May 16

My Adventure in Yanbian, China

May 16, 2012


Time in China

Months ago I received a letter from the owner of a psychology institute in Yanji City, Yanbian Prefecture, Jilin Province, China. This place is so far north in China that its southern border is North Korea, and it borders Siberia on the East. An hour from there you can see all three countries from a mountain peak.

The psychologist, Quan Yi, wrote to say that he had avidly studied psychology literature for many years, but he had found nothing that made a real difference to his clients. Then in 2008 he found the series of Real Love books that had been translated into Chinese. He read all ten books and began to use them in his practice.

He wrote: "It really is true that Real Love changes everything. We teach Real Love everywhere we go and have more than 200 people actively participating in our groups. Marriages are happier, parents are loving their children, depression is disappearing, and corporations are changing the way they do business. I have a dream to spread Real Love throughout China."

Their website is www.ybxlzx.com

On May 7, Joy Hsu, Cheryl Silva, and myself began preparation to travel to China. There were some significant problems with flights, because of weather in Chicago, so at the last minute we found ourselves in a position where our bags were on the plane, but we could not get to China in time for the opening events. Seconds before pushing the plane away from the gate, Joy and I got our bags back--in Phoenix and Atlanta, respectively--but Cheryl could not get hers, which made it impossible for her to go with us. (Ironic, since Cheryl works for that airline.)

With no time left at all, Joy and I bought new tickets on another airline, and off we went. Long, long flights. Because of the International Date Line, we arrived just before midnight on May 8. Spent the night in a hotel in Beijing. Not easy to find your way around to shuttle buses in a completely foreign environment.

May 9. Arrived late in Yanji City, where we were greeted with celebratory banners, thirty people, and women in traditional costumes. People have driven two hours one way just for that few minutes of greeting. These people really want it. They took us to the hotel.

May 10. This is the 60th anniversary of the founding of Yanbian, so their premier university was inaugurating a week-long series of events around how to create more happiness in people and families. I keynoted that, and it seemed to go very well. Student and faculty leaders from the university attended this.

Attended a dinner that night with university dean and others, and I presented Teacher Quan with a certificate for his being the first certified Real Love coach in all of China.
In the evening, we did a Real Love group until late. The Chinese people are slower to warm up to the idea of truth telling, because in their culture, "saving face"--looking good to win approval and avoid disapproval--is the cornerstone of everything. But once they sense the complete acceptance possible, they really get into it.

One set of parents talked about their son's refusal to do his homework, which is Chinese culture is simply unforgiveable. They teach hard work and success to their children from birth, so if a child fails to cooperate, it's a tragedy. I talked about why he was rebelling--against their controlling him--and suggested they bring him the next day to the group we'd be having.

One young man had never had a happy moment in his life, as far as he could recall. We just accepted him, and he looked stunned. He said he just didn't know what to do with the experience, and I encouraged him not to worry about it. There was no timetable, no hurry. He said he'd return the following day to see what happened. He had traveled more than a thousand miles to get there.

We didn't finish until nearly midnight.

May 11
Did a Real Love group from 9 am to 10:30 pm.

The couple from the day before brought their rebellious child. I asked him if he felt like his mother really listened to him, and immediately he said, "Yes." Of course he did. She had taught him that she was a wonderful mother, so he had little choice but to believe her, and he quickly defended her. But then we talked about her frequent anger at him, and he realized that he really didn't like that, so no, she couldn't possibly be listening to him if she persisted in doing what he hated. The two of them had some very tender moments, and from that point on in the evening, he was never more than a few feet away from me, like a puppy. Cute. The next day his parents said that his whole attitude has changed.

Early in the day we talked to a mother who was obviously controlling and angry toward both her son and husband. As she realized what she had been doing, and as she felt accepted, she left to call her husband to leave work and to take her son out of school. She wanted some of this healing for her family. It was great fun. Her son too defended her. I congratulated her on both controlling him and convincing him that she wasn't. As I talked to the son about what she really did, I finally pointed out to the audience what nobody had noticed, which was that the husband was over in the corner vigorously nodding agreement with everything. HE knew she was controlling, and he didn't like it, and he was able to show his son what was happening. They'll all be cooperating now to bring more harmony and less control to the family.

One woman had been sexually molested by her father thirty years before, and she said that she had concluded that she would take this to the grave. This subject is NOT discussed in China, so if you're a victim of sexual abuse, too bad. I held her for quite a while. She started off just bawling. Then she asked if she could still hate her father, who had died, even though it was her familial duty to take care of his burial plot. Of course, I said. After more healing, she thought she could forgive him. Finally, after about an hour of this, she said that she had never felt like this in her life. The burden was gone, the wounds healed. She thought that if her father were there, she would be able to actually have compassion for him, and she would tell him that the next time she attended his grave. Remarkable experience.

One woman had been adopted at an early age and had felt worthless her whole life. Helped her see that she felt worthless because of how everyone had treated her: adoptive parents, children at school, everyone. She felt so small. Her smile now would turn a generator.

So many parenting questions. Each family tends to have one child, so all the focus of the family is on spoiling that one kids, and as a result they're raising a generation of entitled children who refuse to cooperate with their parents' plans. They asked if they should "corral" their children (control them) or "let them fly" (be permissive). Answer? Neither. Just loveandteach. People took notes like crazy. Oddly, all their writing looked like Chinese to me.

In the U.S., great numbers of couples get divorced. In China, that's uncommon. Instead, the spouses simply have ongoing affairs--both of them--or they separate but remain married for life. Much marital unhappiness. They tend to focus on work and children, while ignoring their spouses, and they're discovering that this approach doesn't work very well.

The skeptical young man from the night before got more attention, and he began to SMILE, something he says he hasn't done in years, except to create the appearance of being normal. Step by step.

During the group, women began to hold the hand of the women next to them, which apparently is utterly unknown here. We did LOTS of touching, and they warmed up to it like little children. Initially some nervous laughter, but that disappeared quickly.

Finished late again.

Sat, May 12

Seminar on the Happy Family. 9:00 - 5:00. Nice attendance. The night before a man came to the group and said he'd heard about what we were doing, and he bought a block of 39 tickets. The word was getting around. We had people showing up to seminars and groups just because they had seen the welcome banner at the airport and the one at the university draped over the main thoroughfare. I think they did some Photoshop on the university banner, because I looked thin. I need a copy of that picture.

I was going to talk about marriage and parenting, but the overwhelming interest was in parenting, so I did that. People here are just as baffled by children as anywhere else, and they were very grateful for an approach that was so systematic and calm and simple.

Sun, May 13
I spent all day teaching an auditorium filled with students and faculty at Yanbian University, the largest in this area. Students are virtually unknown to ask questions during a lecture of any kind, because the Chinese culture is such that people are afraid to look bad. But there was an avalanche of questions from the audience. I didn't use the slides much, and just talked from the heart to them. They were telling the truth over and over, without realizing it, so when people asked about how to find Real Love, I just pointed to the people who had told truths (unwittingly) and asked them how they felt. They realized with great surprise that they felt more peace, happier, and closer to me (because they had told me the truth).

The Chinese culture is such that the children feel absolutely duty bound to obey their parents, even to the point of choosing schools and careers to please the parents. One student said, "After what you have said about Real Love, I realize that my parents did all the unloving things you have said, over and over. Does that mean my parents didn't love me?" The place became instantly silent as a tomb.

"Yes," I said. "I'm saying exactly that," and then went on to explain how every parent does his or her best. Parents just don't know how to love. The insights were transformational. I brought students up on the stage and talked to them, touched them. The audience melted.

Sometimes the questions were confrontational, suggesting that this Real Love idea was impossible. They tried to maintain (understandably so) that I didn't understand their culture, because Chinese people get angry all the time at their children. They insisted that the children NEED that kind of harsh discipline. I explained that parents do this all over the world--not just China--and then I asked if there was a single person in the room who liked being nagged, scolded, or criticized with anger. Raise your hand. Not a hand went up. So I said, "If the culture of any country gets in the way of the happiness of the people, then the culture must change. Anyone disagree?" Again, no hand. One young lady was adamant that anger was necessary, but by the end she was weeping. The audience obviously completely accepted their cultural demands to be obedient, servile, conforming, and so on. But when they realized that there really was an alternative, one that was more loving and freer, they clearly were delighted that there was a choice.

I met my first person from North Korea at the university gathering. He said that Western culture is more oriented toward the individual, while Eastern culture is more oriented toward the group. He wanted to know if Eastern wasn't, therefore, a better approach. I asked him to describe his family. His father, mother, and sister all live in the same house, but there is no talking. No touching. No real connecting. They eat together, they go places together, but they are essentially ALONE. They hardly know each other, despite their "Eastern group" philosophy. So I asked him if he thought that was better, just to be in closer proximity but not really knowing each other at all. He got the point, as did the entire audience. It was very eye opening to then.

It's obvious that the students were not used to touching. At one point where I asked them to visualize what it would be like to be loved, I asked them to reach out and take the hand of the person next to them. They were obviously very uncomfortable, but many of them continued to do it throughout the remainder of the seminar. It was sweet.

At lunch, I ate a sumptuous feast with senior professors at the university. One of them said that after the morning's seminar he realized he had not been nearly as good a husband as he had previously thought. I demonstrated with him how he could tell the truth to his wife, and he was deeply touched.

With his permission I told his story to the whole audience later, and they too were moved. I described my relationship with Donna, and every time I mentioned "My Queen," every woman in the audience gasped with delight. No matter where I go in the world, all women want to be cherished like this. Our cultural differences are small. We are utterly united in our need for being loved.

All during the seminar, I could see lightbulbs popping on in the faces of the students and faculty. In fact, at one point a student said that Real Love--as I described it--would be very rare. I agreed. "So how do we find it?" he asked. I pointed to one girl who had told the truth about herself during the seminar, and I pointed out how much happier she was. She felt loved by me, just sitting in her seat thirty feet away. She nodded vigorously. I pointed out another person, and another, with similar experiences. Those people become like light bulbs, and they attract moths around them. They don't have to go looking for moths, just turn on the light and wait for them to come. That's how you find more Real Love. Just live it--tell the truth--and people will come.

At one point, just before the seminar began in the afternoon, I sat in my chair listening to the music and watching the audience file in, and I was overwhelmed with silent weeping. What a privilege to be in this place and to be doing this work, despite my obvious and innumerable flaws. I realized, once again, that we're all the same. We need the same basic things. I have met with one small group after another since I arrived, and I feel like I'm meeting with family.

One professor in the audience at Yanbian University told me that several Chinese scientists have received Nobel prizes, but not a single one of them had been trained in China and stayed there. The only Chinese winners had begun their training in China and then gone to the U.S., where they had done more training and research. He asked why I thought this was the case. The answer fit perfectly into what I had taught them about the destructive effects of fear. In China people are very afraid--more than in most countries--of making mistakes that would make them look bad, so they hide their opinions. They don't take risks. They call it "saving face." So students say just what the professors have taught them, just what the teachers want to hear. It's too risky to propose something new, whereas in the U.S. we encourage innovation. Chinese students who come to the U.S. are then able to use their native intelligence in a much more creative way, and such efforts are recognized by awards like the Nobel Prize. The audience clapped in appreciation of my understanding of Chinese culture without any criticism of it. Loving people makes cultural communication pretty easy.

The message was so well received everywhere. Parents would hear the message one night and bring their children to hear it the next night. People are expressing their earnest intent to quit their jobs and help Teacher Quan spread the message of Real Love. These people are very inspiring to me.

I'm pretty sure I took a photograph with every person who attended any event, and then again with assorted groups of them. They're not used to touching, so when I put my arm around them for photos, they hesitatingly put their arm around me. Well, I'm taller than the average Chinese person, so many times they put their hands square on my butt. Then, once their hand was there, they were too embarrassed to move it. So in many photos my smile is really a giggle at what's going on behind me.

For dinner, I had more bizarre foods I'd never seen before. Ate them all, which delighted the hosts. Probably wouldn't eat some of them again. When we entered the restaurant, there were big tubs of live frogs (big ones) and turtles. They were not pets. I tried to warn the animals that things were not going to go well for them that evening, but they seemed unconcerned.

Monday, May 14

We had a smaller seminar for business people. It went very, very well. Chinese are very business-oriented people, so they were certain they could come up with a scenario that Real Love wouldn't work with. They didn't, and by the end they were all clapping at the end of each answer. Shoot, my children don't clap when I speak, so this was pretty fun.

My left knee is giving me more trouble by the month, even though I've had surgery and multiple injections into the joint space. When I speak, I walk around quite a bit on the stage, so by the end of a day-long seminar, my knee has had it. I limp noticeably, and somehow my multiple hosts got the idea I was a cripple. So everywhere I went, there is someone at my elbow, helping me along. It's kind of cute, and I don't have the heart to tell them I can actually walk.

Today at lunch, I was leaving a little ahead of people, but just before I got to the top of the stairs, this woman ran over to make sure that I had some guidance going down the stairs. At MOST, she weighs 85 pounds. If I had spoken Mandarin, I would have said, "Sweetie, if I were to fall, exactly what do you suppose you'd do about it?" But I just kept thanking her, because I CAN say that in Mandarin. Pretty cute.

I can't tell you how fun it's been to be with these people. They are so eager to learn, so kind, so generous. I've told them repeatedly that I feel like I'm home, and they burst into a kind of exuberant clapping that we just don't do. That call me Baba, which means father, or their word for grandfather. Their word for Gregory is hard to say--something like Kelekola--so they just call me Baba Guh. There's a little group of women who sit on the front row everywhere and never take their eyes off me. They're adorable. They're just expressing their appreciation for how Real Love has changed their personal lives and relationships.

Some of the people here have been so moved by their Real Love experiences, before and during my visit, that they come to everything: every seminar, every group meeting, every meal. I keep wanting to say that I'm just a redneck from Georgia, because they obviously think I'm much more.

By the way, Mom, when I was a kid, you used to tell me to clean off my plate because "the children in China are starving." These people eat like horses. The dinners are feasts. Food everywhere. They keep shoving it at me. I say I'm full, so they give me some more. Goodness, I've never seen more food. They always serve it on these enormous glass lazy susans, some as big as six feet across, so that everyone gets to eat what they want.

They eat really, really weird stuff. Just in the past couple of days I've eaten boiled tendons, brains, pig lung, creatures out of the sea they couldn't even name, and more. On the other hand, I've eaten six kinds of kimchee (a Korean pickled and spiced assortment of vegetables), and I had thought there was only one kind. I really like kimchee. After lunch one day I mentioned that I had eaten pig lung for the first time in my life, and possibly the as the first American in history to do that. They laughed nervously, but then I added that I was breathing better already. They roared.

On a couple of occasions I noticed that I was the only person who ate a particular dish. Then I learned that it was because I had picked food from the dish on the lazy susan with my personal chopsticks. Turns out that that is rude--spreads germs and all, as Donna has told me many times. But nobody would have thought of saying anything. You use "community chop sticks" to put the food on your own plate, and then your personal chop sticks to eat it with. Thing was, there were no community sticks in some of the dishes, but I was supposed to ask for some. Oops.

Not real fond of their public restrooms. It's a hole in the floor. I had somebody with me--always do--so I asked what they did for toilet paper, because there wasn't any. He said that you have to bring your own. Useful information to have before you walk in, don't you think? I decided to wait. I asked him--just hypothetically, mind you--what old people did (I didn't tell him I was talking about myself) who had, say, bad knees and wouldn't be able to squat over the hole (not to put too fine a point on the subject). He said he didn't know.

Fortunately, I have a real toilet in my hotel room. And I have a pretty big suite because the non-bedroom half we use for evening group every day. We can get like 30 people squeezed into that room. Of course, these are small, Chinese people. And I wondered why, after a group, the small wastebasket in my bathroom was filled. Could everybody possibly have snotty noses? Then, after like a day here, one of my interpreters said, "I'll find out from the hotel management if it's all right for you to flush your toilet paper down the toilet." Suddenly I understood why my trash can was full. They don't like to overburden their wastewater treatment plants, so somebody came up with the generally accepted idea that they would put their used toilet tissue in the garbage can next to the toilet. Okay, I was disgusted. I said, "First, send someone upstairs to empty my garbage can. Right now. Second, you may ask the hotel management your question, but I do not want to know the answer. That ship has already sailed." Not a local custom I cared to learn.

We had another group meeting in my suite tonight, which we have had every night for two hours.

One young man--24 years old, mentioned earlier--traveled a thousand miles to get here, and he spent all week at every meeting, every group, everything. He said he had been afraid of people, skeptical, and angry all his life. He had the look of a terminally whipped dog. Because he had been disappointed and hurt so many times, he was skeptical of EVERYTHING and everybody. For the whole week he watched every move I made, looking for something that would confirm his doubts. For the whole week. I worked with him, talked to him, and held him several times. Eventually, I asked him what he was really afraid of. He did not know, which is usually the case. I helped him see how he believed what he was told with the anger and neglect of his parents and others all through his life. He believed he was worthless. But that simply could not be true, because I could see his worth. The other people in his life were simply blind, which had nothing to do with him. Finally, last night, he began to smile. Each time that I had previously asked him how he felt, he said he didn't know. But he finally admitted he felt more peaceful, even . . . . . . . more loved. But he was terrified to leave the Real Love gathering. He was afraid of what would happen when I went back to America. What would he do then? I pointed out a man in the group who hadn't taken his eyes off the young man the entire time we had been talking. I said, "Right there is another person who loves you." The young man (Shao Li) smiled again. Another man, without prompting, raised his hand and said, "And me." And then another, and another, until the whole room was filled with raised hands. Quite a touching moment. They all said they would call him at his home. He now has a ray of hope in his life. We'll see how it goes.

A mother sat in front of me, and she proceeded to become a machine gun of words that were accusing of her sixteen-year-old son--Bao--who just wasn't engaged actively enough in his schoolwork. His scores were not rising, and she was furious that he wasn't paying more attention. Her son was in the room, and he refused to come and sit in front of me with her. Repeatedly, she demanded with words and emphatic gestures that he come and sit with her in front of me. He refused. She said that he wouldn't sit up in front with me because he was afraid of the crowd, but I told her that she was wrong. I told her that Bao was really afraid to come up and sit with HER. She dismissed the idea as ridiculous and offensive. I told him that he could stay right where he was, as far from us as possible in the room. He just beamed. He loved it. It was obvious that his mother never asked him what he wanted. She just imposed her will. I asked for his permission to talk to him from across the room, and he readily agreed. He admitted that he HATED being controlled and nagged by his mother. Hated it. I asked the mother if she realized how much her controlling and anger had hurt her son. No, no, no, she emphatically denied that she had ever hurt him. She was only trying to do the best for him. Of course, every parent believes this, even though we do so many things that are unloving and hurtful. Back and forth we went, and eventually, I asked Bao if he would be willing to come up and talk to me if his mother traded places with him, so she was far away and couldn't influence what he said. He eagerly agreed, which of course was hysterical, since she had previously said that he wouldn't come up for fear of me and the audience. As I talked to Bao, he just bloomed in front of everyone, and the evidence became overwhelming that his fear and resentment of her were the biggest obstacles to his happiness AND to his ability to concentrate on his schoolwork. In fact, he kind of enjoyed failing in school, because it gave him a way to irritate her. She finally got a glimpse of what she had been doing--just a little--and agreed to not nag him anymore about his schoolwork or his test scores. He was thrilled. I hope she keeps her promise, but if she forgets I gave him the words to use with her that will remind her of her promise.

Parents everywhere nag their children to do well in school, to behave, and so on, but in China, this behavior and attitude are more prevalent and harsher.

One girl was miserable that her parents were insisting that she date and marry a man who came from a "good family" and had good educational and career prospects. I didn't want to tread too insensitively on cultural norms, so I asked if she HAD to marry the man. No, but she did have to at least date him for a time. I told her that choosing a partner was the most important decision she would ever make. I described how much I love Donna, and again my use of the word "queen" brought gasps of delight from all the women in the room. I told her not to settle for less than Real Love, and she was so relieved. She said her prospective partner--despite his social and other advantages--was quite selfish. She would try to discuss Real Love with him, but if he wasn't interested, and if he didn't demonstrate a real interest in learning to be more selfless, she would end the relationship. Her smile was delightful.

Everywhere I went, the cultural differences between myself and the Chinese audiences just disappeared in the face of Real Love. The people hung on every word, utterly fascinated that a loving, happy life could be possible.

Tue, May 15

We did a Real Love group pretty much all day.

One man, Zhu, described the relationship with his girlfriend of 6 years. They were considering marriage when he came across Real Love and realized how selfish he'd been as a partner. Zhu was relieved to discover WHY he had been so selfish. His parents had always treated him severely. When he was a child, his father beat him regularly, repeatedly knocking him to the ground. I explained that selfishness came from pain. He said that days before he had told his girlfriend how selfish he'd been, and admitted that he had hurt her. Once that floodgate was opened, she barraged him with hurt and hate, and he couldn't understand how his being honest with her would provoke that reaction. I talked to him about how she also must have come from a home of pain, or she wouldn't have reacted as she did. She uses money and power as her drug--focusing on career and buying things--and if he wants a loving relationship, she would either have to learn a different way of living, or he would have to find another partner. What I didn't know was that his girlfriend was there in the room (I know, the things people don't tell me until later). So then I talked to her, and she really was in terrible pain from her childhood and more. But she doesn't want to continue living as she has, either individually or in a relationship with him. So she's willing to learn more about Real Love and develop a loving relationship with Zhu. It was amazing. Unbelievable courage on the part of both of them.

One man stood and said that because of the Real Love meetings he had attended the previous couple of days, he went home and told his wife that all their marriage he's been trying to change her. She likes to watch television late at night, and he has criticized and mocked her for it. So that very night he sat with her and watched television until late--just because he knew she would enjoy his being there. She was very pleased that he would do that. He said he was emotionally moved by my description of what a loving relationship looks like--mostly from my description of Donna. So now he watches TV on occasion late into the night, solely because that's what she likes to do.

One woman from Korea spoke. She was so afraid, but she told her story of childhood sexual abuse, in front of the entire group. She had been doing Real Love with Teacher Quan for three years, but she had never told this story. It was like watching someone release the pain of an entire lifetime. People were crying all over the place, and these are people reputed to be very reluctant to express their emotions to each other. The woman's daughter then traveled three hours that evening to talk to me, because it turned out that she too had been sexually abused.

All day in the group we enjoyed the presence of the chairman of the psychology department of the largest university in the region, with some 20,000 students. She said she had never seen anything like the work of Real Love, and that she was deeply moved at what she saw. In the traditional psychology she teaches, the progress is very slow, but in very short periods of time, she witnessed that we could reach down into people's emotional wounds and begin to heal them. She simply could not believe what we did in less than an hour with the Korean woman. She said that she wanted to become the second certified Real Love coach in all of China, and she also said she would do what she could to spread Real Love throughout China, using her position on the board of directors of the organization of all the university psychology programs in the country. We'll see. She wants me to return each year, but we'd have to create a much more efficient organization to raise funds to make such a thing possible. This trip was difficult for them and for us financially, because people who attend seminars there can't pay the kind of fees that Americans do. So Teacher Quan and Donna and I had to pay a lot to make this possible.

One lady has been a professional singer. She has noticed that in recent years her stage fright has actually increased. I explained that in the beginning, she didn't know enough to recognize all her mistakes. She was pleased just to be performing professionally. But the more experience she gains, the more she sees every single mistake, and she's afraid that she'll look bad. She wept in recognition of the truth of it. I assured her that she was actually BETTER than she used to be, just more discerning and able to see her mistakes. So her fear of looking bad was ill-founded, and she agreed. Confidence filled her face.

Every lunch and dinner was some kind of honorary event. People proposing toasts endlessly. They thought it odd that I didn't drink coffee, tea, or alcohol, so they would actually switch to water themselves to honor their guest. How sweet is that? About the third day, I foolishly asked if they had any Diet Coke. Shouldn't have done that. From then on, people brought cases of Coke to everything I did. I'm still buzzing from the caffeine since they filled my glass at every opportunity and wouldn't let me drink water anymore.

I could go on and on about the people who told their stories. Couples united, children happier, and more.

I had always thought I enjoyed a firm bed, but I finally met my match. Their beds are like plywood. I have bruised hips.

I also received reconfirmation that I don't want to be anything like a celebrity. Everywhere I went, people were shaking hands, bowing, taking pictures, asking for autographs and signed books, asking questions, and look at me as though sunshine would suddenly spring from my ears. I'm a much quieter person than all that.

May 16
Left Yanji City to Beijing, the next day to fly to the U.S. Twenty people took time off work to take me to the airport, take a million pictures, and make me feel special in departure. Such sweet people. So many individual lives and relationships were affected by this one visit. Also did a lot of training of coaches, so they can continue this work when I'm gone. This was one of the most gratifying experiences of my life.

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