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    Posted March 17, 2014 by
    San Francisco, California
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Why study abroad? Ask Michelle Obama

    Techy Organic Bakeries and Old School International Relations


    After studying and living abroad in mainland China and traveling throughout East Asia for nearly three years, I returned to the United States and began working in San Francisco as of November 2013.


    One evening after work, an old college buddy dragged me out to a finance networking event. For an international relations enthusiast and policy wonk like me, I was not exactly sure of my role at a finance networking event in San Francisco. Yet prior to the event, my buddy Ken and I began discussing our passion for the Chinese culture and what it meant to us. As a second generation Chinese-American of Cantonese origin, Ken stated his love for dim sum, Chinatown, and the language. I smiled, paused for a moment, and then responded with an, “Oh!” I soon realized our interest for the so called “Chinese Culture” revolved around different time periods, regions, philosophies, and world views.


    Ken smiled back and kindly asked what it is about Chinese culture that fascinated me. I hesitated for a moment, but decided to give him my spiel. I eagerly voiced my opinions on the Spring-Autumn and Warring States periods with the Hundred Schools of Thought, including the Confucianists, Mohists, Daoists, Legalists, and so forth which established themselves over 2000 years ago. On top of that, there were the great Tang, Song, and Ming Dynasties when international relations, trade, culture, and commerce thrived in China.


    Ken looked back at me entertained, followed by silence, and finally broke out into laughter. He looked at me and said “I have no idea what you are talking about dude!” Yet, he was interested to hear more. Thus, I expressed my affection for the city of Quanzhou in southern China’s Fujian province. This ancient seaport is not a first tier city nor is it developed and modernized like Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen on mainland China, but one with history, deep rooted culture, and faith. Although I’ve only made two brief visits to Quanzhou, no other city in China mesmerized my soul like Quanzhou.


    As one of the largest ports in the world for over hundreds of years (900s AD – 1600s AD), this city and its towns are filled with meticulously preserved mosques, churches, ancestral temples, Daoist shrines, Buddhist monasteries, among other holy sites. I highly suspect that Hindu and Zoroastrian temples are hidden somewhere around the city. Even thinking back to my freshmen year at UC Davis, I was introduced to this city through introductory international relations and history courses by Old World explorers such as Ibn Battuta of Morocco and Marco Polo of Italy from the 1200-1300s. However, even with Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo’s amour for Zayton (Quanzhou), the city fell in the 1600s along with the Southern Ming Dynasty and had yet to regain its importance when anti-Ming government Han Chinese and Manchu forces sacked the city, causing a Ming loyalist by the name of Koxinga (Zheng Chenggong) to lead tens of thousands of troops and migrants to southern Taiwan.

    The southern Taiwanese city of Tainan was the last stronghold for Koxinga and the Ming Dynasty and southern Taiwanese today are still proud of his legacy. Koxinga’s battalions and squadrons made up of southern Fujianese, Japanese, and African soldiers drove the Dutch off the Island and reinstated the Ming Dynasty. Imagine Han Chinese, Japanese, and African soldiers suited up in 17th century Japanese military gear negotiating with other ethnic Han Chinese and Manchu forces from the north while engaged in diplomatic dialogues with Dutch forces in the south. Additionally, Portuguese and Spanish forces were awaiting news while observing on the side. Wow! What an example of old school international relations in 1661!


    Now that I am back in the San Francisco Bay Area, I feel blessed to live in an area of such diversity with a good number of organic bakeries surrounded by start-up tech companies. Understanding different languages, traditions, and ways of life from various countries and regions is merely scratching the surface of the box and wrapping to the “cultural cake”. Once you have studied abroad, then you’ve had your first whiff of that delicious cake and you know you want more. Years of cultural immersion indicates that you’ve enjoyed eating parts of that cake. However, is there more to it? Of course!


    You can become a liaison working between bakeries to make better products. For example, acting as a Foreign Service officer or working between private, government, or non-profit organizations to solve global problems. There’s nothing better than seeing everyone work well together. President Abraham Lincoln once asserted, “No man who is resolved to make the most of himself can spare time for personal contention”. So worry little about cultural shocks and clashes, inner struggles and dispositions, overseas hardships, or lack of funding to study abroad. If you are passionate about understanding the world, then leave the fears aside and moola will find you. And if you are really considering an actual bakery, let’s make it organic. It’s cool, a new trend, and most importantly healthy.

    On a final note, for the shoeheads out there, a city under the jurisdiction of Quanzhou produces literally tons of shoes with malls full of them for miles. You probably can’t get your American made Allen Edmonds over there, but those classic Nike or Adidas kicks you are wearing might just be from there. Oh! Don’t forget the Chucks!


    Well, we’ve covered a lot today. Cultural cake, organic bakeries, and old school diplomacy! Oh my! So why study abroad? Need I say more?


    Go get 'em Michelle! Support!


    Thank you for reading!

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