Cultural Connections: Embrace Change And Be Happy.


By Todd Cornell

Rascal on the Great Wall

Finding my place in China was sometimes challenging. The excitement of learning a new language- a portal of curiosity and fascination, quickly became a rabbit hole. The cultural adventures of re-learning life activities took on a new twist that led to balancing change. My United States-grown simplicity and ignorance revealed a cultural gap that laid bare opposing ideologies, ideology clashes that pushed me to adapt to China or agonize. These challenges seemed more emphasized in Harbin.

This city my job had taken me to was a town on the edges of Siberia. I toyed with getting a dog, sensing it may offer some relief. The long-term responsibilities of what raising a dog meant in China and the social hurdles kept me rejecting the idea. If someone called Public Security because of the dog, I might be required to forfeit the dog.

Rascal with Sean Jiang Da-Yu

That would be painful. But the conversation with my closest Chinese friend in Harbin, Sean Jiang Da-Yu, kept surfacing, and he agreed to be my dog’s uncle and caretaker if it came to that. Over a couple of weeks, we found the perfect pup at the local outdoor “Pet Market.” It was a Siberian dog that I later learned was a West Siberian Laika. I named him “Rascal” in English, and Sean decided on 淘气宝, “Naughty Treasure,” in Chinese.


Rascal’s first year and a half unfolded in China. Experiencing the cultural differences around raising a dog in China fascinated me. At six months, I had him neutered. Most of my Chinese friends could not understand why I didn’t let him have a family. At least one litter before the operation.

Once, descending my apartment elevator, a Chinese gentleman got on holding a plastic bag. Rascal, seated in the corner, stretched his nose over to sniff the bag. The man jerked the bag away. I told him that Rascal was smelling the bag. He retorted, “I don’t want him smelling my plastic bag!” This sort of interaction was not unusual.

But, many Chinese were fascinated with Rascal, exclaiming that he was the luckiest dog in China. Driving from Harbin to Beijing to catch our flight to San Francisco, we stopped at the Great Wall. And it was the most significant experience, taking my 2CD to the most famous of all places in his birth country. Rascal loved people.

In China, he wanted to meet everyone he saw. But the Chinese are not as friendly to strange dogs as we are in the States. After a long trip from Harbin to San Diego, including unusually extreme turbulence, Rascal became wary of strangers. As a pup in China, Rascal engaged people speaking Mandarin. I also talked to him in English. It was our “lingua franca.”

But when we arrived in the U.S., he seemed perplexed that everyone was speaking “our” language. Eventually, he adjusted to the change. Walking by a fire hydrant in San Diego, I was surprised that he didn’t stop to sniff. Eventually, Rascal realized those fire hydrants were a great source of local news.

Rascal lying down


After 13 years, Rascal exhibited signs of physical decline. I loathed the confusion and suffering in his eyes when he struggled to stand up. I faced the hardest decision. Weeks later, he laid down for the last time on my lap on the floor.“I’m sorry.” The first thing we hear when a loved one has passed. Now, it seems shallow and trite.

My confused thoughts — you didn’t do anything wrong. Why should you apologize? No one did anything wrong. Yet some say, “I’m sorry for your loss.” What loss? I gained the love of a four-legged friend who touched my heart in ways no human ever has. I would not be the same person without that interaction. His love lives on within me. Synapses will weaken and memories fade — but the life-connection will never cease.

In China, when someone passes, they don’t apologize; they embrace a worldview of change as the core of life experience. Change, based on the 易经 Yi Jing (I Ching), is a universal holistic idea of balance in Chinese thought.


Change is at the core of the Dao. There are multiple names to express the universal concept, but for the Chinese, Dao includes the ultimate universal balance. The Dao, embodies the balance of Yin and *Yang, two opposite energies within nature, harmoniously and lovingly massaging the ebb and flow. The ebb and flow of opposites similar to that of life & death, love & hate.

I grope for balance after the loss of a soul with which my soul interwove so closely. Rascal has moved from the Yang expression of life to the Yin expression of death. Change resides at the core of tradition in China, Rascal’s birthplace. In China, during the time of mourning, they console each other with the phrase, 节哀 顺变 “Don’t be sad, and embrace the change.”

Change, in our society, is often perceived as something to avoid. It echoes rabbits fleeing the threat of a fox. But without change, flowers cannot bloom, trees cannot grow and we cannot truly experience life. By embracing change, we free ourselves from meaningless ideas that numb our senses with a buzz of indifference. Change reveals itself as a wise guide directing the way to the realization of opportunities unseen. * Pronounced: “Yahng”

Rascal looking back.
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