Saturday, May 11, 2013

Broken Fact: Lane Sharman's Business Practice

The Original Story:
While enjoying a nice, and perhaps romantic, relationship with her boss Lane Sharman, Fu Ping nonetheless despised the latter's business practice of frequent and outrageous over-billing of their clients. On Pages 64-65 of Drifting Bottle, she detailed her dilemma and hurt in the face of the questionable ethics:
On my first service job, I behaved like an honest fool. That night, a secretary at a law firm called, crying for help. None of their computers was working. She was preparing briefs for the next day. I took off with my toolbox and found out it was an issue of power supply. Once replaced, computers were working again. 
I reported to Lan the next day. Unexpectedly, he got very angry. He did not say a word but walked away. I only learned from other coworkers that I was not supposed to have told the truth to the secretary. The smart consultant would pretend to examine everything, send the secretary home, and then fix the machines by morning. Then we would be able to issue a bill of $1,000 to the firm. The way I fixed it, we would only get $100. 
This kind of job was terrible to me. But I had to do what the boss told us to do for survival. If the company could not make money, it would also be our misfortune. 
More and more, Lan becomes happy with my work. But whenever he was the happiest, I was in the most pain. Those clients who paid high fees were mostly kind, trustful, or ignorant. I could not feel the happiness of success dealing with them, but only guilty and shame. Lan told me that I did not know how to separate work from feelings, which meant that I did not know how to enjoy life. Maybe he was right. 
The Debunking:
On April 4, 2013, Lane Sharman himself entered a comment on the NYT blog site:
This is Lane Sharman. 
I have to confess that I am very saddened to be accused of promoting dishonesty.
I have a long record of developing trusted relationships with people across all types of business. I practice the golden rule. 
I can defend myself on the basis of a long record of fair dealings with all people, from all walks of life and from all ethnicities. 
Thank you,
To which Fu Ping responded on April 10:
Lane, I am sorry your integrity is questioned by people who don't know you or me. Let me state publicly here. Lane is one of my heros and I love him dearly. My success today was significantly influenced by learning from him and by his compassion and support of me when I was a struggling new immigrant and a student.  
Taking content out of context from a Chinese book with censorship in China, disregard what I wrote in Bend, Not Break, to attack Lane's integrity is wrong.
I wrote the Chinese book, which is a collection of essays, using material of first 10 years of my life and observations in America in early 90s. The book was heavily controlled and edited by a Chinese state owned publication house and I was limited to what I can write. Anything not allowed in China then was deleted or altered.  
In Bend, Not Break, I openly admitted my ignorance and poked fun of myself for what I wrote in the Chinese book: (p131-132) 
If there is anything in the Chinese book that can be read as questioning Lane's integrity or honesty, that is entirely my fault. I was clueless about business and entrepreneurship at that time and I carried imprint by years of brain washing during CR. It only illustrates my ignorance.  
Lane is one of the most outstanding people who I had the fortune to work for long time ago, I learned a lot from him. His integrity and kindness are self-evident through what I wrote in Bend, Not Break and from people who know him.  
It's rather puzzling how Chinese censorship would have played a role in the paragraphs Fu Ping wrote in that book. Was Fu Ping claiming that the Chinese government made her do it?!

Questionable Fact: Lane Sharman's Romantic Interest in Fu Ping

The Original Story:
In her earlier auto-biography Drifting Bottle, Fu Ping told a slightly different version of her relationship with her first employer, Lane Sharman. She affectionately called him "Lan(蓝)" in Chinese, meaning "blue." The chapter is titled "Blue Feeling, Blue Dream".

When they first met, Fu Ping commented that Lane's eyes are "blue like the ocean water." (P. 61) After her job interview at Lane's office the next day, Lane made a point to tell her, "I am a married man." (P. 63) They enjoyed frequent lunch dates by the seaside. (P. 70)

The Debunking:
These material, which clearly indicated a romantic interest between Lane Sharman and Fu Ping, did not show up in Bend, Not Break, which by itself is rather curious.

Sexual harassment at work place had not yet become a hot issue in 1986. In a small company like Lane Sharman's, it's hard to say what could be going on. But a male boss telling a female job candidate his marriage status seems to be out of line regardless.

What is more shocking is, of course, this "romance" happened around the exact same time that Fu Ping entered a secret marriage, giving more credence that the marriage was probably a sham.

Broken Fact: Fu Ping's Missed Opportunity of Getting Rich

The Original Story:
When Fu Ping was graduating from UCSD, she decided to leave her job with Lane Sharman and pursue opportunities in big cooperation. On Pages 69-70 of Bend, Not Break, she recalled:
Lane did everything he could to talk me out of my decision, including warning me that big companies aren't nearly as interesting places to work as start-ups. When I refused to reconsider, he said, "If you stay, I'll give you 5 percent of the company." I had no idea what a generous offer this was. Above all, given how hard I had worked to put myself through school, I felt I simply couldn't refuse the Bell Labs opportunity because it had offered to pay for my PhD. Lane and I parted on the best of terms. 
Six months later, Lane called. He had sold his company to AT&T, the parent company of Bell Labs. I finally understood what 5 percent meant: millions.
The Earlier Story:
In Drifting Bottle, however, Fu Ping said Lane Sharman's offer was five percent of the company's profit. (P. 80)

The Debunking:
If 5 percent meant millions, the simple math tells us that Lane Sharman's company was sold for at least 40 millions.

Shockingly, that was news to Lane Sharman himself. In an email to Albert Wang, he stated:
Factually, I did not sell Resource System Group and earn millions! I wish! 
I sold and licensed software and made some very modest income from my work as a software engineer.
Lane Sharman's version is more credible with Fu Ping's own description of the job and company in her book. It is impossible to believe that his company could be worth tens of millions. In comparison, decades later, Fu Ping's own and much celebrated company, Geomagic, was reportedly sold for $55 millions.

If Lane Sharman were already selling his company or at least had that intention at the time, it would make no business sense to pay such a hefty price to retain an employee. Non-business considerations might have played a role. But the more reasonable explanation is that the five-percent was not worth that much.

Questionable Fact: Fu Ping's Employment Income at San Diego

The Original Story:
Some time around the summer of 1986, Fu Ping decided to drop out the University of New Mexico and move to San Diego. When she failed to enroll into UCSD upon arrival there, she happened upon Lane Sharman, an entrepreneur who offered her first "real job." She told the story on Pages 67-70 in Bend, Not Break:
A handsome, thirty-something man walking along the sand approached me and asked if I'd like to walk with him. I said yes... 
...He introduced himself as Lane Sharman, and explained that he was the owner of a computer software company, Resources Systems Group. He gave me his card and told me to stop by if I needed a job. 
...He offered me a job as a computer programmer at fifteen dollars an hour. I enthusiastically accepted. 
Lane asked one day if any of us would be willing to work nights. We would earn double our usual hourly rate, he said, and get paid for every hour that we were on call, regardless of whether a service request came in. I immediately volunteered... 
For the next two years, I answered calls in the middle of the night, mostly from legal clerks working at law firms that handled time-critical court cases. I would drive to the clients' offices during the wee hours and fix their hardware or software problems, which sometimes meant simply rebooting their system. By the time I graduated, I was earning close to eighty thousand dollars a year.
The Debunking:
The income of eighty thousand dollars a year, for an undergraduate student in 1986, is a pretty impressive sum. For an hourly job, it roughly translates to $40 an hour pay rate for a 40 hour per week full time job. Fu Ping was however a full time student who worked part-time.

But her figure may not be totally out of line. She could be paid double (with a rate of $20 per hour) for every hour at night, assuming that she has the on call job all by herself almost every night. It is just very unusual for a small company willing to pay such a high salary to an essentially intern job.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Broken Fact: Fu Ping's First Marriage and Love Stories

The Original Story:
On Page 95 of Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping felt sorry for herself after starting her first professional job at Bell Labs in 1988:
I was almost thirty years old and had no personal life. It had been more than five years since I'd landed in the United States, yet I still wondered, What was an American life exactly?
The Earlier Story:
From Pages 37 to 59 of her earlier autobiography Drifting Bottle, Fu Ping used an entire chapter detailing her love story while she was a student at University of New Mexico. She was torn between a Chinese Kaili (凯利) and an American Richard (理查德) and ended up leaving them both when she left Albuquerque for San Diego.

The Changed Story:
After questions were raised on how quickly she had obtained her green card, Fu Ping disclosed a secret to Didi Kirsten Tatlow of International Herald Tribune:

In an interview with the International Herald Tribune, she said, apparently for the first time, the reason she kept quiet was she was trying to protect her first husband, an American, whom she does not mention in her memoir. The marriage took place while she was living in California, she said.  
“I had a first marriage and that’s how I got my green card,” she said by telephone. She married on Sept. 1, 1986 and divorced three years later.
The Debunking:
It's not clear why Fu Ping felt the need to protect her first husband, who appeared to have passed away by the time she wrote the book.

The said marriage has since been confirmed, although it was doubtful if she was living in California at the time of marriage since she was still using a New Mexico address.

Bend, Not Break is supposed to be a book of the life struggle of an immigrant who achieved the American dream. As any immigrants knew, one of the hardest obstacles in this journey is to secure the residency. Fu Ping chose not to include this critical information in this book, leading to an obvious suspicion: was this marriage a green card fraud?

Remember, we are talking about an individual who had been honored by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services as one of Outstanding Americans by Choice.

It was also not clear whether the Richar Lynn Ewald was the same "Richard" in Drifting Bottle. But it certainly does not appear that she had had no personal life in the five years since she landed in the US.

Document: Certificate of Fu Ping's First Marriage

Below is a copy image of the certificate of Fu Ping's first marriage, which she did not mention in any of her books. The marriage was only disclosed after questions raised about her quickness in obtaining a US permanent residency (green card).

Note that she used an Albuquerque address and that her little sister, Fu Hong, was the witness.

Thanks to Jean Zheng for providing the copy.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Broken Fact: Fu Ping's Fractions Myth

The Original Story:
On Pages 62-63 of Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping recalls that she did not know the concept of fractions while attending a college math class:
Calculus class was mandatory. I could follow most subjects if professors taught them from the beginning, but in this course, a great deal of mathematical knowledge was presumed. I had learned some math in an unstructured way throughout the years -- from my older siblings in Shanghai, Nanjing Mother, older children at NUAA, counting money to manage my household, and doing calculations while working at factories during my teenage years. But when the professor put fractions on the chalkboard, I stared blankly at the strange notation, which I had not seen before. I stopped him after class.
I placed my index finger on a fraction. "That. What does it mean when you put one number, then a slash, then another number under it?" 
"You don't know fractions?" he asked, squinting his eyes at me.
I went to the city library and started thumbing through math textbooks. I didn't find fractions in the high school math book, nor did I find them in the middle school texts. Finally I found them in the second-grade math textbook. Even high school math was too advanced for me. I ended up checking out the entire math curriculum from first grade on. I knew how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. But other than that, some basic concepts such as fractions, long division, square roots, and logarithms were unfamiliar to me.
In her earlier book Drifting Bottle, Fu Ping also described her difficulty with math in a Partial Differentiation Equations class. However, she did not specify the problem was with fractions.

The Changing Story:
In an interview on the John Batchelor Show on March 19, 2013, Fu Ping appeared to try to modify and justify her story:
As to computer science, I wrote this thing about fractions, it wasn't like I didn't know anything, I was trying to show the knowledge gap. When you don't have a formal education, you cannot pick up those things. It's just pieces here and there. I was working in a factory. I study from workers and farmers. I actually picked up some academic information here and there. What I found when I came to United States is that I have a lot of knowledge gap. Some thing everybody thinks they know but I didn't. Then there are some things I just know. Sometimes I feel I am quite smart, I feel like I am the most stupid person in the room because I didn't know what people are talking about. This fraction is just one example of it even though I may know some more advanced math. It is this particular thing that 3 over 5 that I didn't know. I just didn't study it because I wasn't in school in the 2nd or 3rd grades. So I skipped over those knowledge and then later it catch up on you. 
The Debunking:
Before you should ask, math textbooks in Chinese language use the same algebraic symbols as in the west: fractions are often represented by the number-slash-number notation. Fu Ping clearly indicated that her trouble was not with the notations but the whole concept of fractions, so much so that she had to go back to second-grade textbooks to "discover" it.

In 1977, when the college entrance exam was reinstated in China, Fu Ping made a big deal on how hard she studied to pass those exams. As a matter of fact, she had taken the exams twice, in 1977 and 1978, respectively. So she had plenty of time to study. Although she had chosen to take the "liberal arts" exams, it also included a mandatory math exam, which was only slightly less advanced compared to the same math exam on the "science and engineering" side.

For at least a year of preparing for exams including math, she wants us to believe that she had never come across fractions?

Broken Fact: Fu Ping's Graduate Study at University of New Mexico

The Original Story:
In Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping claimed that she became a graduate student at University of New Mexico after a year of studying English. On Pages 61-62, she wrote:
After completing the English as a foreign language course in a year, I was able to pass the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and enroll as a full-time graduate student at UNM. I knew by then that I didn't want to study literature, but what should I pursue? ... 
Computer programming was a new field of study in the early eighties, and there were almost no women interested in it. I was accepted as a computer science master's student even though I had no prior course work in the subject. Nearly everyone was starting from scratch, just like me, which helped me to keep up.
Then, on Page 66:
Less than one year away from completing my master's degree in computer science, I dropped out of the University of New Mexico.
The Earlier Story:
In Drifting Bottle, she was (perhaps intentionally) vague about the level of computer science program she entered (Page 67):
There is a lot of freedom studying in America, students can make their own choices on changing majors or schools. I originally entered the master's program in the College of Arts of University of New Mexico. But I felt that it is ridiculous to study Chinese literature in America and I wasn't interested in English literature. So I decided to change majors. I went to College of Engineering and found that computer programming is closest to literature. Writing programs is a kind of art, it's logic is close to writing articles. 
I applied for Computer Science and was accepted without much trouble. My adviser gave me a long list of courses I had to make up, most of them in math and physics... 
The Debunking:
University of New Mexico has now confirmed that Fu Ping enrolled in that school as an undergraduate student. She was never a graduate student there, not to mention close to completing a master's degree.

Her own description above is also consistent with this fact. "Nearly everyone was starting from scratch" obviously applies to an undergraduate major. By the time students enter a graduate school, however new the major is, they should have already had a solid foundation for it.

Fu Ping had little to none math background by her own admission. It would be quite incredible for UNM to accept her as a graduate student in computer science right away.

It's not clear why Fu Ping needed to claim herself as a graduate student at UNM and then dropping out of there to enter UCSD as an undergraduate student of the same major later. It's truly puzzling.

Document: University of New Mexico Responses on Fu Ping

Upon inquiries by Albert Wang, University of New Mexico has provided the following responses regarding Fu Ping's study at that school:

From: Judi Halpern
Sent: Wednesday, April 03, 2013 5:19 PM
To: Albert Wang
Subject: RE: Ping Fu, a student enrolled at The University of New Mexico, Albuqurque, from September 1984 to July 1986
Mr. Wang,

This is what I can tell you we have a student by the name of Ping Fu with a birth year of 1958.  This student attended the University of New Mexico as an undergraduate student.  The studet was a transfer student who started as a junior in the Fall 1984.  The student attended UNM up to the Summer 1986.  I find no evidence that the student graduated with a bachelor or any other degree from UNM.  I have no evidence that the student transferred to UC San Diego.  You will need to confirm that with them.

If you have further questions, please let me know.

Good Day,


Judi Halpern
Grade Petition Coordinator/
Athletic Admissions Specialist
University of New Mexico
Records & Registration
MSC11 6325
1155 University Blvd. SE
Albuquerque, NM  87106
Phone: (505) 277-7736
Fax: (505) 277-6809

From: Maureen McGuire
Sent: Tuesday, April 09, 2013 3:39 PM
To: Albert Wang
Cc: Agnes Thomas ; Michele Huff ; Judith Halpern
Subject: Re: FW: Ping Fu, a student enrolled at The University of New Mexico, Albuqurque, from September 1984 to July 1986
Mr Wang -

The directory information indicates that she entered UNM as an undecided undergraduate student.  She declared Computer Science as her major in Spring, 1986 and earned 48 credit hours at UNM.  UNM accepted 60 credit hours transferred from other institutions towards the degree for a total of 108 earned credit hours.

Maureen McGuire

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Questionable Fact: Fu Ping's Close Encounter with Sylvester Stallone

The Original Story:
On Pages 60-61 of Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping told a story when she was waitressing at a newly opened Chinese restaurant in Santa Fe a year after her arrival in the US:
Santa Fe was an artistic city, and many Hollywood stars had second homes there. Linda Evans, John Wayne, and Miles Davis all came to our restaurant. I didn't know who any of these people were so my boss often assigned me to wait on them, knowing that I wouldn't get starstruck or ask for autographs.
One night, a large, muscular man with dark hair and an asymmetrical face came into our restaurant. The boss told me to serve him. 
I approached the table. "What would you like to drink?" I asked. 
The man said nothing, but startled me by reaching around and grabbing my rear end with his enormous right hand. Without hesitating for a second, I slapped him on the cheek, hard. Then I gasped. What had I done? Surely the boss would fire me for such insolent behavior. 
The man sat quietly for a heartbeat, staring me straight in the eyes. Then he laughed and said, "Do it again." 
I raced back to the kitchen, still convinced, with my Chinese mentality, that I would lose my job. But everyone who had witnessed the event was cheering. "Ping, you slapped Rambo!" they squealed in delight. Even the boss, who had followed me to the back room, was chuckling. The customer, they told me, was Sylvester Stallone, a famous action hero.
The Debunking:
Obviously, John Wayne, who had passed away in 1979, cannot come to this restaurant that opened in the mid-1980s. The name-dropping might just be another typo by the author(s).

As for the rest of the story with Sylvester Stallone, we don't have any information either to confirm or deny it. So, it's up to the readers to decide.

Questionable Fact: Fu Ping's First Babysitting Job in America

The Original Story:
On Page 54 of Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping told the story of her first paying (illegal) job in US as a newly arrived foreign student:
The gregarious sisters and I communicated through facial expressions and full-body gestures, like a game of charades. They knew I was desperate for money, so they connected me with one of their professors, an Iranian man who had recently divorced and was in need of a babysitter. I couldn't speak English, didn't understand American culture, couldn't drive, and had never written a check. But there was one thing I knew how to do. 
The very next day, I started my new job. As I walked into the professor's apartment, I saw dishes piled up in the kitchen sink, heaps of dirty laundry, and toys strewn across the floor. I cleaned the house thoroughly and played with the professor's five-year-old daughter for seven hours. When the professor returned home, he asked me how much I wanted to be paid. I hadn't yet figured out the American system of prices and payments, so I just shook my head. He handed me a one-dollar bill. It didn't seem like enough.
The sisters, Fu Ping's roommates, eventually forced the professor to pay the fairer price of ten dollars an hour.

The Earlier Story:
The same story was also told in Drifting Bottle, Fu Ping's earlier autobiography, on Pages 9-10:
At 1pm, Professor Peter brought his little daughter Lisa to where I lived. Lisa was not afraid of strangers at all. She said goodbye to her dad and ran over to me immediately. She was only 2 years old, with big blue eyes like the ocean and golden curled hairs. Her fat little hands were all over my body. She captured my heart at once. What a lovely girl! I offered her chocolates I had brought from China and provided her many toys. We both had a great time. 
9pm, the professor arrived to pick up Lisa. He asked me how much I wanted to be paid. I said, "Whatever you wish to pay is fine." He took out a one-dollar bill from his wallet and gave it to me. 
In this version of the story, Fu Ping's roommates, although shocked and angry, did not confront the professor for her pay. Fu Ping felt powerless since she was working illegally.

The Debunking:
Other than the professor and the one-dollar payment, the two versions of the same story differ quite a bit in details. Most significantly, it happened at different locations: the professors apartment vs. Fu Ping's own, which led to the additional work of house-cleaning in the new version. The age of the child changed and lost her original loveliness.

Although memories fade over time, it's hard to think that she would confuse such important details of a story that had a big impact of her life, especially that she had written it in her book.

In both versions of the story, the professor taught classes for one of her roommates and therefore is at least an acquaintance if not friend. It is incredible that the professor, being Iranian not withstanding, would try to cheat a new immigrant student this way. It would have been reasonable for her roommates, knowing full well of her situation, to have helped her negotiate the payment before the work.

Broken Fact: Fu Ping's Kidnapping at Albuquerque

The Original Story:
On Pages 4-9 of Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping told another bizarre story of her life, that she was kidnapped and wrongfully imprisoned by someone who sought her out at the Albuquerque airport upon her initial arrival:
When I got to Albuquerque, I found myself stranded once again. My father had given me the name of Mr. Sheng, a former student of his who was studying at the University of New Mexico and had helped my family to get me accepted there. I called him collect several times, but the phone rang endlessly... 
A car pulled up in front of me sometime later, When I looked up with hazy eyes, I saw a Chinese man sitting in the driver's seat. He rolled down the window slowly...
The man, who turned out to be "a Vietnamese refugee of Chinese descent," took her instead to his own apartment and locked her inside with two young boys of his with little to no food. It was only on the third day they managed to have their cries of help heard and police arrived. Citing fear and confusion, Fu Ping chose not to cooperate with the police:
The police tried to get me to press kidnapping charges against the Vietnamese man. I refused. I simply begged them to set me free. Eventually they gave up and put a call into UNM on my behalf. They got directions for where on campus to take me: the International Student Center. 
I arrived at the University of New Mexico in a squad car.
The Questioning:
On February 20, 2013, Didi Kirsten Tatlow wrote on International Herald Tribune:
At the beginning of her memoir, Ms. Fu writes of being kidnapped by a Vietnamese-American on arrival in the U.S. state of New Mexico and locked in his apartment to care for his very young children, whose mother had left, in a bizarre incident. A spokeswoman at the Albuquerque Police Department’s Records Office, where the alleged kidnapping took place, said she could not locate such an incident in their records. Asked about it, Ms. Fu repeated that she did not press charges as, fresh from China, she was terrified of all police, “So I don’t know how they keep records, if there is no criminal charges or record.” 
The Debunking:
Cindy Hao, who was also credited for the report by Didi Kirsten Tatlow above, actually did the investigation with the Albuquerque Police Department. She had described Fu Ping's story to the police who searched their database for a police report but found none. Cindy Hao asked if there would be a police report for such incident if the victim did not press charges, the police answered, "Absolutely."

Other people have also inquired and received same responses from the police office.

Kidnapping, imprisonment, and endangerment of the lives of not only Fu Ping but 2 young children is an extremely serous crime. It is inconceivable that the police would not pursue the criminal just because one of the victims refused to press charges. And even so, there would have been a police report for the rescuing and investigative effort, as they said, "absolutely."

Besides this obvious problem, there are also several tell-tales that this whole story was made up:

The Vietnam man claimed that his wife just walked out of him so he needed someone to look after his children. So, what was he doing at the airport picking up a random stranger? Was he so nice to have just given his estranged wife a ride there? If he cared about his children, would he be locking them up with a victim of his with no food for days?

Fu Ping described the place as "government-subsidized housing for refugees," which tends to be condense and crowded. It's hard to believe that they had to yell from a window for three days before someone heard them.

Then, in her earlier autobiography Drifting Bottle, she described a normal arrival at Albuquerque with no drama whatsoever. In fact, on the third day in that book, she was already dining with her local contact Kaili (凯利) -- very likely the "Mr. Sheng" -- and complaining that Kaili failed to contact her earlier (Pages 37-38). She would not be making the complain if she had been locked up for those three days.

One of the main themes of Drifting Bottle is her suffering and struggle in the US as a foreign student. While it could be justifiable that that earlier book did not contain her childhood and college suffering in China for political reasons, the same could not apply for not including the kidnapping story that happened on her first day in America, if it indeed happened.

Document: Albuquerque Police Department's Response to Fu Ping Kidnapping Incident

In her book and interviews, Fu Ping had told a story how she was kidnapped for 3 days upon her arrival to Albuquerque, New Mexico, until police rescued her. Several people have inquired the police department there to verify her story. The following is one response received by Albert Wang:

From: Torres, David L.
Sent: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 10:21 AM
Cc: Chavez, Reynaldo L. ; Bailey, Amy
Subject: FW: FOIA Request for records of Ms. Ping Fu's alleged kidnapping in Albuquerque, New Mexico 
Mr. Wang,
This email will acknowledge completion of your public records request dated March 6th, 2013.  
APD Records does not have any incident of a kidnapping for the individual referred to on your request. 
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or comments 
Office of the APD Records Custodian
Reynaldo Chavez
Records Custodian/Supervisor
(505) 768-2007

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Questionable Fact: Fu Ping's $80 Airfare

The Original Story:
Along with only knowing three English words, Fu Ping came to the US with only $80 in her pocket. In Bend, Not Break, she explained on Page 260:
I converted my entire savings from my factory work and the sale of most of my personal items into US dollars, and received an eighty-dollar cashier's check from China Bank in return. This would cover the flight from San Francisco to Albuquerque.
She also explained that her mother just received a large sum of money from someone who owed her family money and used that money to buy her the ticket from Shanghai to San Francisco.

On Page 4, she described the trouble she encountered at San Francisco:
Although I had exact eighty dollars in traveler's checks to pay for the connecting flight, the airline staff refused to issue me a ticket. I couldn't understand why; that had been the price when I had checked in Shanghai.
Apparently the price had gone up $5 by the time she took the flight. Learning her trouble, a fellow passenger offered $5 to help Fu Ping get her ticket.

The Debunking:
If Fu Ping had indeed been in that situation, it is fairly reasonable to believe that someone would offer the help she needed. The questions, however, are in the setup of this story.

First of all, it is very hard to believe that the ticket from San Francisco to Albuquerque, bought at the counter without advance reservation, costed only $80 or $85 in January, 1984. Airline tickets should cost substantially higher.

It is also a strange coincidence that Fu Ping's entire savings would convert to exactly $80, no more, no less. But if it really did, she would not have been able to obtain the $80. In the 1980s, US dollar, as a luxurious foreign exchange, is under very strict control and is very difficult to obtain. In 1986, when I was leaving China for US, the government only allowed me to convert $52 worth of currency, which is what I had in my pocket, in cash. How did Fu Ping manage to exchange $80 two years earlier -- and got it in either as traveler's check or cashier's check? If there were no limit at the time, why did she exchange just a few dollars more, just in case? Her mother had enough fund to purchase a $600 ticket for her but could not provide another extra $5 or $10?

Fu Ping was already aware of the connecting flight as she looked up the price while in Shanghai. So the reasonable thing to do was to buy the entire airfare from Shanghai to Albuquerque instead of trying to get a ticket at the counter. What if the connecting flight was sold out by then?

It just does not add up.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Broken Fact: Fu Ping's (In)Famous Three English Words

The Original Story:
On Page 3 of Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping wrote about her lack of English skills when she left China for America:
..yet I knew little about America. I had no home, no friends, and no sense of what awaited me there. I didn't have a single spare dollar in my pocket or speak more than three words of English. 
When we were airborne, the flight attendant came by, wheeling a cart. She was an American with blond hair, blue eyes, and a warm smile. In English, she asked me if I wanted something to eat or drink. I didn't understand her since I knew how to say only "Hello," "Thank you," and "Help,"...
The tale of "three English words" is so cute that it was repeated in almost all her speeches and media interviews. The trouble is, she doesn't always know which three words she knew at the time.

For example, on March 9, 2010, she told The Story:

Fu: I took basically a English phrase book and hecticly remember some of the useful words. By the time I get here, I can only remember three. [laugh] I can't remember many.
Gordon: which were?
Fu: which is "thank you", "help", and "excuse me".
The Changing Story:
After being criticized, Fu Ping issued a clarification on February 1, 2013:

Forbes said you arrived in the United States knowing only three words of English, yet there are different sets of those first three words: Inc.: Please, thank you, help; Bend, Not Break: Thank you, hello, help; NPR: Thank you, help, excuse me. 
In college, English language classes were offered, but not required. I had "level zero" English, just like most Americans know a few words of Spanish or French. I tried to learn more English when I knew I was going to the U.S., but when I arrived, I only remembered a few. 
Two weeks later, she produced yet another version on NC Bookwatch:

Fu: I didn't have money and I didn't speak English.
DG: You have 3 words in English, didn't you?
Fu: I tried to remember more than 3, but by the time I get here I only remembered 3. That was help, thank you, and sorry. Very useful words. 

In subsequent interviews, she did apear to be modifying the story slightly to allow the possibility that she did learn English while still in China. On March 1, 2013, she talked at the Downtown Speaker Series:
I had 80 dollars traveler's check and only a few words of English. I tried to learn English when I was in China when I knew I was going to come to the United States. I tried to memorize them but somehow by the time I landed in San Francisco I only remembered 3 words. That was "help", "thank you", and... there was another word that I can't remember. 
On March 19, on John Batchelor Show:
Batchelor: You could not speak English at the time. What did you say? You had the words "Help", "Hello", and "Thank you". That's all the English you have.
Fu: I did try to study English when I was in China but when I arrive I couldn't remember most of them and I couldn't speak. 
The Debunking:
In her clarification, she claimed that English language class was not required in her college. That's a lie. Ever since the reinstatement of college entrance exam in 1977, colleges in China has always required English classes regardless of students' major. A letter from Suzhou University also confirmed that it was the case for her and she actually earned pretty good scores in her English classes.

In addition, she has stated that, in her senior year in college, she was planning to go to graduate school and might have taken the entrance exam for it. All graduate school entrance exam include English language tests. It would be impossible for her not to study English while hoping for getting into a graduate school.

Furthermore, her earlier autobiography Drifting Bottle included several passages of her learning English while in China and boosted that she found her English was pretty good upon arriving at University of New Mexico.

As a young Chinese arriving to an unknown, foreign country in the 1980s, it is understandable that Fu Ping might have felt intimidated and awkward when she was forced to communicate in English for the first time. There might be occasions that words simply escaped her. But to claim that she only knew three English words is just not a factual truth.