tired. This was also aided by the fact that the classroom was sweltering and the students are English majors, not history. It was the first lesson of my first time teaching this course, so I was a little nervous. As I mentioned in another post, when I am nervous I tend to babble (as well as stutter). While teaching, I started to listen to myself and I noticed that I said “ok” and “right” frequently. It was so frequent that if my students had smuggled alcohol into the classroom for a drinking game based on my usage of these two words, they would all have died from alcohol poisoning half way through.

The reason I bring this up is that I recall a time when I too was a student, a sophomore in college just as my students are today. The class was music appreciation, taught by Prof. Barzenick. While this class was about the appreciation of music, my feelings were anything but. My tastes at the time were limited to country and 70’s rock. Through the lens of maturity, I must admit that I was pretty one dimensional when it came to music. Some may still believe this is true. Despite my past disinterest, I actually learned quite a bit from that class. For example, I was recently able to impress a friend or two with the knowledge that Monteverdi produced perhaps the earliest opera. This despite the fact that I cannot tell Monteverdi from Mozart if my life depended on it.

What I remember most about his class, however, is the reason for this post. He used the phrase “you get the idea” after just about everything he said. Bored from tinkling pianos and fat sopranos, I started to doodle a comic book based on this concept, titled Death by Barzenick. In it, Prof. Barzenick died in myriad ways, stating after each time “you get the idea.” I tortured this poor man in ink for an entire semester, although he never knew of it. I had no animosity toward him, personally or professionally, but it was what my somewhat morbid tastes at the time swayed toward. At the time, I thought it vastly amusing. Yet now, listening to myself teach, I was struck by the thought, “I am Barzenick!” I initially panicked at that and resolved right then to not use those two words the rest of the class. This resolution lasted about two or three minutes. Since I seem unable to discipline myself, I should get a t-shirt made, even if no one understands the reference.


grad capToday was a turning point for me. I received notification from my graduate school that my degree will be rewarded. After coming to the end of a journey, I am feeling a little euphoric. Achieving my Master’s degree is a huge step for me because of the journey that I had to go through to earn it.

In the end of March of 2009, my mom passed away during my second semester at school. A little over a month later I was at Nankai University studying Chinese again, having had little time for mourning. Then I went to Sichuan for a year to research my thesis. I have to say that my heart was not totally into it. Two months before I was to return home, I found a dissertation by Zheng Xiaowei that totally blew what I had out of the water. It was, unfortunately for me at the time, excellent. I returned home and tried to produce something. Anything. In September, my hard drive irreparably crashed, taking my translated research with it. In December, I had about 30 pages completed. I was completely depressed and drained. I just walked away from graduate school and returned home in defeat.

I literally spent about 3 months or so laying in bed doing nothing. I lived off my credit card until it was maxed out. Dad and Darlene pretty much evicted me from the house in an effort to jump start me. It didn’t really work. I went back to work at the library and remained completely depressed. My friend Nathan recommended treatment for depression after we talked about it. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I started taking low dosage prescriptions for it. Interestingly enough, I was able to work through my problems. I started a second job doing hotshot deliveries. It had taken me almost two years, but I decided to finish my degree.

I talked to my adviser and she let me back into school. I finished one paper that was two years overdue. I put off a second one that was finally done two weeks ago. I worked hard on my thesis, using Zheng Xiaowei’s work as a launching point. My defense in December was not pretty, though the criticism was justified and fair. It helped me create a better product. I returned home to the library and went to work on my thesis. Last week, my paper was accepted for the completion of my degree. Today is the end of my journey. It was supposed to have taken two and a half years, but ended up being five years. But as my cousin says, it is not how long it takes, but that you finish.

Recently, there were other endings as well. On May 24th, I stopped working with Mr. S. Our time together was interesting, to say the least. From May 27th to Aug. 5, I went on vacation to help my cousin move from Oklahoma to Myrtle Beach, SC for a new job. He is himself starting a new adventure. In less than three weeks, I am leaving my job at the library (for the 3rd time) and am returning to China. I am once again teaching English in a place I enjoy. Once again moving forward.

To thank all the people who helped me would be laborious. Let me just quote half the saying “Success has many fathers” and leave it at that. The second half of the saying does not apply.

This post is dedicated, as all are, to my Maman. I love you more than mere words can express. Thank you for encouraging me to go to graduate school.

From December to January

Hyundai AccentSince I have not posted since November, I thought now would be an excellent time to detail my past month and a half. I finished my thesis defense. Since the post where I had just turned in my first draft, I had a second draft to finish. In some ways it was almost like writing a second paper. I lived on Taco Bell, Mountain Dew, and junk food. Except for the arrival and departure of food and little sleep, all I did was type. I did learn quite a bit from this experience, however, as I began to feel the effects of heightened blood sugar. I have since modified my diet by eating much healthier.

On the 17th of December, I had my thesis defense. It was an extremely tense experience for me acerbated by being ill. I knew going in that it was going to be rough, something that others had told me about in their own defenses. It was made worse by the less than perfect product that I had to deliver. I am not a great writer, something that I have gradually come to accept. The verdict was that my thesis lacked clarity and needed to be more to the point. This is something that I have long known about my writing as it has also been evident in my personality. Something that really needs to be addressed in both.

Just before my thesis defense I was in a wreck. The first one in my life while driving. This happened on December 11th. I was going down my residential street in Salt Lake and looked down to adjust my temp control. A woman was performing an illegal 3-point U-turn in the middle of the street. I rammed her broadside. Dealing with the situation and subsequent stress was not helpful in finishing my semester. Her insurance admitted full liability and are going to pay for the damages – $4500 dollars worth. I think the collision shop is overcharging but her insurance sent me there so I will not say anything.

From there, I came home. Drove 3 days. In the past I was able to do it in one go, but age has worn me down. In a lot of ways. My situation back home seems to be the same as when I was in depression a couple of years ago. No job and having to live with my dad and step-mother. None of us are really happy with that. I started working again for Elite, doing hotshot driving. I need to find a 9 to 5 as driving is getting really old too. My dad loves doing it in his retirement. Maybe I will too in 30 years or so, but right now it is just a way to make money till I find something more permanent. I still have not given up on working for the Feds or going back abroad if that does not work out. I have always felt the most happiest when out of the country. I don’t know why this is, but I guess I am built this way.

The big negative on going home was my Aunt Carol. She was my mother’s fourth sister and was very ill in the months leading up to my return. When I did return home, I planned to visit her but I did not. I regret that and have thought about my reasons for not visiting. I loved my aunt, but the situation she was in resembled my mother’s too much for me. I know that seems selfish, but let me lay a little truth on you – I am selfish. Always have been and while I seem to getting better, it is a race against returning tides. While I like seeing my extended maternal family, I would rather not have done so in the way that it occurred. I will surely miss her. Because my brother’s arm is injured, I was an alternate as pallbearer. I was proud to do so, though pride does not accurately cover the emotion well. It is just that I do not have the words to describe it. Carol Milton Hooper (1941-2013), Godspeed as angels take you to your rest with the Lord, your parents and my mother. Godspeed.

Another Week in Review 11/12-11/19 – Victory

This past week, I was able to finally finish the rough draft of my thesis. So, at this moment I am in a moment of euphoria, ephemeral though it is. I exist in the moment between all the hard work to produce and the sudden drop in hope that comes when your professor informs you that what you have written is scut. I know this day is quickly approaching in the next day or so, but I will enjoy what I have now. I hope that it is redeemable, but look to go in with low expectations. That way, everything can only go up.

Also, I was again able to enjoy some hotpot with my old classmates, Lisa and Quincy. Also, another friend, Chad, was able to join us as well. I am always of two minds about situations such as these. I have fun and did have fun, but realize that sometimes I make an utter ass of myself with some conversational topics. As you may guess, I don’t get out much. I did enjoy speaking with them though and look forward to next time.

On Saturday, I went to a gun show down in Sandy, UT. I mostly went out of curiosity, to see if they were any better than the ones back home. Nope. There was the usual assortment of nice stuff clashing ever so badly with a myriad assortment of pawn shop junk. The one difference was the lines. I got there about 20 minutes after it started and I was about 250 or more in line. A lot of people coming out scared of a potential Obama gun ban. I do not experience that fear, because I know that guns will never be banned. Oh, laws may be passed and some may give theirs up. However, I try to explain to people that guns are frightening simple pieces of equipment. All you need is a mill, lathe, and mechanical press. You can start putting out stuff en masse. Watch old videos of freedom fighter arsenals in WWII or go to Youtube and search for Pakistan gun market. Those are made by hand in caves. Modern know-how merged with the right equipment and Dianne Feinstein can kiss my Southern lily-white ~~~. You get the picture.

On the football front, both LSU and the Saints did rather well. LSU barely scraped by against Old Miss. While I don’t have as visceral a reaction against them as I do Alabama, I find that my heart is big enough to widen my hate. Those damn cowbells, rot their souls. I would hate them enough for just that. The Saints last week gave the Falcons their first taste of nastiness. This week it was the Oakland Raiders. Ok, they suck worse than we do, but I liked smoking them. Seems all we need to get the fire back in our pants was the return of Joe Vick. For those of you not in the know, Ol’ Joe was one of the coaches penalized for the bounty scandal and banned for half the season. Next year we should get Peyton back and kick some real tail.

In a final note, I just started a video lecture series on the Civil War that is pretty engrossing for me. Something to do between watching football and writing papers.

A Week in Review – Sept. 23 – Sept. 30

This past week has been an eventful one. First, I finished writing a very rough draft of the introduction to my thesis that my Advisor praised a little. We discussed where I should be headed and she gave me quite a few insights that I can use in writing my thesis body. Luckily, quite a bit of it is already there because I did a great deal of it before my mental crap out in December 2010. I feel way more confident this time around than last time. I still have to control my impulses for procrastination and such, but I have a much better handle on how this is all going down.

I started to wet shave with a safety razor. I do not have the courage to step up to a straight razor. I started out with those cheap Bics when I was a teenager that cut my face to ribbons. I decided to use the Mach 3 when it first appeared on the market. I used that for several years until I became tired of spending so much on the blades. I started using my father’s favorite – disposable Gillette’s from Winn Dixie. Not a bad choice but they cut a little as well. It got to the point where I either didn’t shave for a week because I hated shaving or shaved because I really dislike facial hair. The war got a little hairy sometimes, if you’ll forgive the pun. I decided to try something different. I bought a Merkur straight razor and a shaving brush with cake soap. All I can say is why did it take me this long to find you. It has given me the closest shave with the least irritation than anything I have ever used before. *Update* My Merkur razor unexpectedly came apart, but the merchant that I purchased it from is providing a replacement at no additional cost. Very nice.

In addition, I went to get a new phone. Actually, I went to the Sears Auto-center to put new tires on my car and change the oil. While waiting, I went to the nearby AT&T store to look at their selection of Samsung Galaxy 3IIIs. The price was a little too much and I was easily talked into buying a HTC One X. I had an HTC Inspire, but had had significant issues with it – mostly call reception and battery life. My brothers said that it made me sound muffled and low, while the new phone was crystal. So far, I am loving my new phone.

Speaking of something new, I also gained a new great-nephew. Elijah Joseph Sibley was born the 25th of September 2012, weighing 8 lbs and measuring 22 inches. While this is not my first time as a great-uncle, he is pretty damn cute, if I may say so. It stinks that I am so far away and will not be able to meet him until December. Here are one or two pictures.


I also had a Korean chapter test in which I intially felt alright about but was only able to secure a 86% score. There was not a deep fundamental flaw, mostly nicks taken off here and there. This just means that I will have to study harder. Doh!

Hmm, I also met with some old friends for lunch at the Hunan Gardens Restaurant for hotpot. I had not had hotpot since I came home from China in 2010. It was awesome. I made tentative plans for a later reunion with these same friends and others at the same place. Thank you Lisa for taking me there and Quincy for joining us. It was great meeting with you ladies after such a long time. Quincy also invited us to her single’s ward meeting and an afterward break the fast at her house in Park City. The meeting was pretty good and it felt great since I had not been to church since arriving. I know, I know – I’m a slacker. The break the fast meeting was excellent as well. I would like to thank Quincy’s parents for opening their home to me. Next week, I am going down to Cedar Hills (north of Provo) to go to church with the Moak boys and also watch football. Geaux Tigers!

Grad School – Joy?

Ah, grad school – how I dislike thee, let me count the ways. A great many of my friends have been very encouraging of my return to the University of Utah to finish up my Master’s program. Thank you all for that I also am interested in finishing and getting my degree so that my life can have some forward momentum. My M.A. degree will be integral to achieving this. Plus, I don’t like to quit and leave things unfinished.

But, grad school! I had forgotten how much I despise writing papers. No, not forgotten perhaps, but subjugated it to my latent ambition while reapplying. Now it returns to the fore.  In addition, it had also slipped my mind how much I had enjoyed playing patty cake with university administration, particularly financial aid. Sitting here broke and avoiding my landlord, I await the money authorized me, but temporarily denied due to a technicality that the office had neglected to mention almost to the point of scrapping the whole thing. The ignominy of having to drop out because of “those” people. Yes, the joy – you can almost imagine the smile on my face, can you not?

Thirdly, I am not a fan of grad students. Don’t get me wrong, I think a majority of them are very good people and a few are even my friends. However, I rarely get to meet such pretentious egos in such confined spaces. I do not think of myself as pretentious, but perhaps those that know me will vote another way. The root of my view is no doubt founded in how I approach history. I look at what is being said about what. Theory is my weakness and I often ignore the many and varied arguments over it that my fellow students seem to revel in. For example, I was in a study space where a certain book was being discussed and evaluated. It was a narrative and detailed one at that. The lack of theory or the little in the way in which to point to a theory was pointed out with a certain disparagement of its merit. I no doubt would have read it and found it a damn fine book. I hope this helps you understand my issue – fundamentally, my lack of interest in historical theory is detrimental to my being a history graduate student, much less a professional academic.

This is why I am so interested in government work. Political theory has only killed people in the hundreds of millions, so a lack of interest in that should not be an issue there, right? Fortunately or unfortunately, however you may prescribe to it, I actually enjoyed political theory.

First Day of Korean Class

Yesterday, I experienced that feeling of ineptitude that generally comes with the first day of class in a new language. A new alphabet and vocabulary to wrap myself up in and beat my head against the wall over. I had been glancing over the Korean alphabet haphazardly for a couple of months and have been amazed at the simplicity of it. I realize that looking at it from the first few times that it will not be as simple as it looks, but I have on rose-colored glasses from the decade or so that I have been memorizing Chinese characters.

Actually, I think that this simplicity (follow along for my sake) will be somewhat of a detriment to me. I learned Chinese from the characters – meaning that what I remember and am able to communicate is based on the individualist nature of the characters. For example, I know how to say words based on the ideographic nature of the words no matter how similar they may sound to other words. Trust me, Chinese has about a billion homophones. With Korean’s 19 consonants and 21 vowels, I will have to learn a new paradigm for language learning. This should get interesting.

As for the class, it was pretty nice. The teacher, Kim Hyesun, displayed confident competence. She introduced most of the alphabet for us to remember and gave us a deadline of 2 weeks to learn it. I am pretty confident that if I buckle down it will not be a difficult goal. I learned 3 phrases as well. Basic, but essential:

  • 1. 안녕하세요 (annyeonghaseyo) – Hello.
  • 2. 반갑습니다 (bangabseubnida) – Nice to meet you!
  • 3. 저는Devon입니다 (jeoneun Devon ibnida) – I am Devon.

Also, I should mention that I had an interesting time before the class. I went early morning to Provo to visit the BYU Museum of Art with my friend Jessica Allred. The day did not start off well. After leaving my lair in Midvale, UT, I stopped by the store to purchase that silky smoothness of decadence, A&W Rootbeer. Leaving the store, something flew in my face and I swatted it, promptly earning a bee sting. May you rot in bee hell, you lil’ bastard. I learned from the experience that I am not allergic to bees. In fact, the only thing I know that I am allergic to is the damn sun, if you can believe that.

Upon recovering, I finished my journey to Provo. We got to see two magnificent exibitions – 1. Beauty and Belief: Crossing Bridges with the Arts of Islamic Culture and 2. Object of Devotion: Medieval English Alabaster Sculpture from the Victoria and Albert Museum. Both were excellent and it was a well conceived and maybe even intended juxtaposition of Islamic and Christian art. Both were beautiful in their own ways and it was made even more interesting with Jessica’s intended year long trip to Saudi Arabia to teach English. Go girl! and take a great many pictures.