chinese connections

Many have fond ties to the

country and its customs.



YOUNGSTOWN — With the 2008 Summer Olympics set to take the international stage Friday, many Americans will have a watchful eye on China and its people.

The country is different and unfamiliar to many viewers in the states. And yet some Mahoning Valley residents find value in Chinese culture, and even find that it fits in their lives.

Girard resident Mark Lee Pringle is a man who can’t divide his life into separate categories of American or Chinese.

Born in America, the private kung fu and tai chi instructor said he enjoys the parallels between the martial arts he studies and the country from which they derived.

“It’s a nonstop, very exciting field,” he said. “It exemplifies all the things about Chinese culture.”

“Like most older cultures, once you scratch the surface, there’s almost always [an] interesting history interwoven within,” Pringle said.

Along with martial arts, which Pringle has studied 36 years and practices 18 hours a week, he also cooks Chinese cuisine. The authenticity of his meals is extended by a diet suited for the seasons in accordance with Chinese culture, he said.

He said he’s found the historically Chinese way of living beneficial to both his physical and spiritual health.

For others in the Valley, Chinese culture has directly influenced their lives only recently.

For a few students at Youngstown State University, the impact began at a summer program aimed at teaching English to Taiwanese students. In its second year, the YSU-Lunghwa University Language Camp taught 30 students in and out of the classroom.

“The Taiwanese students came here to learn to use the English language in a new cultural way,” said Nikki Cannon, 37.

Cannon acknowledges that she’s still not proficient in Chinese even after the experience, but she has gained a respect for the cultural differences. She, along with other instructors, said the rewards have been a two-way road.

While learning the slang and colloquialisms that will help the students converse in America, instructors got to learn about the students’ lives under the Republic of China.

“It’s been exciting and rewarding to learn about the differences in our cultures,” she said. “They’re not the differences you’d imagine.”

What was most apparent, Cannon said, were the extensive gestures of respect students offered to the instructors, as well as their ingrained desire for an education.

For Cannon, working with the students has piqued an interest in traveling abroad.

She’s organizing a yearlong trip to Taiwan to teach English for her doctoral degree — and she’ll be bringing her seven children.

“It’s been a fantastic experience,” Cannon said. “Even at my age and education level, I’ve learned a lot from them.”

One area student decided not to wait till graduation to teach English in China.

Brian Gigliotti, 21, of New Bedford, Pa., was earning his bachelor’s in art at YSU when he took the opportunity to return to the country his second time.

Though it’s been an adjustment, Gigliotti said he loves the newness of people and culture.

His favorite aspects of China: the food, martial arts and writing.

“Even though it’s their language, I see it as an art, and I love ... using it for many of the art works I do,” he said.

Pringle said many Americans are unknowingly enveloped in Chinese products and practices, from foods to hairstyles to the arts and even vocabulary.

“As Americans, we speak Chinese every day,” he said. “If you ask someone to pass the ketchup [ketsiap], you’re speaking Chinese.”

And our area, he added, has a wealth of Chinese culture.

“I’ve always said that if the community got together, Youngstown could have four blocks of a Chinatown.”

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