Regarding Honorary Changzhou Citizenship

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Awards mean more when you never asked for them in the first place.

This is something my mother once said to me a long, long time ago. It was towards the end of my senior year of high school, and I had been namedĀ Athlete of the Year and was handed a trophy. Privately, I complained to my mother that I didn’t deserve the award. I only played football and wrestled because her and my father made me. I considered myself a punk rocker more than a jock. I never felt like I was a serious athlete, and my high school had plenty of people that were passionate about sports.

She countered by pointing out that I received a regional award earlier that year as a football lineman, and that I had placed sixth in Europe as a junior heavyweight wrestler. In short, she was saying, “Shut up and take the compliment,” but in a more diplomatic and motherly way. What can I say? I have been a stubborn person nearly all of my life. Part of my innate nature is to downplay everything I do asĀ not important.

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That has to change. Recently, I was given the title of Honorary Citizen by the Changzhou government because of this blog and other things. This is the highest award a Chinese municipal government can bestow upon a foreigner. Part of me wants to shrug this off and scream I’m not worthy, but the ghost of my mother that lives in my memory — as well as my close friends — are basically telling me to stop trying to be humble and to just shut up and take the compliment. And, that’s what I am doing. It’s also part of a life lesson I have learned, recently. I don’t know how to take compliments. I always want to disagree. Yet, arguing with somebody about this is highly insulting to the person that wanted to give you the compliment first place. That’s not humility; that’s just being a obnoxious jerk.

I am grateful for the recognition. I feel honored in ways I could never fully articulate. I am also grateful to every person who has told me that Real Changzhou provides something meaningful to them. When you are a creative person, sometimes you tend to forget that the content you produce takes on a life of it’s own once you put it out into the world. Writers, painters, songwriters and artists in general have no way to control how people interpret the content they produce. Nor should they.

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So, where do I go from here? It seems to be the best way to show gratitude for such a big honor is not change anything — keep doing the thing that brought recognition in the first place. For me, that’s trying to learn as much about this city, it’s culture, and it’s history as possible. I always tell people this: living in China and writing about it in English is a never ending source of article, essay, and blog topics. The other thing is this: I really haven’t scratched the surface and I have so much more to learn. That road of discovery is one I plan on following for a long, long time to come.

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This vase, with “Changzhou Honorary Citizen” written in Chinese, was presented to me by the city. I am going to ask Hohai University if I can donate it to the library as a way of showing them gratitude for being a great place to teach.

 

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