Our friend Michael Wise, Salt Lake City bike advocate, cyclist, passed away in early March 2019. We share his obituary, a collection of photos of him, a remembrance of his life, and a story of his life in his own words.
“How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.” – William Faulkner
MICHAEL JAMES WISE, 54, passed away in Shanghai, China, where he had spent his last six years teaching English. The world is less Wise now. Michael’s love for China, the Chinese people, the Chinese lifestyle, and the respect that the Chinese bestowed upon him was astounding. Michael was happiest in China.
Michael was born in Denver, Colorado, on September 21, 1964 but grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, graduating from East High School. He attended the University of Colorado and received a Bachelor of Arts, a major in International Relations, and a minor in Chinese Mandarin in which he became fluent. Michael later earned a Master of Arts in English from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he also contributed western idioms for dictionaries.
Michael was a prolific traveler who lived in Taiwan as well as China, for several years. Forever a romantic, his heart never left China. Yet, the Trans-Siberian Railway took his journey to Paris, France, where he learned French.Later he taught English in Spain. After returning to the USA, he wrote software [using an impressive dvorak keyboard layout] in Las Vegas and then Reno for the Nevada Department of Employment, Training & Rehabilitation, before transferring to the Utah Department of Workforce Services in the Salt Lake City offices.
Michael’s friends knew him as a incredible chef and baker. Among other things, his homemade bread was coveted and never went cold. He helped local businesses, like Mamachari Kombucha, get off the ground, volunteering to brew into the twilight hours. As a renaissance man he was very kind and generous with his time and abilities.
As a bicycle advocate Michael shared his passion in a number of ways: He co-founded a prominent 501(c)(3) non-profit in Salt Lake City, called the Bicycle Collective; became a nationally-certified safety instructor through the League of American Bicyclists;organized alley cat races; served as a Bicycle Count volunteer for the Salt Lake City Division of Transportation for many years, becoming the lead Bicycle Count Coordinator in 2012; and was a member of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, just to name a few. His contributions were an instrumental force in Salt Lake City’s successful effort to achieve Silver-level Bicycle Friendly status in 2010. Michael was nearly always found on one of his unique kustard-colored Kogswell bicycles, of which he had many, all in a classic style and outfitted with a front rack and Brooks saddle.
Michael is survived by his parents, James and Kay Wise, his brother Matthew James Wise and sister-in-law Aimee Wytko Wise, the cyclists of Salt Lake City, and the people of China.
“How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.” – William Faulkner
Thoughts on My Life by Michael Wise
My father travelled around the world on business when I was a child. He was rarely at home, was not there for our birthdays, our graduations, our softball games. But there was a magic when he was home: I saw him as the romantic globe-trotter, and when he brought home visitors, they were mostly exotic foreigners, like the Japanese man who barely spoke English, who taught me how to make a boat out of paper; or the French businessman trying to decide if he should move his family to Salt Lake City; or the South African lawyer with whom I discussed civil rights.
So, I of course wanted to be like him; what child does not worship his father? However, my attitude was completely different; that was the part about rebelling against your father. I did not think making a short trip someplace was worth it: you do not learn the language, the culture, and all your interactions are superficial. You might see a few impressive sights, but you lose a deeper understanding. This is why I felt I had to live abroad, to get a true sense of the language, the culture, the personalities.
So, I graduated from college, and moved to Taiwan. I was twenty-two years old, and it was a culture shock for me. But I was able to make a living as an English teacher, and I had the rich environment of Taipei to practice my Chinese. Most foreigners did not like the job as an English teacher, but I was a language buff anyway, and methods of learning new languages fascinated me. But the pressure to leave the world of English teaching for a more“professional occupation” was intense, and in America teachers do not command that much respect. So, in my final years there, I took a job writing and voice-acting for an English-learning magazine, even though I had become quite good at recognizing the difficulties Chinese have with learning English, and the problem of language acquisition in general. I was practicing it, and my Chinese became fluent during this time.
But the travel bug bit, and I decided to leave Taiwan and go travelling. Or rather, I should say that Nancy, my girlfriend, decided. This was the sort of two-day stop travelling that my father did, and while it sounds romantic, from China to Mongolia to Russia to Poland to Germany, Italy, France, Spain… It was really a slog that had both of us exhausted and irritable. We did not eat well, we did not sleep well, and most of the people we met were just trying to cheat a couple of American tourists. It was easy to see why Americans, including my father, came back home with very little desire to go abroad again.
But I wanted to go abroad again. I figured I missed something in that frenetic tour, and there were places I had enjoyed: France and Spain were both big surprises. I went back to the United States to complete a Masters Degree in English, with a heavy emphasis on linguistics and language acquisition theory. Armed with that degree, I returned to Madrid, where I spent six months. But the Spaniards had not yet become eager to learn English, and finding jobs was too difficult, so I went back again to America.
It was the mid-1990s, and the Information Technology field was looking for anyone with a background in computers to help with the Y2K problem. So, I took a job in Information Technology, and settled down in Salt Lake City. It was not what I wanted to do, and I was not that good at it, but it paid well, with vacation time that took me to Paris several times, in hopes of getting a job and moving there. It never worked out, because teaching English was something the English and Irish could do as well as I. So, I went back to America again.
After years in Information Technology, I finally quit. Eventually, I got a job working for an international school in Shanghai. It did not look ideal; the owner of the school was a scam artist. But it got me out of the United States, to living in a place where I spoke the language and knew something of the culture. I could use the school to spring into something better.
I met people from Lingua Tutor at a job fair, and almost immediately started working part-time for them. To me, their pitch was ideal: private tutoring, with the backing of a school. I knew, from Taiwan, of the conundrum there: private tutoring was much more lucrative, and usually less work. You could tailor the plan individually, without different levels and different expectations. But it was quasi-legal (you could not get working permission without a school sponsorship), and the students could be unreliable, leaving your income in limbo. Lingua Tutor seemed to have the solutions to all those problems.
But something I have really enjoyed with Lingua Tutor is the variety. Rather than just one-on-one teaching, I have been able to train new teachers, teach corporate classes, teach high school students, teach children, and meet dozens of people from every profession, who are all contemplating the dynamic changes China has been going through the last few years.
So, while I wanted to emulate my father, I have actually surpassed him. I have spent more time abroad all together, speak four languages instead of one, and I have met people from all walks of life, not just engineers and businessmen. What is more, I have gotten so close to other cultures that I realize how much more there is to know, and how little you can understand a culture, yet think you know everything about it. I do not have to pretend to understand the Chinese anymore; mostly it is a matter of being open to what they have to say.
“How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home”—William Faulkner
A Remembrance of Michael Wise by Ron Ferrucci
Michael Wise was a curmudgeon—wait, that’s not the word I’m looking for, a conundrum – Michael was a historian that did graduate work in linguistics (think that’s it, he worked on dictionaries), that worked as a programmer with the State of Utah. He did not live to work, he worked to live. He loved his friends, was always there for you, never had an unkind word – except for the cagers. He was also an anachronism, he was a Renaissance man. He was well read and well spoken.
Michael was a founder of the Salt Lake City Bike Collective—contrary to popular opinion, I was not, I missed by a few months—and I met him first in August 2004 at the Farmer’s Market. We did bike valet. Did not know what to make of Michael, he was about 10 years older than the rest of us. But I soon got to know him as a retro grouch. And that evening we went to a birthday party for Tony. After four attempts at trying to ride Tony’s tall bike, Michael lost his glasses in the grass. Then had to crawl on hands and knees to find them. Tony was like “how blind are you.” When Michael discovered his Glasses, Tony found out.
I trained with Michael as a League of American Bicyclists certified instructor. He and I were not fans of helmets but were insistent on lights. I remember going to a training class with him and having to tell him his helmet was on backwards.
Michael was a bike enthusiast if there ever was one, but not the best mechanic. When he got his second Kogswell he did not tighten his handlebars down properly, and as we raced to the old Juniors and turned to the bike rack…his handlebars turned but his bike did not…and he went straight into Juniors and under the pinball machine (the scream of “whoa whoa whoa” audible from inside).
Michael won a set of disc brakes at a bicycle event. He had no bike to put them on. What would you do? He hired Tony (Pereira of Breadwinner Cycles) to build a bike for those brakes (in Kogswell (Kustard) cream of course).
But my favorite story about Michael was the time Ed had a couch surfer from China that was hanging with us at Squatters, with her speaking fluent English and Michael speaking fluent Mandarin – Michael taught English in Taiwan for three years – the other patrons must have thought they were in an episode of the Twilight Zone. Perfect example of Michael, an anomaly. Michael loved Chinese culture, was fluent in Mandarin, and taught English in Taiwan for three years—-did I mention that Michael was a Renaissance man.
We thought we lost Michael about six years ago. Jonathan called me to tell me the bad news. He was not doing well and was in the hospital for a few months. But Michael recovered. He got his second chance and he did not waste it. He moved to Shanghai and continued to teach English. Most importantly, he got to live the life that we wanted, in the country he loved. I almost moved there to teach English and hoped to enjoy some horrific Asian booze that had snakes or such in it with him. I cannot shed tears for Michael, but I will, because he got more life out of those six extra years than most people get in 50: he lived the life that he wanted!!! He truly got a second life, and he did not let it go to waste. He took the bull by the horns.
I see a connection between Michael and my dad. My dad had a heart attack scare in 2004. He stopped drinking, stopped smoking, and lived 12 more years. Neither of these men wanted to waste their second chance. For Michael, it was moving to China, a country he loved; for my dad, it was seeing his children accomplish something. Of course, that included my sister getting married and having kids. Not my optimum choice for a second life, but he got to see his grandchildren.
The world is certainly less Wise.
Social Media and Photo Galleries of Michael's:
Photos of Michael Wise