June 30, 2010

Cultural Crossover Comment Chat

Online proxy servers are like a set of keys to a never-ending series of locks. They have allowed me to get on Facebook, check out Twitter and keep tabs on a variety of blogs, including some of my favorites like this and this and this. These sits, of course, are otherwise inaccessible in China because of the expansive Great Fire Wall of China.

One thing that proxy servers can’t do, however, is allow me to post comments on my blog. (At least the proxies that I use.) There have been a number of comments that were insightful, and a few more that asked me specific questions or made specific criticisms. But I have never responded to any of these comments – not because I didn’t want to, but because I can’t. Don’t ask me why I can post articles but not leave comments. (Don’t ask, either, why a blog about basketball is blacklisted in China.)

So in light of the fact that people have left some comments on my blog, and in light of the fact that comment board banter is, at this time, impossible for me to engage in, I’d like to discuss some of the comments that have been left.

This first one is from Cultural Crossover’s No. 1 commenter, Hopfrog.

First off, your being a total wuss, more on that later….

You know how many success stories begin with “I was down to my last dollar....” or “I hocked everything we owned...”. Your going to sit on the sideline because of some debt? Yeah, a big arse chunk of debt, but are we talking about your dreams or just some job you think would be ‘neat’. It sounds to me like this is your dream man, and if thats the case, it shouldn’t even be a question. People that know you probably don’t want to tell you to go for it, and feel guilty if you don’t make it and become straddled with debt.

Sure, there is a point to be made that it is a different world now, but come on, who’s getting that job with SI or ESPN, the guy with talent and a NW journalism degree, or the guy with talent who really wrote some cool stuff on his blog!...

If its not really your dream, then please, don’t even think about doing it. But you clearly have the talent and if this is the one thing that you really want to do with your life, well, then....

Sack up!

This comment was in response to a three-part post that began with my angst over graduate school and ended with a lengthy discussion about swindles in China. (By virtue of having been linked to my mega-China blogger Danwei, I think these may be my most-read posts.)

At the time, I was mired in contemplation/anxiety about whether or not to attend Northwestern’s prestigious master’s in journalism program at the world-renowned Medill School of Journalism. Any frequenters of the blog, or anyone who read the biographical posts at the outset of Cultural Crossover, knows about my journalistic ambitions. I want to be a sportswriter but, having graduated into the shitshow that was the 2008 U.S. Economy – and the coinciding implosion of American newspapers – I couldn’t find meaningful work to save my life. After some freelancing gigs, a too-long stint at a local library and a few heartbreakingly close sniffs at newspaper jobs, I became resigned to the fact that I may as well escape my parents house and go teach in China.

I never wanted to become a lifer in China, however, so I took the GRE right before I left and then applied to graduate schools during the bleak Jinan winter. Sending out applications endowed me with a moment of hope-inspired warmth before I would leave the post office and traipse down the smoggy and bone-chilling streets of Jinan.

I heard back in March that I was accepted to Northwestern’s journalism program among a few others. This was huge news for a wannabe journalist like me because Northwestern is simply THE program for journalism. (Sorry, Missouri. It’s true.)

The problem, though, is that the one-year NU program costs a comical $84,000. What’s more, they offered me only $12,000 in scholarships. Thus, to attend Northwestern, I would have to swallow $72,000 in debt (about $95,000 after interest, according to a financial advisor).

Now, 72K isn’t a big deal in the world of law, or the world of medicine, or business. But journalism? Boy, that’s a gamble. So I shot out emails to a bunch of trusted confidants in the journalism biz, and not a one told me to jump at the opportunity. Instead, they all talked about (a) how a master’s degree could help me be a teacher, and (b) how a master’s wouldn’t guarantee a job in the industry, how it wouldn’t impress anyone.

In that initial post, I surmised:

So there it is – how it’s possible to have the best news of the year turn into the worst news. Congratulations! You, the 24-year-old desperate to be a journalist, have been admitted to the best journalism school in the country (world?)! Now, here’s your piddly financial aid package. Go find $70,000 – psst…it’ll be more like $95,000 when all is said and done – and come on board!

Part of me wonders if I am just being a wuss, if I need to bite the bullet and swallow the debt if this is really what I want to do. Another part of me wonders if that is a decision that could ruin the next 10 years of my life.

Well, Hopfrog gave his opinion: That I was being a wuss. That if I really wanted to be a journalist – and wasn’t just paying lip service to the idea for dramatic effect – then it would be foolish (and wuss) of me not to go to Northwestern. And that’s fair.

In the end, though, I decided not to heed Hopfrog’s advice, and punted on Northwestern. (Actually I deferred my enrollment, so I could, in theory, go there next year. But I will never, ever pay $70,000-plus for a degree that doesn’t guarantee me a job that I want, and there is no journalism degree, not even from Northwestern, that could insure a job.)

Hopfrog makes valid points, but I don’t know that he has enough of a grasp on how bleak the U.S. journalism industry is right now. It’s worse than stagnant.

If I were to go to Northwestern, I would finish up in August of 2011 and be $70,000 in the hole. Even supposing that the U.S. economy begins to right itself (hardly a surefire proposition), the journalism industry will still be turned on its head. Bloggers and fan sites and ESPN will own such a huge chunk of the industry that it just isn’t a good bet to think that a degree from Northwestern will be a ticket to a job. It doesn’t work like that if there are no jobs.

Maybe I could find a job at a smaller paper, in a place like Lawrence, Kan., or Bloomington, Ind. – some college town or something similar. But those gigs pay in the $30,000 range, and if I were coughing up $9,500 a year to pay off loans, then I am basically working a $20,000 per year job. And maybe I could catch on with an online outlet, but the problem with online journalism at the moment – really, the systemic problem with the industry as a whole – is that online journalism isn’t generating any money.

My prediction – and I want to get in print so I can have a good I told you so! to play with in the future – is that Northwestern (and every crazily expensive journalism school) is going to cut its prices DRASTICALLY in the next three years, five years max. My prediction is that the crop of kids going to Northwestern and Columbia and Missouri in 2010 will go down as one of the last ones to get duped into paying anywhere near that much money for the chance to enjoy unemployment in a crumbling industry.

Think about it. Newspapers (and the journalism industry as a whole) really started to fall apart in 2008. The group of kids that would have gone to graduate school for journalism in the fall of 2008 were already signed up by the time papers started sharing copy, by the time long-time writers began to get the axe, by the time that even the most qualified youngsters couldn’t get that first job (me among them). The 2009 crew knew what was happening, but when they were accepted in early ’09, they could have still deluded themselves into thinking that the economy and journalism industry would right itself in the next year or so.

Now this 2010 group, which like me was accepted into these schools in early 2010, will be at the mercy of the new face of journalism: Bloggers who are more on top of stories than anyone (but don’t make dick for money), a shrinking number of outlets that occupy a growing chunk of the market, newspapers and magazine that are paper thin, that are still shedding staff, that appear to accepting that theirs is a fate of less content and fewer writers.

So, that’s why I am not going to go to Northwestern. Charging $84,000 for a one-year program in journalism, even if it comes with the Northwestern brand name, is tantamount to a money grab. Northwestern and other schools could charge that much in years past under the guise that it would land kids a job in the industry. Well, not anymore. The industry that we knew is gone, and so are the jobs that warrant paying that much for a degree.

This is one of the last years that people who are smart enough to get into the program will be foolish enough to not see the writing on the wall.

What I’ll be doing instead of Northwestern is getting a Master’s degree in journalism from a well-reputed Danish university, starting this fall. I received a full tuition scholarship, and I am confident that I can cobble together enough money to pay for the living expenses in Denmark. I have absolutely no disillusions that a master’s degree from Denmark will be some invaluable asset when I graduate and try to get a job in the States. Indeed, employers may scoff at the idea of hiring someone who went to school in Europe. But then again, the chance to attend school in a country like Denmark and not pay a dime for tuition is cool unto itself. Cooler than being saddled with $10,000 of debt each year until I’m 36.


Just wanted to agree - White Men can't Jump really is a classic - for a basketball player who only got into the game (from the UK) at 16 in the mid-90s it showed what basketball could be. The other one I'd describe as a classic if “He got game”.

Never got into the stretching thing before the game though... even living in China.

Doug made this comment on a post that used the film (work of art, really) White Men Can’t Jump as a springboard to talk about stretching in China. You see, in White Men Can’t Jump, there is a great scene where the movie’s lone white man, named Billy Hoyle (played by Woody Harrelson), is stretching along the sidelines. He is mocked by the all-black cohort of players, including his future buddy and teammate, Sidney Dean (Wesley Snipes). “What’s this mother f&*% doing? Stretching?”

Unlike Doug, I was never quite as into He Got Game. It does have some awesome scenes. But there are also aspects of it that are shamelessly superfluous, seemingly little more than a way for Spike Lee to make the film 30 to 45 minutes longer than it actually should be. Seriously, why does the dad of Jesus Shuttlesworth need to develop a love affair with a prostitute? Couldn’t he have just gotten a prostitute, and that could be that? That storyline goes nowhere, yet still Lee dedicates a not insignificant chunk of the movie to Papa Shuttlesworth’s courtship of a hooker, in the process forfeiting an incalculable number of chances to show Ray Allen jump shots.

Anyway, I still love the Chinese’s gratuitous stretching, and the fact that I can walk down the street flapping my arms or holding my hands high above my head and not get looked at like I’m some sort of freak. Strike that – in Jinan, anyone with white skin gets looked at like they’re a freak. But at least I’m not getting the raised eyebrow because I’m stretching. Just because I’m a white man (who, by the way, can’t jump).


Interesting stats about lefties. Being one myself, I guess I never knew that only ~11% of us are that way. For what it is worth, four of my nine players on our youth basketball team were lefties. Three of them were guards. I think lefties have an advantage, especially in youth hoops because defenders just aren't used to guarding their strong hand.

Jim V left this comment on “No South Paws in the Far East,” a post about how lefthandedness is discouraged in China and, by extension, how there are no lefty ball players.

I totally agree, Jim, that it throws off youngsters when they try to guard lefties. It’s a quirky thing to deal with. What’s also neat about lefty ballers is that they look downright cool when they play basketball, or at least when they shoot. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a sweeter jump shot than former Missouri star (and therefore sworn nemesis) Kareem Rush, who had this buttery lefty stroke that, if flipped to the right, would probably just look like any old run-of-the-mill J. Other aesthetically pleasing left-handed shooters: 2010 Kansas Jayhawks freshman Xavier Henry; Milwaukee Bucks guard Michael Redd; former NBA guard and pothead Damon Stoudamire. No word on whether or not Jim V’s stroke is pure or not.


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Michael Jacksson left this on what was, in my mind, one of this blog’s better posts, “Up Fake: China’s Booming Fake NBA Market”. The post dealt with the interesting topic of fake, or jiade, goods in China, particularly the fake NBA stuff, which I seem to see every single day. Thanks for reading, Michael.


I have been loving your writing and particularly love that you are Suns fan. I caught the Spurs Suns game on Sunday morning where Dragic the Dragon played an amazing 4th quarter (talk about spindly!!) and where Barbosa really showed up. I don't know about Jinan, but here in Beijing I thought the Meng Niu ads with highlights were really cool... I mean the milk graphics and a milk BBall!! WTF?

But I hear you on the commentary.. I have been following to Suns here in China since I moved here from Phoenix in 1995 (yep, i was in Phoenix during Sir Charles and Thunder Dan's days!!) and have had lots of fun picking up Bball vocab to talk NBA with the Beijing taxi drivers.…

Thanks, Tianrui. I appreciate it. I wrote that post before the Suns’ season was ended in sickening fashion by the Lakers. One can’t help but wonder if they would have won that Lakers series had Ron Artest not put in that buzzer-beater in Game 5.

I went nuts when Jason Richardson banked in that ridiculous three-pointer to tie the game. Of course, as luck would have it, Kobe Bryant – the best clutch jump shooter in the game – then proceeded to airball his game-winning attempt by five feet, and Artest squirted in there to get the rebound and put up that awkward, old-man lay-up. Killer way to go out, but then again, it’s a Steve Nash team, so it’s only fitting that there was a dastardly twist. With Nash, a loss is never just a loss.

It’s just incredible to think about the various ways in which Steve Nash has been screwed over in the playoffs: Tim Donaghy fixing games in 2007, Tim Duncan’s hitting his first three-pointer of the season in 2008, Ron Artest playing the role of hero in 2010. I don’t feel too sorry for guys who get paid millions upon millions to play basketball, but if I did, I’d definitely feel for Steve. And now that Amare Stoudamire has opted out of his contract, and now that Jason Richardson and Grant Hill and Steve Nash are all a year older, it really is a shame he won’t win a title.


The slang in Beijing is mostly the same, 我靠 tends to be what I hear most often in terms of beifanghua.

Jim wrote this on a post dedicated to the different slang terms that I hear on the basketball court here in China. Even when I return to the States, I have every intention of shouting Mea you!!! when someone takes a stupid shot. The term – which is prevalent on courts in China – means “don’t have,” and is pronounced more or less like mayo. People will think I’m talking about condiments. I give it a two percent change of catching on and becoming a nationwide phenomenon.


Have you thought about foregoing this blog and pitching this idea to a book publishing company?

Jim V wrote this on an early post when I laid out what this blog was about. To be honest, yes, I have thought about trying to write a book about basketball in China. But my apathy toward learning this bizarre language will probably prevent such a thing from ever happening. Since you brought it up, though, I’m convinced that I should write a book about something, if not playing basketball in China. A book would be a way for me to write non-fiction and at the same time skirt the journalism industry, which, of course, doesn’t seem to have any interest in ever welcoming me aboard. I can mark you down for a copy, right?



Being a Bball nut also, I thoroughly enjoyed your post on the Chinese BBall experience.

I guess Bball skills brings out the “macho man” in most of us and keeping score and dominating is affirmation of manhood.

Maybe, the average Chinese Bballer is less “confrontational” or competitive in some of these situations since they know each other well ( and each others families ? ).

I know that when I played ping pong ( table tennis ) with skilled players , they didn’t try and beat me to death and make me cry. :)

They were gracious and give up a few points here and there.

Thanks, LA Guy

LA Guy has an interesting theory, which he discusses on an early post in which I express my bafflement at how Chinese players often don’t keep score. In the States, I’ve rarely played in games where people don’t keep score. There are any number of way in which score is kept. In HORSE we use letters; in five-on-five it’s generally the case that threes count as twos, and twos as ones; in “21” everyone seems to have their own nuanced scoring system. My experience in the States was that unless you’re playing by yourself, basketball is a competitive endeavor. Not so here.


I was in Orlando when we first got T Mac and he was going to be the guy that got us over the top. Of course, we heard that when we got Penny, and when we got Shaq, and what we really got was swept by the Rockets.

It was clear early on that T Mac wasn’t going to win any championships. For pretty much the same reasons that I don’t see Orlando doing squat with Vince Carter.

My immediate guess for his popularity was for being a Rocket and your entry confirmed it. At least Shane Battier gives 100% and has become a defensive monster, he deserves to be popular somewhere. I’ll take a team player like that over the T Macs anyday….

Hopfrog left this comment on this post – one of my favorites – which discussed the popularity of Tracy McGrady and then looked at why T-Mac is still popular here ever though he can hardly play anymore. The Cliff Notes on his popularity: Yao Ming and adidas.

That’s it for now. Thanks as always to everyone who reads this and comments. I appreciate it. Until next time…


  1. LOL, not heeding Hopfrog's advice was probably the best move! I can sadly think of many incidents where heeding Hopfrog's advice has been to the detriment of the advice taker.

    The demise of print media is well known and you make a great case for this eventually lowering the tuition at places like NW. But I'll throw a quick counter argument out there. It will be either big time or small time for journalists due to the proliferation of the internet. Media outlets will find new homes on tablet computers, instead of driveways. Sure there are a ton of options out there now, but readers will truly seek out the best material and the sites with the monster hit counts will see all the real ad revenues. Those will most likely continue to be the standbys.. the WSJs, the NYTs, the ESPN.coms of the world, and a few upstarts that no one saw coming. It will certainly be easier to showcase talent in the blogosphere, but competition will be stronger than ever. NW is a great school, but its not the education that I think will be its real value. Its the guanxi. I often pick up on little NW subtle jokes and jabs when listening to sportscaster talk.

    I know nothing about being a journalist (another great reason to take in my advice, and do the opposite) but even I know that going to NW as a journalist is like playing for the Yankees. I think media is changing.. not dying. I still visit the same news outlets I always have, I just don't pay 50 cents a copy anymore. The ad revenues and the cost savings from not having to print media may actually turn into a positive as all this evolves. Thats just my guess. Sadly, I can see many great blogs just not making any money, while some juggernauts will emerger that have the resources to direct the traffic.

    You've made a prudent choice, I hope its for the best!

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