Friday, June 12, 2020

Chinese-American Cultural Exchange During the Coronavirus Pandemic

By Winny Lin

The coronavirus pandemic not only has caused paramount economic problems for the world and caused astronomic numbers of death, it also has stirred an anti-Chinese movement in the United States. Science has been tossed aside and a few Americans are eager to blame Chinese for the crisis, since Wuhan, China was the first city shut down by coronavirus. 

In California, our governor Gavin Newsom issued his statewide “Shelter-in-Place” order  on March 19, and announced,”We have to meet this moment!”

However, the crisis brought opportunities just like the Chinese characters 危机. The first character means CRISIS  and the second one means OPPORTUNITIES. Our South Bay chapter members have created opportunities to “meet this moment”!

Somehow I reconnected with an old friend, Mr. Junsheng-jason Wen, who was recently promoted as the principal of #9 Senior High School in Anshan, Liaoning, China. Mr. Wen is a young and innovative educator whom I have known since 2007. He invited me to speak to his students who are mainly from either rural area or urban broken homes to broken their horizons. We tried Trecent, Skype, and finally decided on the platform of WeChat, the Chinese Facebook. Nine people could be on at one time meeting ‘face to face”. Our first meeting was to discuss what the students would like and they decided on “how to improve their conversational English and increase their vocabulary. I then invited some native speakers to join us.  Our first guests were two American high school students from Walnut Creek, CA, Kellie Hintzoglou and Abby Young, to compare and contrast the Chinese and American high schools. A perfect topic!

As it turned out three of the students at our first meeting were musicians. Jimmy Li plays guitar, Iris Li Chinese flute, and Nicholas Li piano. Who knew I happened to see Yo-yo Ma interviewed on PBS News Hour on TV. After he performed Dvorak’s “Going Home”, he encouraged musicians worldwide on all skill levels to join him in providing comfort amid the global crisis.  I quickly sensed this was one of those “opportunities” open to our Chinese young musicians. 

These three were so willing and in no time they sent me their musical videos: 
Jimmy did his own original rap in Chinese and English, “We should wear masks and we should stay home…. We learn some skills, joking, dancing, studying and we will be ok!”

Iris played her Chinese flute and recited a poem in English about the coronavirus, “It is a war  agains virus with doubts, fears, rumors ad discrimination.  All of us are fighters in this war…..”

and Nicholas played his original piano piece. I was very impressed! Then I submitted them to PBS Facebook page CANVAS and they subsequently published all three videos. Both Principal Wen and I were extremely proud that his 3 students out of 900 from his rural school in Anshan, China got a shining moment on American Facebook. 

Some of our South Bay Chapter members joined us on the WeChat sessions. First Chet Gnegy spoke with the musicians about his work and interest, even when he was in Vietnam (Thanks to the modern technology!) Another time Yanshuo Zhang talked to the students about her life journey from when she first visited the States as a 16-yr-old high school student to attend an American university, and now is an instructor at Stanford University.  

Later I invited John Marienthal, chair of our South Bay Chapter.  John has visited all the 26 provinces of China and taught English in Xinjiang and Shanghai respectively for years.  He has the experience and passion and now he is the main American facilitator of two Sunday English sessions to help Chinese high school students improve their English and American culture. 

Typical topics of discussion were “Festivals and sports in China and America”, “50th Anniversary of Earth Day and Volunteering to Help others”, “What activities do you do during and after school?” And “What are the top attractions of your city Anshan?”

The topics were chosen in sync with their school English curriculum and to help the students understand the world outside of Anshan, China. Mr. Wen is striving to help them develop a global view and at the same time to get them excited about life. After a month, I believe we are making good progress towards these goals. The South Bay chapter is doing its part to continue our interactions with China and the people even during these trying times as the coronavirus  pandemic hits us all hard. 

Anshan, Liaoning is located in northern China, about 92 kilometers south of the capital Shenyang where the USA has a consulate. It is the 3rd most populous city with 3.5 million people and famous for its Anshan Steel Company and its soft jade mining.

Note: I made this screenshot on March 28, 2020. Mr. Jason Wen, the principal of #9th Senior High School. in the bottom row next to me. John Marienthal is far left in the middle row.
Thank you, John,  for your continuous work every week. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

We CAN Change and We MUST implores June Speaker

During the past two years, President Trump has rolled back environmental regulations, pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord, and turned “global warming” into a punch line. “Wouldn’t be bad to have a little of that good old-fashioned Global Warming right now!” he posted on Twitter in January when a snowstorm was freezing much of the country.’ His thesis is that Climate Change is a hoax created by the Chinese to adversely affect U.S. Manufacturing.


Not so, explained Wei-Tai Kwok, a member of former Vice President Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, when he spoke to our group in June. —“Increasing levels of heat-trapping gases, such as CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide, are causing global average temperatures to rise. And China and America are the world’s worst carbon-dioxide polluters, accounting for over 40% of total annual global emissions.”


Mr. Kwok initially had nothing to do with climate science.  He had his own successful advertising company and thought nothing of the climate, other than was the weather nice enough to take his two young children to the park.  Then one weekend in 2006, his wife suggested they go see a new movie: An Inconvenient Truth.   The Oscar-and Nobel-Peace-Prize winning documentary, narrated by Al Gore, detailed the science behind Climate Change. Mr. Kwok was so moved by what he learned that he found it difficult to concentrate at work. Every day that he wasn’t doing something to help the environment was  a day he felt he was part of the problem, rather than the solution  So, after a year of struggling with this moral challenge, he decided to make a major change in his life. He sold his business, got a job working for the solar panel company SunTech Power, and became a member of the Climate Reality Project. This project, funded initially by Al Gore with proceeds from the movie and subsequent book, aims to educate people around the world about climate issues, and turn this awareness into action. Today the group consists of more than 20,000 scientists, cultural leaders, activists, and concerned citizens like Mr. Kwok, committed to building a sustainable future together.

One of the first things Mr. Kwok pointed out is that 18 of the 19 hottest years ever recorded by weather instruments have taken place since 2001, with the five hottest years being the last five years. Last summer, South Korea and Algeria set new records for the hottest days in their countries, with temperatures soaring to 103F and 124F, respectively. That same month, the temperatures were so hot in Berkshire, England, that the asphalt melted, trapping vehicles. In Shandong, China, it was so hot that a boy was actually able to cook an egg on a manhole cover. More seriously, however, thousands of people were taken to hospital, hundreds died due to global heat waves. “Every day, we spew 110 million tons of global-warming pollution into the atmosphere,” said Kwok.  This pollution comes from various sources: The dislodging of CO2 from soils, the burning of forests without an emphasis on sustainability, mining operations which rely on fossil fuels, the thawing of the permafrost in the arctic which dislodges both CO2 and methane. “But the main source of the global warming pollution, by far,” said Mr. Kwok, “Is our use of fossil fuels--oil, coal, and gas.”

Not only do the pollutants increase air temperature, but also rainfall. Mr. Kwok pointed out the science: warmer air holds more water vapor. As a result, we see more rainy days and more intense rain.  “In the US, extreme downpours are now happening 30 percent more often (every nine months rather than every 12 months) than in 1948. These downpours are also 10 percent more intense on average, nationwide.”

In fact, weather disasters have become more common and more intense.  In March, a bomb cyclone hit, causing massive flooding in the Midwest, a blizzard in Colorado and Wyoming, and produced winds up to 110mph. Just last month over 200 tornadoes touched down in the Midwest in just 13 days.  On Father’s day, 4 tornadoes touched down in Dallas.  Double the typical rainfall for June in the UK triggered flooding.  The list goes on and on.  According to data Mr. Kwok showed us put together by insurance agencies, in the 1980s there were  200 weather disasters per year. Today, there are more than 800.

Finally, Mr. Kwok spoke about ways the climate affects us—other than slowing our commute or messing up travel plans.  “Changes in the climate,” he said, “Affect our health.  Vector-borne diseases (think Zika Ebola, SARS, West Nile), heat stress, air pollution, and waterborne diseases are all influenced by a changing climate.”


Mr. Kwok believes we can change, and that China and America (who have the heaviest carbon footprints) must take the lead. He, for one, traded in his gas-powered car for electric, put solar panels on his house, and is taking steps towards becoming a vegetarian.  He also regularly contacts his elected representatives to keep them focused on climate issues. 

One of our audience members applauded Mr. Kwok’s effort to not eat meat, mentioning the devastating effects meat production has on the environment.  Producing meat uses enormous amounts of resources like land, crops, water, and energy while producing a colossal amount of carbon-dioxide –equivalent gases. Meatlless Monday is a worldwide campaign to get people to reduce meat consumption by 15%.

For those who cannot put up solar panels, Mr. Kwok explained that all of the new competitive electricity carriers in the Bay Area (PG&E, Silicon Valley Clean Energy, Peninsula Clean Energy) offer service plans with a 100% clean-energy option. For just a few dollars more each month, you can opt to get your electricity from sources like solar and wind.

So, while Mr. Kwok suggested keeping in touch with elected government officials, he emphasized the most important change maker is YOU.  Thirteen years ago when he saw An Inconvenient Truth, he was devastated. He was sure that his own children and grandchildren would witness only further destruction. Today, he is hopeful.  Hopeful that we can learn what it is we are doing wrong and find ways to change.  All it takes is our willingness to make change. One person at a time.

If you’re interested in getting trained like Mr. Kwok, look up the next session on the website: 

If  you're interested in exploring US-China People to People collaborative projects on Climate Change, contact Dr. Billy Lee:

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Golden Spike 150 in a California Classroom

By Winny Lin
Co-chair of South Bay Chapter

Two years ago, our South Bay Chapter heard Dr. Shelley Fisher Fishkin speak about her Stanford project: the lives and work of the thousands of Chinese laborers who provided the muscle that built the transcontinental railroad. This group of Chinese has been virtually ignored in American history. (It is with great pleasure that I noted NY Representative Grace Meng’s recent congressional resolution proposal to recognize the Chinese railroad workers and their important contribution to the growth of the United States.)

Recently during my spring break, my husband Kenny and I visited the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento and became even more enthralled by the fascinating story of an engineering marvel that changed America.  Then I happened to pick up a book from its gift shop, Ten Mile Day written and illustrated by Mary Ann Fraser.  It examines in detail the very lives of the Chinese workers who made the feat possible and  completed the final stretch of track of 10 miles in one day.  Sadly no Chinese were invited in the Gold Spike ceremony on May 10, 1969. 

Together these resources created in me a strong desire to find a way to share my newly acquired knowledge and enthusiasm with others.  The coming of the 150th anniversary and celebration on May 10 at Golden Spike National Historical Park, Utah made it even more compelling. I never really thought about going to Utah for the celebration, but perhaps I could find another way to participate.

Out of the blue came the perfect opportunity.  A very good teacher friend, Mrs. Virginia Alexanian, asked me to be her guest teacher on April 30. What could be better than this: to share a piece of important history with some young minds? Her fourth grade class has 30-plus talented and challenging students, but I have established a good relationship with them earlier this school year. They would be my captured audience! 

Thankfully Mrs. Alexanian agreed that a day devoted to the transcontinental railroad especially studying the Central Pacific built mainly by Chinese laborers would be very suitable. Besides California history is in their 4th grade core content. 

I selected four real-life individuals who could speak about the 6-year effort to build the railroad.  Each one would be portrayed by a student with a monologue:

Theodore Judah:
I am one of the finest railroad engineers of my days. For years I have been trying to tell anyone who would listen that a transcontinental railroad was possible given the necessary time, treasure and energy. The project would link East to West and unify the country.  
I made 23 trips through the Sierra Nevadas searching for an appropriate path for the railroad and I finally figured out the route. 

Leland Stanford
I am one of the Big Four that invested in building the railroad and the 8th Governor of California. I am also the one who drove the Golden Spike to join the rails connecting the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific railroads on May 10, 1869, at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory.  
With the money I made  and the land that I gained from building the railroad, I founded Stanford University.
(He considered Chinese as an inferior race in his governor’s inaugural address, but ironically at Stanford University nowadays there is a large number of Chinese descendants among the student population.)

Charles Crocker
I am also one of the Big Four that invested in building the railroad. When others did not believe Chinese could handle the job, I said, “Did they not build the Chinese wall, the biggest piece of masonry in the world?” Central Pacific hired 12,000-15,000 Chinese and we successfully beat the Union Pacific in the 10-mile race.

(I also wanted a female representative so I picked Hannah Strobridge).

Hannah Strobridge
My husband and I are the only ones to have an office and house on the train and I saw the project from the start to finish.  I even have a canary cage swinging on our front porch.

As the story was unraveled, the students became very excited from the dramatization and reenactment when Leland Stanford character drove in the golden spike(I brought a hammer and a 2-in long golden screw as props.) When they finally got to use their Chromebook to look for images and more details to create their own version of the story on their one-page graphic organizer. Several of their artwork,  thought processes, and reflections were quite amazing!

One girl looked on the internet and started copying some Chinese characters. At first, I didn’t get the association of that and our topic “Transcontinental Railroad”. Later, when she finished, I clearly saw that she had put the Chinese characters love, faith, happiness, in a column to describe the Chinese laborers.  How appropriate!

I also gave them index cards if they wanted design a souvenir for the celebration.  One student drew a mug and another designed a locket with a golden spike in the middle. 

I feel very blessed to have shared some of the excitement and history with Mrs. Alexanian’s class!  They learned about the key players, the route over the mountains, and how Chinese were mistreated and put in danger! One of the outcomes might be a better understanding of the phrase “Justice for all!” when they say the Pledge of Allegiance each morning!