Read about Shanghai’s first TEDx event held at Concordia…
by Amanda Li
TED Talks have earned a worldwide reputation as a means of education that is both entertaining and intellectually challenging. Its very name stands for “technology, entertainment and design”. Since 1984, speakers from around the world have graced its main conference stage in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada to share their stories and ideas in hopes to inspire the community around them. Only once a year does this great convergence of thinkers and doers occur.
However, TEDx Events are much more frequently held than the main Ted Conference is. According to the official TED website, TEDx events are “designed to help communities, organizations, and individuals to spark conversation and connection through local TED-like experiences”. The main difference is that these TEDx events are “planned and coordinated independently”.
Luckily enough, I had the privilege of attending Shanghai’s very first TEDx event held at Concordia International School Shanghai on Thursday, March 20, 2014. The event, TEDxConcordiaShanghai, had 13 speakers in total – five adults and eight students – who all spoke of one topic: talk doesn’t cook rice. When asked why this topic was chosen, Johnathan Chen, Student Director of TEDxConcordiaShanghai, answered, “We chose this Chinese proverb because it is one of the central values our school has: action speaks. By creating TEDxConcordiaShanghai, we are taking the initiative to show people that their actions can be heard and supported…That their efforts will not go unnoticed.”
Kicking off at 8:00 AM, the event wasted no time in launching into its first speaker: Randy Girdner, a ToK teacher at SCIS Pudong and author of the Boyd McCloyd series. Ironically, he urged to the audience to talk, or rather, to make the action to talk. His speech was titled “I’ve got a great idea for a novel…”. Accordingly, his speech centered around how so many people have great stories to tell, whether they are imagined or real, and yet hardly anyone makes the move to tell those stories. He said, “If you don’t document your story, you will disappear”. His challenge to the each individual audience member was to tell his or her story, because our story is what makes each of us unique.
Following in his footsteps was Karis Tai, a sophomore, who spoke of her brave move to Shanghai to adopt her baby sister. In quick succession:
- Badminton player William Wang
- Johnathan Chen, Student Director of TEDxConcordiaShanghai
- Guzheng (古筝) player Jessica Jiang
- Executive Director of Concordia Welfare & Education in Hong Kong Iantha Sheiwe
- Angela Lee Duckworth (through a pre-recorded video)
- Educator and former soldier Danny Huang
- Dancer Victoria Chen
- Strengthener Katie Scheu
- Survivor Natalie Ellis
- Procrastinator Jonathan Tai
- Photographer Stefen Chow
- And finally, BertAndMe.com founder Josefina Shen took the stage.
Their topics ranged from rebellion against playing the piano to rebuilding schools in Afghanistan.
However, the one topic that stood out to me personally, came from Stefen Chow, a highly recognized photographer who has worked with magazines such as TIME and has judged the Nikon Photo Contest. Today, though, his accomplishments as a freelance photographer were not the main point of his talk. Instead, he asked the question, “What does it mean to be poor?” To shed light upon the answer, he focused on his own side project called The Poverty Line, “an attempt to show what it means to be poor, by taking photos of daily amounts of food you can buy if your income lies at the poverty line”. Back in 2010, Chow and his wife began in China at 3.8RMB or roughly $0.50. The meager pay amounted to six mantous (馒头) or one small chicken breast, hardly enough for one person. Since then, it has spawned a worldwide project that has covered 20 countries, including the United States of America, Thailand, and the Mauritius.
Seeing the meager amounts of food that $0.60 (India) or $6.61 (Germany) could buy in their respective countries really shocked me. After all, my lunches already always cost more than $2.00 (¥12.45). The answer to Chow’s question, “what does it mean to be poor”, became clearer and yet all the more complicated at the same time. The reactions that he garnered from around the world after he posted his pictures online were varied. Those with more fortunate lifestyles, such as myself, felt pity and sympathy for those living on or under the poverty line. However, those in Russia responded by saying things like, “Wow, China really has it good. You should see what we have to live by.”
Since then, China’s poverty line has risen to $1.00 per day per person, but the price level of food has also risen. The amount of food it can buy still is not sufficient to sustain a full grown adult. I asked myself, “If had to live on $1.00 per day, would I really be able to do it?” Giving up the little treats, like my daily handful of almonds or a cup of coffee in the morning, wouldn’t be too hard. But, would I be able to concentrate in school and protect myself during sports? What would my limitations be? I might be full from a loaf of white bread, but my health would plummet if that was all I ate. His simple yet powerful pictures worth one thousand words truly struck me, as I tried and failed to calculate what the consequences of eating such a diet, much less leading the entire poverty lifestyle, would be.
After all the speeches finished, the audience gathered into five groups led by different student speakers in order to address and make initial plans on how we would solve a problem that plagued the world. I was placed into the Free Thinking group, meaning that we had a choice over our topic. Consisting of a handful of students and even fewer adults, we discussed anorexia, body image in general, the harmful side effects of comparison, and education reform. These large and vague problems created a head-scratcher for us: could we really think of a way to solve them at this very moment? After all, we were just students and adults living in Shanghai. We weren’t world leaders or influential celebrities. However, from our problem came our answer. The first step to our plans, and in fact, to any plan, is to talk.
Ironic though it is, as the entire backbone of the TEDx event was “talk doesn’t cook rice”, we found taking the actual step to talking is an essential part of the problem-solving process. We compared it to signing up for a marathon. You can talk and talk and talk about how you’re going to change the world, and that’s fine. In fact, that’s great. But that’s only signing up and showing up to the marathon. Running the actual marathon is a whole other issue entirely. If you never run the marathon, if you never take action, then nothing will change. You can’t say you ran the marathon without even starting. So, our consolidated conclusion was that taking the first step and beginning to spread ideas is important, but it cannot compensate for the step across the beginning line.
Overall, the TEDx event itself was a great success. However, the real success has yet to be seen. Talk doesn’t cook rice, but it’s buying the rice cooker. It’s up to us, all of us, to spread the word and take action. In other words, let’s cook some rice.
For more information about the speakers and their topics, visit: http://tedx.concordiashanghai.org/speakers/