A spinoff in proper "Rhoda" style of my patented e-mail blastograms, this blog was created with the intention of keeping friends and family updated on and amused by my life.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Diegogarcity and an Excuse to Procrastinate

It's amazing how productive one can be when trying to avoid other tasks (ie, writing a dissertation...). Or maybe reading the IHT isn't that productive, but I saw several fascinating articles that were worth mentioning.

First, in a fit of diegogarcity (alright, a slightly hijacked usage of the term, expanding its meaning from a word that we suddenly see everywhere to a concept we suddenly see everywhere), I noticed several interesting articles about a renaissance of sorts in Northern Africa. Ancient writings bring new interest to Timbuktu was a fascinating article that explored the 're-discovery' of ancient texts that have been stored in what was once a cultural centre but is now synonymous with the middle-of-nowhere. Perhaps that's a small part of what is causing European governments to ask: Will North Africa gain from closer ties to Europe? And vice versa, of course. This article mentions specifically Sarko's and Prodi's plans to develop North Africa as a way of deterring immigration to their respective countries (France and Italy). I had not heard of a desire to create a Mediterranean Union before, but I like the idea (as long as it's not a second class substitute to allowing these countries into the EU).

And somewhat related to that story is one I just found about Chinese foreign policy in Africa: Is China Changing Africa or is Africa Changing China?, written by an LSE professor, Dr Chris Alden. This unique perspective offers that:

Ironically, deepening Chinese engagement has caused China to drift away from its once rock-solid principle of domestic non-intervention to support for internationally-sanctioned intervention in selected conflicts or post-conflict areas like Sudan and Liberia. One has the sense that Beijing is feeling the hot breadth of Africa's worst governing practices and is in the midst of absorbing a swiftly applied series of lessons meted out by petro-elites and pariah regimes.

And with regards to globalization, I thought this article about locally produced food, Homegrown isn't always best, was interesting. While there is still a lot to be said for eating seasonally and supporting local communities, I suppose we really do have to take a macro systems view when it comes to food production/distribution. In order to reduce our carbon footprint, we can't just look at transport, but also all the factors that go into production. Consider this tidbit from the article:

[Scientists] found that lamb raised on New Zealand's clover-choked pastures and shipped 11,000 miles by boat to Britain produced 1,520 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per ton while British lamb produced 6,280 pounds of carbon dioxide per ton, in part because poorer British pastures force farmers to use feed.

I should note that this study was done in New Zealand and we might want to question the political motives of the scientists, but an interesting thought nevertheless!

And on the Asia front, I was disconcerted to see the Thai police resorting to punishments based on really puerile gender stereotypes. The idea: Less-than-purr-fect Thai police to sport Hello Kitty armbands as punishment. Give me a break!

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Friday, August 03, 2007

Immigration. For real this time!

Two posts ago I threatened to talk about immigration policy, which was actually very relevant to the ideas of global cities and even terrorism, but the post was running long so I cut it out. But I just read yet another article that got me riled up about US immigration policy, so I thought I'd do a quick post to share my disgust at current American policy towards immigrants. It's a globalizing world people! Putting up walls and creating childish policies that create tit-for-tat responses with our allies is NOT the solution!

My list of immigration articles/issues that have frustrated me (and I'm being nice here) over the last month or so:

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

On Global Cities, Nation-States, and the Threats of Terrorism

“On July 27, 2005, Mumbai experienced the highest recorded rainfall in its history: 37 inches of rain in one day. The torrent showed the best and the worst about the city. Hundreds of people drowned. But unlike New Orleans after Katrina hit, there was no widespread breakdown of civic order; though police were absent, the crime rate did not go up.

“That was because Mumbaikars were busy helping one another. Slum dwellers went to the highway and took stranded motorists into their homes and made room for one more person in shacks where the average occupancy is seven adults to a room.

“Volunteers waded through waist-deep water to bring food to the 150,000 people stranded in train stations. Human chains formed to get people out of the floodwaters. Most of the government machinery was absent, but nobody expected otherwise. Mumbaikars helped one another, because they had lost faith in the government helping them.”

Suketu Mehta thus described Mumbai in an article recently republished in the IHT entitled ‘Dirty, crowded, rich and wonderful’. It’s an impressive attempt at describing the indescribable: a city swelling and surging, dynamic and rigid, sometimes appalling yet somehow appealing. A city where "discomfort is an investment.” A city where, despite all the troubles and setbacks, the human spirit thrives.

And cities, it seems, are a recurring theme at the moment. Indeed, Mumbai is one of ten cities currently highlighted in the Tate Modern’s exhibit: Global Cities, which is on show until 27 August 2007. The installations present interesting facts and statistics presented in a variety of ways mixed with artwork, photos, and videos to help bring each of the cities to life. And since this blog is called Fun Facts for whenever, I thought I’d share a few of those stats:

  • In 2007, for the first time, more than 50% of people on Earth live in an urban environment.

  • By 2050, it is predicted that around 75% of the global population will live in cities.

  • Mumbai will overtake Tokyo as the world’s largest city by population by 2050 with an expected population of over 40 million people.

  • In Los Angeles 7% of the population use public transport for their daily commute. In Tokyo, 78% of the population uses public transport.

  • Commutes of up to four hours a day are normal for those in the outlying areas of Sao Paolo.

  • Shanghai adds an average of 29.4 new residents each hour.

  • The GDP of the City of London is equivalent to that of Switzerland/

  • The population densities of four of the cities: Cario- 36,500 people per square kilometer; Mumbai- 34,000 ppl/km2, Mexico City- 5,800 ppl/km2, London- 4,500 ppl/km2

  • 95% of those moving to London since 1995 were born outside the UK

For more stats and facts, check out the Global Cities exhibit’s webpage.

Now consider that last fact: almost all newcomers to London come from outside the UK. And really, it’s the diversity of this place that I love so much although it causes its own problems.

Consider my thoughts from a blog entry I was intending to post the other week but never got around to:

“Drip, drop, gush. Frustration and anger crept into my esprit with every drop of rain.

“Il pleut. And on this 下雨天 dominated by grey skies and gusty winds, the last thing that I wanted to do was leave the house. Alas, I had agreed to a double shift (that’s 10 hours!) at the ‘chocolate factory’, and so I grudgingly trudged out the door. Which isn’t when my problems began, to be sure, but was certainly when they were exacerbated.

“As I’m sure most of you know by this point, on Thursday evening/Friday early morning (29 June 2007), a car loaded with petrol, nails, and a detonator was found outside a London nightclub near Picadilly Circus. A second was also reportedly found later that morning. Luckily police worked to diffuse the bomb before anybody was seriously injured (and it appears that it would have caused a significant number of casualties). Later that weekend, another set of bombers tried to attack at the Glasgow airport.

“‘Insouciance’ was the word the IHT used to describe the general reaction of Londoners, and I couldn’t think of a more apt description. Sure it was a talking point for the last couple of days, but since the bomb didn’t actually explode, it’s almost too hypothetical to feel strongly about. Sure, I was at a nightclub in Leicester Square at the time, but that’s a good 500 meters away from the explosive device, and therefore I was well out of harms way. And anyway, the Valentine’s Day bombings in Manila a couple of years ago was a much closer call for me.”

And yet, that rainy weekend day, after much frustration, it all melted away at the sight of the London Eye on my evening commute home. It was the day of the Gay Pride Parade in London and as such, London was trying to be in a celebratory mood. I, on the other hand, was in a dour mood. It was raining. I had to work. My Internet at home still wasn’t working. Traffic was a nightmare between parts blocked off for investigation into the bombings and the parade wending its way through London’s streets. But on the bus ride home, I turned my head to the left as we crossed over the river to see the London Eye lit up in rainbow colours.

To see that through such crap London could still band together, put a finger up to the world, and celebrate its diversity made me proud to be a Londoner. My incessant internal grumblings simply evaporated at the sight. The weight of an overbearing London ceased, sublimating into the cool night.

My parents were concerned about the almost bombings, but the fact of the matter is that in London we had it lucky.

The following Tuesday, several ‘al-Qaeda’ (supposedly) members attacked a convoy of Spanish tourists in Yemen. For a short IHT article describing what happened, see Survivors describe bombing attack in Yemen as 'an absolute nightmare'.

One of my Dutch friends here in London was engaged to the owner of the travel company that was taking the Spanish tourists to an ancient temple in the region of Marib. He lost two of his friends and colleagues who were driving the cars in the convoy. He lost seven tourists. He was dragged in for questioning by Yemeni police (though ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing).

The families of the Yemeni victims, though, lost not only husbands/sons/brothers but also the main breadwinners in the family, not to mention the cars they drove which were the family’s main source of income.

It is these people and their families about whom we should be concerned—innocent victims of a political crime. Not a focus on the potentiality of the ‘almost’ that is most certainly exaggerated in the media. For example, both free evening London papers lead with a headline like: ‘1700 threatened in terrorist attack’ that Friday, with 1700 the capacity of the club that was targeted. Certainly the club was not at full capacity on a Thursday evening! But what’s the bigger number? What’s the better story?

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Inebriated Foreigners Beware

I just saw this article in The People's Daily Online and the same story from a foreigner's point of view on Go Kunming about a brand new and exciting service offered by the local authorities in Kunming: a drunk tank for foreigners. The drunk tank is administered out of the ICU of the People's First Provincial Hospital and is a unique way of foreigner gouging in Kunming. I have personally spent WAY too much time in that hospital's ICU (not because I was drunk) and think that being taken there would not have the calming effect the Chinese authorities seem to be hoping for. Also, that there will be English speaking staff on-hand to deal with these drunk foreigners I find laughable. The English spoken at that hospital is beyond pathetic--hell, half the time we couldn't convince the doctors to speak in standard Mandarin instead of the local Kunming dialect. These nurses don't have any clue what they're in for!

Last year, there were rumors going around that two body builders in town (speculation is that they were also taking steroids, which probably didn't help the situation) went on a drunken rampage, causing a lot of property damage on their way home. They were caught by a bank security camera, and were fined heavily. Imagining these two in the drunk tank is going to be my new favorite past time.

It's also an interesting case of perception--both articles mention that of the 50,000 foreign visitors to Kunming last year, they had roughly 19 alcohol-related incidents. And while there are certainly some foreigners with drinking problems in Kunming (note the incident above), I can't imagine that it is any more so than the local population. Where's their drunk tank, huh? Well, maybe I shouldn't complain, it's probably a dank cell in their local police station.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Bosnia as a Globalized End Point?

Let me preface this argument by indulging in a bit of quasi-diasporic nostalgia, for although it’s not what led me down this track originally, it has certainly informed my argument.

In 1906, my (great?)-great-grandfather left his little village of Goranci tucked away in the hills near Mostar in what was then still part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire. Within the year, he ended up in Chicago, Illinois, USA, an Eastern European immigrant among many. In 1907, his wife followed suit.

In 2003, almost a century after this journey, I found myself hiking the 15km from Mostar back to his village in search of my so-called roots.

Growing up, my surname stuck out in a crowd for its difficult pronunciation, and often people asked where it came from. ‘It’s Croatian,’ I would reply, usually having to explain where Croatia was, never mind how it was related to Yugoslavia. And so, little by little ‘being Croatian’ crept into my identity.

Which is why it came as a shock to me when, during my junior year abroad in France, I started planning my Spring Break trip to Croatia only to find that Mostar, the city of family lore, was not there. Rather, history had left Mostar in what is today Bosnia and Herzegovina. I felt suddenly vulnerable, my identity threatened. Was I now Bosnian or, god forbid, Herzegovinian? I could hardly spell the latter let alone pronounce it (turns out Mostar is the capital of the Herzegovinian half of the country of course). 怎么办呢!

When I eventually arrived in the verdant valley of Mostar, after an almost epic train and bus journey from France, I was surprised by what I found. In my home in Colorado (USA) we had a small tile mosaic of the city brought over on one of the family’s subsequent sojourns back to the mother country. Growing up I always thought that one of the focuses of the picture was a church steeple. Upon arrival I discovered that I was sorely mistaken.

The city itself is divided roughly in half by a river that meanders through the bottom of the valley. But beyond a geographical division, this river is a symbolic division. Ethnic Croatians (Roman Catholic) live(d) on the north side, ethnic Albanians (Muslims) on the south. The Stari Most (Old Bridge) was also then a powerful symbol, for beyond its architectural splendor, it was the point of contact between these two disparate factions. And though the bridge featured prominently in my family’s tile mosaic, it was mosques that actually filled the background, not churches.

Of course, when I arrived in 2003, the bridge was in the middle of reconstruction, having been completely destroyed (neither side claimed responsibility) during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. Indeed, half the town was under reconstruction. Bombed out shells of apartment buildings stood next to newly finished flats. The United Colors of Benneton stood proudly in the center of town, a nod to the future aspirations of the city. The hills that loomed over the valley were covered with cemeteries, and it was recommended that one not go wandering in the hills for fear of landmines. NATO forces were discreet but omnipresent—at one point I even chatted with a French soldier in army fatigues.

And so as I sat at a café overlooking the bridge, sipping Turkish coffee and listening to the chants of the imams broadcast over PAs at evening prayers, I couldn’t help but wonder how it all came to this—a question that has stayed with me ever since.

The answer that I arrived at just last week is globalization. This is what globalization looks like at its extreme end point. I was arguing that recent balkanesque impulses around the globe were examples not of a maintained power of the nation-state, but of a resurgence of the importance of the regional/local. And so, Yugoslavia was divided as a direct result of wars, redefining nation-states to coincide with local cultures—divisional units which arguably make more sense than arbitrary geographical ones.

But then there was Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was the leftovers, the remainder, the odd one out. Croatia pulled away from Yugoslavia because it was mainly (though it’s important to note, not entirely!!!!!) Croat. Albania shared Islam. Slovenia had its own unifying language. Serbia was the heart of the Yugoslav ‘regime’, and as such tried to retain as much of its geographic integrity as possible, but ultimately, what was left convened around Serbian identity (except perhaps Montenegro and a few other regions). But then there was Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Here, in the center of all these other ‘countries’, it became the meeting point, the juncture of metissage, and so how could it be divided except by artificial geographic boundaries? Indeed, what relation does Bosnia have to Herzegovina besides an outwardly imposed bed to share, enforced by NATO troops and tied to its Austrio-Hungarian roots via the continued use of the Deutsch Mark.

It was global forces that brought B-H to where it is today, it’s mix of cultures and ethnicities indivisible in its recombination. A home to a vast diasporic community, many of whom were forced out by the atrocities of war, some of whom left at the prospects of better economic opportunities elsewhere.

The ultimate symbol of Mostar’s globalization? Red Bull adverts that are played in London’s double-decker buses which show men diving off the UNESCO World Heritage site, the Stari Most (Old Bridge)—the symbol of connection now the symbol of capitalist hegemony.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Purge Anyone?

*Disclaimer: Please note, the following post is not for the faint of heart. If bodily functions gross you out, stop reading now.*

Ok, so every morning at 6:30AM sharp, my upstairs neighbor, um, purges. Vomits, pukes, spews, throws up: call it what you will, it's grosses me out a little each time. It's fairly loud, so even though it is usually finished within a minute, it creates a lasting impression. I was hearing it last week every so often because my schedule was a complete mess--I was busy writing 15,000 words worth of papers to turn in (which I did last Friday. Yay, freedom!). Today however, it was just loud enough that it actually woke me up. Some alarm clock, ay?

My question is, why does s/he do this? I was discussing it with friends the other night, and the first guess was morning sickness. This is a good possibility, especially since I was hearing a screaming baby at about 8 or 8:30 several mornings after I heard the 'purging'. Perhaps, then, a second one is on the way? But why 6:30 exactly then? Is it just because that's right after she gets up every morning?

The next guess is that this person is bulimic. But, I wonder about this one because: a) they've just gotten up, so what has s/he eaten by 6:30AM to throw up? b) I only hear it once every morning at 6:30AM. Certainly, if this person were bulimic, s/he would be throwing up several times throughout the day.

And the final guess was that it was a chronic binge drinker who was just coming home for the night. I doubt this one strongly because s/he purges at 6:30AM almost on the dot every morning. Drunks don't follow schedules to a T.

And so it seems to me that it is part of this person's daily ritual. Right after s/he wakes up, s/he clears him/herself of any remaining food to start the day afresh. It therefore seems to me that this might be more of a cultural thing. My question, then to anybody who's reading this is: have you ever heard of or experienced a culture that this is part of the daily routine? I've been asking around, and so far people don't know, so I thought I'd throw the question to a wider audience. Personally, I vaguely remember one of the characters in A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (if I remember his name correctly), an excellent book set in India, doing so, so perhaps it's some regional/ethnic tradition in India?

I probably won't ever know the real answer, but trying to figure out why this person purges at 6:30 every morning is driving me crazy! Any help?

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Me Talk Pretty

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The West

Your accent is the lowest common denominator of American speech. Unless you're a SoCal surfer, no one thinks you have an accent. And really, you may not even be from the West at all, you could easily be from Florida or one of those big Southern cities like Dallas or Atlanta.

North Central
The Midland
The South
The Inland North
The Northeast
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

See, now will someone please tell the Chinese that I speak very standard American English. Or, at least I used to. Now I have a weird Canadian 'oot' thing going on, and British speech patterns (though not an accent still, you can breathe a sigh of relief).

And in a personal addition to this quiz, to find out if you have a Colorado accent, just answer these simple questions.

1. Do you pronounce the word 'both' as 'both' or 'bolth?'
2. What is a 'longjohn'?
3. Do you know what the word 'umber' means?
4. How do you refer to the sandwich served at Subway and Quizno's, etc?
5. Do you pronounce the word 'coupon' as 'quepon' or as 'kewpon'?

If you answered:
1. Bolth
2. A long cream-filled doughnut, a type of undergarment, and a possibly a pirate
3. Yes, the "I'm gonna tell on you" sense of the word.
4. Sub
5. Kewpon

Then you might just be Coloradoan (Northern Coloradoan if you know #3).

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Kites over Kashgar

I was sitting in a semi-public bath house in LiTang, China (follow link for my previous blog entry about LiTang) when the book first enthralled me. At a mere (ha!) 5,000 meters (16,500 around feet), despite it being the middle of summer, my childhood friend, Robin, and I needed to find some way to warm ourselves up. Hot springs sounded like the perfect solution. We hopped a taxi that took us the 10km outside the city through open skies and windswept fields sparsely populated with yak and yurt.

The hot springs turned out to be a newly developed bathing complex, complete with white tiles but with fairly large 'windows' (well, holes in the wall at least) that let the light shine in. The assistant opened a large valve and steaming, sulfur-laced water poured into the tub.

Desperate for warmth, I sank into the tub, and picked up the book Robin had brought from the US: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Poor Robin was reading a physiology text book if I'm not mistaken, and so it was with a little guilt that I lost myself in the story of Afghanistan for several hours before I noticed my raisin toes.

Such a vivid and enticing epic, my mind kept wandering to the closest I'd ever been to Afghanistan--Kashgar, XinJiang, China (follow link for blog entries from my time there, or see some of my photos here.).

Kashgar is a city of traders, and is considered to be the city the furthest west in China (and there is a big Mao statue to prove it, of course). It's roughly north of Delhi and lies next to China's borders with India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Kyrgyzstan (and not too far from Kazakhstan, thank you Borat). It also used to be the capital of Chinese Turkmenistan (from before XinJiang was an actual part of China) and so I stayed in the former Russian Embassy which has since been turned into a fairly decrepit hotel. The city actually played a large role during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, and as Hosseini was walking through Afghan history, I felt connected to it through my experiences in Kashgar.

What prompted this post, actually, was an IHT article (what else) entitled Gambling on China for an Afghan Epic. Turns out they are now filming the movie version of the book in Kashgar, which creates yet another link between Kashgar and the novel for me. I must admit that I'm really excited to see the movie now, not just because they've filmed it in Kashgar, but also because it is a good book AND they are actually filming it in appropriate languages, with for example, and Iranian-born actor who has even bothered to learn Afghan dialect. The waiting begins!!

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Holy Random, Batman!

I'm in a random mood, and I'm listening to Nat King Cole sing Spanish ballads, so I thought I'd post...cause why not really?

Saw two articles that I found uber interesting and did have to share about China. As a student of culture, I found China establishes initial database for intangible cultural heritage an interesting discussion of culture in China. And also, from the IHT, we have a great article about free cabbage. Seriously, check it out.

Other random thoughts: I'm now addicted to mince pies. Damn you England! Also, Casino Royale, thumbs down!! Bond like barely even has an English accent, and what good is Bond sans suaveness?!?!?! Facebook is fun, even if I am just a recent convert.

Oh, and happy holidays!

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

I Don’t Make Sense as a Person

“What did you do within the last week, say, that was a global experience?” asked my professor in this week’s seminar for Approaches to Globalisation to start the discussion.

People were hesitant at first, but someone finally called out: “I saw the new James Bond movie.”

“OK, good. Anybody else?” she said as she wrote ‘James Bond’ on the dry erase board.

“My friend from New York came to visit,” I said, glad that I could think of something that seemed global.

“I had Italian for dinner on Saturday,” one of my classmates called out.

That got me thinking: “I’m not sure that I should admit this here, but on Sunday night I ate at Burger King in Leicester Square. Oh, and I had a spicy bean veggie burger, which I think could be construed as a global experience.”

“So your friend comes in from New York and you take him to Burger King?” my professor retorted.

“Oh no, I went with another friend from the US…who I know from China…who’s studying at SOAS…before we went to an Italian opera with English surtitles at the ENO…and it was an opera about India at that.”

“That’s interesting, having the high culture and the low culture together like that,” she commented.

“Oh, and on Saturday night I went to a Brazilian bar with a Canadian friend who happens to be an LSE student but who I know through a mutual friend from China. We watched capoeira and tried to samba.”

And the funny thing is, I could keep going with this. The more I thought about it, the more actions I realized fit in to the global context. All this without even having mentioned anything to do with the Internet—and believe me, I had Skyped, blogged, and chatted with the best of them over that week.

“You did this all this week? You’re not just projecting all this into this week, right?” the teacher asked with some concern.

“Oh, all this week. Otherwise I’d be talking to you about my trip to France.” I smiled coyly.

“Well ok, what did people do this weekend that was local?” she queried.

“I renewed my monthly London bus pass.”

“Wait, another classmate interjected, how did you pay for it, with your American credit card?”

“Well actually, no. I paid with my UK card (which is through a US bank, BTW) because I had had troubles before where the card readers wouldn’t accept my swipey card, they all wanted the cards with chips.”

“So how about this,” I continued, “and again, I’m not sure I should admit this here. Every morning when on my way to the LSE I cross over Waterloo Bridge, and whenever I do, I make sure to turn over my left shoulder so that I can see Big Ben and the London Eye. It’s what reminds me that I’m in London every day.”

That prompted a burst of discussion, and no, it wasn’t even about how crazy I am.

With others chiming in with their examples, we moved quickly to, “I went to a British pub,” and the discussion of British pub culture.

“On Sunday, before the Burger King incident, I went with a Brit to a Wetherspoon’s (a British chain of pubs), drank a pint of French beer, and felt more like I was at an American Red Robin’s than anywhere else as it was a chain restaurant based on concepts of, as Ritzer puts it, McDonaldization. Does that count as a global or a local experience?”

We continued on from there to an academic discussion about space versus place, and how are global experiences fit into Appadurai’s model of global flows, or ‘scapes’ as he likes to call them. But that’s not what struck me about the conversation, and nor is this why I’m sharing the story with you.

Rather, it is for three reasons:

1) Sketching out my life on the board made me realize that I don’t make sense as a person. I shouldn’t exist. I’m pulling my life from all across the world on a very intense (more intense than I even realized) and very consistent basis.

At least my friends make as equally little sense for the most part. For example, my friend who came in from NYC was here to surprise some British friends that he had made while teaching in Guatemala. This was before, of course, he went on a round-the-world trip. My friend with whom I saw the opera might be from the US, but she doesn’t even have a home to return to there anymore—her mum lives in Egypt and her dad in the Far East somewhere (can’t remember anymore, sorry).

Is this how most people experience the world? Is globalization that inevitable and all-encompassing? Or am I just lucky and confused?

2) It shocked me how much of this global activity I take for granted, or don’t even think about. When my professor first posed the question, I couldn’t really think of anything that I had done that would qualify as global, and then I got started. I guess that since I’m studying globalization, one would think that I’m more aware of my participation in the world, and yet I couldn’t see through the iron cage (to use a Weberian turn of phrase). What does this mean about the people who don’t ever sit there considering the extent to which their lives are globalized?

4) My professor’s comment about high and low culture also took me by surprised. It had never occurred to me that Burger King was low brow but opera is high brow. This might be more post-modern than part of the age of globalization (although this certainly had a factor in it because the reason we ended up at Burger King had everything to do with how we experienced McDonald’s in China). I’ve been frustrated by notions of class of late. Is this a useful analytical tool at all to look at things?! Or is it just me that likes to simultaneously mix my cultural milieux?

To finish off then, I pose a question to y’all similar to the one posed by my professor: what is the most absurdly ‘global moment’ that you can recall having, and what is the most local moment you recall having?

Tomorrow I host two Americans besides me, two Canadians, four Brits, a Spaniard, a Dutch, and two Chinese for American Thanksgiving. This has the potential to rank up there for me!

Happy Turkey Day everybody!

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Monday, November 20, 2006

BAA is B-A Bad!

Last weekend I was ready for a break. After several days of hard work, I was absolutely exhausted, and so I was happy that I had found RyanAir tickets to Nantes, France on sale at 1p (two cents) each way. Sure there were taxes, but it was still a great deal, and I couldn’t wait to get back to France. I had been away for much too long.

So, after a presentation in one of my seminars at 9AM, I hopped the bus for Liverpool Street Station, and then the train out to Stansted (one of London’s numerous airports).

The trick with RyanAir is that, although they have some good fares, they charge the big bucks for luggage. Since I was only going away for the weekend, I thought I could make due with only a carry-on bag (which is free to take aboard) so I didn’t purchase space below. With that in mind, I packed only the barest of necessities that I might make it through the security checkpoint. I didn’t have access to the Internet, so I didn’t know what the regulations were when I was packing, so I thought to play it safe, I wouldn’t bring anything remotely resembling a liquid. No toothpaste, no deodorant, no nothing.

Later, at school, I checked the BAA (British Airport Association?) website to make sure that I was following all the restrictions. One thing that is very different than in the US is that passengers are only permitted one carry on item, period. But, and I quote from the November 6th update, “other bags, such as handbags, may be carried WITHIN the single item of cabin baggage, not in addition.”

My backpack was barely half full, so I could easily stick my messenger bag inside my backpack. All was good to go.

Indeed my arrival at Stanstead went smoothly. I got off the train, checked in within minutes, and then started queuing for security, which went ok until the x-ray machine.

My bag went through, and the guy called to the person who trolls through everybody’s bags to go through mine. She pulled out my messenger bag, and immediately decided that, although my backpack was underweight, undersize, and contained no questionable items, that I had two bags and therefore had to check one.

I balked and started arguing immediately, pointing out that the website stated clearly that a handbag could be placed inside a carry-on bag. She immediately called her supervisor over and I proceeded to argue. They insisted that I was “wasting their time,” and that “all passengers are allowed one bag,” and that my messenger bag “was not a handbag.” I countered that I had only one bag worth of stuff. After all, how else does one pack items? If I had a camera in a camera bag stuffed inside, would that mean that I had two bags?

They again said that I was wasting their time, and I said that I would like to look at the website with them and that it was irresponsible for them to be disseminating false information on their website.

They escorted me back to the check-in desk to check my bag.

I didn’t have to pay to check this bag for my troubles at least. And when I was talking with the security officer that was escorting me, I said politely: “I’m not trying to cause a fuss. I try very much to be an informed traveller and follow the rules. I checked the website this morning, and it clearly says that a handbag can be placed inside a carry-on bag.” The security officer seemed somewhat sympathetic and said that if I went to the supervisors table, I could pick up a feedback form.

After passing through security I went directly there, and with a slight gleam in my eye asked the supervisor who had been called over before for a feedback form. She forced a smile and presented one to me. The mutual loathing was palpable. It was lovely.

I was early, so I filled out the form front and back with my lengthy complaint, trying to be as restrained as possible. I asked for a response, so I’m hoping to get something soon. If I do, I’ll be sure to post it.

I realize that it’s petty to argue over such a simple thing, but it’s really the principle of the thing. Airport security in this day and age has crossed the line of sanity. Why does it matter if I have a bag inside of a bag instead of just one bag? I was willing to let them spread my underwear out for all to see if they really felt the need to analyze all the contents thereof!

But more importantly, when will people realize that it doesn’t actually stop anything? If the terrorists really wanted to go so far as to hijack a plane, I’m sure that they could find a way to circumvent even the tightest restrictions.

I can carry safety razors, fountain pens, sharpened pencils, and syringes on board, just to name a few items that could easily be used to create a disturbance. I can once again take liquids on board, though notably only in limited quantities. But fine, if a terrorist cell works together, they each carry a small amount of liquid explosive on board.

Our lives are daily filled with risk, and one is much more likely to be a victim of a car accident than of a terrorist attack. Terrorism is a risk that we must live with now, it’s part of our world, and it’s certainly not a new phenomenon.

By instituting absurd and inane security measures that disrupt our daily life, it’s the terrorists that win! I beg, I plea for a re(?)-instatement of sanity in our approach to public security! Does that mean that there should be no security measures at airports? Of course not—that would just be imprudent. But a balance must be reached!

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006


China is trying to kick me while I'm down, but they underestimate me! But then, nobody ever expects the Spanish Inquestition!!

Today we woke to discover google.com and gmail.com on the new list of unaccessible sites on our home internet. Presumably, we should be using google.com.cn in order to do our searching from now on...it being censored and all. Well, so, I played their game. I went to google.com.cn, googled "proxy servers out of China" and got a link that directed me to many public proxy servers that help me scoot around China's firewall!

Take that Chinese government!

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Random Acts of Violence

The news of an attack in the holiest city in India, Varanasi seems in keeping with this lousy week. Random violence always strikes a cord with me, whether it be 9-11, USS Cole, Madrid, Bali, Casablanca, London, Manila (the one that I was closest to), Damascus, or now Varanasi. After I went back to help with my friend here in Kunming, Chesa continued on around India and made a last minute trip to Varanasi, so it makes it feel more personal. Besides Bali and Damascus, I have personal connections to each of those cities and it just sickens me every time. Will this week get better yet?! Please?!

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Monday, March 06, 2006


I just watched some of the Oscars on CCTV (Chinese Central Television), as I love the show and wouldn’t miss it for the world. I was also waiting particularly to see what happened if (when, because we all knew he was going to when it) Ang Lee (李安) won for Best Director. CCTV had managed to edit the four+ hour show down to about two-and-a-half hours, so obvious cuts had been made to both filler and even some speeches, and though I they hadn’t been cutting the major awards, I had a feeling that if Lee (who is Taiwanese) won, there might be some edits.

Indeed there were. After listening to the broadcast, I went on-line to see what I missed. According to Oscar.com, the speech went something like this:

Wow. I wish I knew how to quit you. First of all, i want to thank two people who don't even exist. Or I should say, they do exist, because of the imagination of Annie Proulx and the artistry of Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana. Their names are Ennis and Jack. And they taught all of us who made "Brokeback Mountain" so much about not just all the gay men and women whose love is denied by society, but just as important, the greatness of love itself. Thank you. Thank you members of the Academy for this tremendous honor. And to everyone at Focus Features, in particular, David Linde, James Schamus, thank you for your love and support. To Bill Pohlad, Tory Metzger, Ira Schreck , Joe Dapello, many thanks, and a special thanks to David Lee. And thanks to my wife, Jane Lin, and my boys, Han and Mason. I love you. On "Brokeback Mountain," I felt you with me every day. I just did this movie after my father passed away. More than any other, I made this for him. And finally, to my mother and family, and everybody in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. Thank you.

The first thing missing: the whole first part! The censoring bureau has actually banned Brokeback Mountain from showing in movie theatres (though it’s available in all the illegal DVD stores) due to its “questionable” content. Thus, all those references to homosexuality were gone. In other words, what the Chinese saw started from “Thank you. Thank you members of the Academy…” We stopped after “Han and Mason,” and cut back in as he said “谢谢大…关系.” The first part means “thank you everybody.” The last part was clearly bad editing as it doesn’t make any sense in Chinese. Unfortunately, what is found in the above transcript doesn’t have what he said in Chinese, because I’d quite frankly be interested to know what it was. I’ll have to try to find a recording, or I can hope we get it past the censors when we watch the un-cut version on StarWorld on Wednesday.

In any case, besides cutting out references to homosexuality, the other thing that was clearly cut was references to Taiwan and Hong Kong…of course, since they are both parts of China, why would he need to mention them separately?! Well, at least that’s the Chinese mindset.

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More on Ports

Normally I don't get responses to blog posts, but when I do, they're usually just tagged on the end by using the 'Comments' button. However, my dad had what I considered an interesting response that deserved more than just a tag. Who knew two guys from Colorado (or who have at least lived in CO a good portion of their respective lives) would have so much to say on ports :o). Anyway, here's what my dad had to say on the issue:

I read with interest your blog concerning our ports discussion.

It’s all politics on several levels.

First, the Bush administration has some responsibility to keep the Congress informed. Second George loves to tell the US how concerned he is with security issues. His administration never saw this coming. When the Brits started to divest themselves of this interest, the security issue should have been raised if one exists in the first place. It was at this level that the ownership issue should have been raised. Regularly, corporate ownership policies get taken care of during the divestiture process. Ownership in the US ports was just a small crumb in the scale of everything and the actual operations within the ports was insignificant as well.

The unanswered issue in the US really isn’t about Arabs owning a few terminal facilities, it’s whether their ownership allows them an inside into our security arrangements in our ports. Most wonder what firewalls exist to prevent the owners from finding out everything about how the US government intends to control port access. The UAE keeps bringing out their US COO of the ports who says everything is great. Unfortunately, in his public testimony, he leaves the impression that he cannot spell the word, port. Therefore, there is no great public confidence in his ability to build a firewall.

The Dems are just maximizing their political opportunity here. Mrs. Clinton is barking and her husband is giving direct, paid lobbying advice to the UAE. It’s pretty shallow. Yet, George keeps telling us about his version of world freedom and democracy as defined by the US. We, the US always know what’s right -- see our newly announced policy about equipping India’s nuclear needs to benefit our corporate entities. Somehow you would think that the rest of world should have an opportunity to offer their thoughts on the matter.

The other thing giving this port deal in our country some momentum is the UAE policy on Israel. Their official policy is negative. Yet, they play wink/wink when they deal with Israeli shipping including keeping their sailors on their ships rather than letting them visit the ports where they land. So, some of our politicians bring this up just to inflame the pro-Israeli side of the argument. And, the Bush response is to suck its thumb. Mr. Snow, their economics secretary, held a railroad company which sold some of its interest to the UAE folks. So, he is perceived as someone having a vested interest in the transaction.

Frankly, nearly everyone involved is a Johnnie-come-lately to the issue. Their knowledge is usually a mile-wide but only one inch deep. The discussion usually breaks down into name calling with little substantive ever discussed.

Everybody sees themselves coming out the winner with the 45-day cooling off period. Nothing will change; but,everyone will say they did something to better the process. With respect to anti-Arab bias, everyone in the US will continue with this position as long as they announce they are anti-Israeli and everyone fears the Muslim sense of religious freedom. Their definition of religious freedom has a close parallel to George’s definition of democracy. By the way, in Pakistan George lauded them as being an Arab country. What he apparently was citing was that they are a Muslim country and they are our friends. Things have changed greatly since LBJ went there and presented them a tank to show them our friendship. But, then it was still two separate land masses.

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Thursday, March 02, 2006

Portal to Racism

I've been really busy starting up with the new semester and dealing with my friend in the hospital the last couple of weeks, but I have an issue on my mind that just won't go away--American ports. And since I just read an
Opinion article in the International Herald Tribune (IHT)
that basically expresses my feeling exactly, I thought it was time to deal with the topic.

A few weeks ago (or was it only last week) when it was announced that a Dubai-based, UAE-government owned company was taking over the operations of six US ports, Americans (or at least politicians) were up in arms. Vile rhetoric about security concerns abounded, and I found myself in the awkward position of not just agreeing with President George W. Bush, but actually being proud of him.

Americans should be ashamed of themselves.

First of all, I'm sure that if a poll was taken the day before the ports deal was announced that about 0.1% of the American population would be able to name the country Dubai is located in. I consider myself vaguely worldly, but had it not been for the fact that while I was in India last month I had a very Dubai-oriented train ride from Mumbai to Goa (the Irish girls sitting across from us stopped in Dubai on the way to India, and there was a huge back-page article in the IHT about Dubai and investment in the UAE), I wouldn’t have been able to either. Of course, why should Americans care about such trivia when a recent study indicated that only about 1 in 1,000 Americans could name all five freedoms guaranteed in the first amendment of our Constitution. Heck, about 20% thought the right to own a pet was in there…but I digress. My point here is, how do we know they’re terrorists if we can’t even figure out where they’re from (as if that’s a solid indicator anyway)?

This incident has been one of the most blatant examples of institutionalized discrimination in recent US history. Having heard that “Arabs” were taking over ports, fear mongers on both sides of the aisle seemed ready to stop the deal on this basis alone. Although I understand the need for security, implying that all Arabs are terrorists goes beyond ridiculous to just simply offensive and racist, especially considering that the ports were already owned by a foreign company!

In the abovementioned article, a comparison was made with the way the Japanese-Americans were treated during WWII. I think it’s perhaps a bit extreme at this point to compare the two cases, but I worry we’re moving in that direction. The only other comparison I can think of is when the US legislature moved to block the takeover of UNOCAL (a California-based oil and petroleum company) by the partially Chinese-government-owned CNOOC. There, it was a fear of Communism that prompted action. And yet, I’m somehow less offended by the action taken against China. Although I think it is a little paranoid to imagine that through an oil company Communism will penetrate the US, I feel the fear is somewhat more founded. It is generally accepted that the Chinese higher-ups are corrupt (I could offer ample evidence to this end, but then again, every government seems to have their fair share…can we say Thaksin Shinawatra?!), and the recent (within three months) peasant “massacre” in Southeast China are constant reminders that China is still not a free state.

Of course it begs the question: in a free, democratic, capitalistic society, should the government really be intervening in business dealings of this sort to begin with? And in any case, history has taught us that economic protectionism never is the right answer, so why start now?

For his part, Bush, for the first time in his presidency, threatened a veto of any bill that blocked the port deal coming from the legislature. Now, who’s to say Mr. Bush wasn’t inspired by back-room business deals to come to the defense of the takeover as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) has hinted at. I do, after all, like to believe in the inherent evilness of his person, but my impression is that Mr. Bush stood up for what is right and good in this world for a change. My kudos to him.

Luckily I didn’t have to feel proud of him for too long as he was quoted shortly afterward as saying: “This deal wouldn’t go forward if we were concerned about the security of the United States.” Oh Bush, you just make it too easy!

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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

India on the Rise

I found this week's Newsweek article about India coming into its own (again) very interesting. Having just spent the last month there, and living in China, how could I not be interested?

You can check it out at India Rising.

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Sunday, November 20, 2005

Bushie Comes to Town

The MSNBC/AP spin:

Bush brings human rights message to China
President attends church before meeting with leadership

Putting human rights atop his agenda, President Bush promoted religious freedom in this communist nation Sunday by attending church services before meeting top leaders.

Bush tried to send a visible message about human rights across this land of 1.3 billion people by worshipping at the Gangwashi Church, one of five officially recognized Protestant churches in Beijing. On a chilly morning, the president arrived at the church with his wife, Laura.

In the church’s guest book, Bush wrote “May God bless the Christians of China.”

Under the president’s inscription, the first lady wrote: “And with love and respect, Laura Bush.”

The State Department cited China this month as one of eight countries of “particular concern” for denying religious freedom. The White House urged China’s state-controlled media not to censor news of Bush’s visit.

The China Daily, the official English language newspaper in China, spin:

Bush's visit symbolic but still important

Anti-terrorism co-operation, nuclear stand-off on the Korean Peninsula and Iran, the Taiwan question, trade deficit, intellectual property rights protection, and bird flu.

The wide range of topics on the agenda during US President George W. Bush's visit to China shows that Washington and Beijing share more and more common interests, according to analysts.

This fact, they predict, will prompt Bush to sound a more positive note while outlining his administration's China policy in Beijing.

Now, I'm willing to give the China Daily the benefit of the doubt for now, I mean it is a daily newspaper, and this visit to church did just happen, but something tells me that the Chinese people are going to miss any comments Bush has to make about China's human rights...we shall see.

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Truth (with Jokes)

Well, I was just reading this morning about a new book out by Al Franken called nothing other than The Truth (with Jokes). Now, I never read Lies, so I guess I don’t have any clue how his new book is, but I will admit that political satire is up my alley. In any case, I think it’s the book my students are looking for…

Yesterday, while teaching about the Civil War, I got into an interesting conversation with my students. Last week in my American Culture and Society class, we had a guest speaker—another Yunnan University professor, Aaliyah—to teach us about African American History and Culture. During her lecture, she mentioned briefly the Civil War, focusing mainly on the emancipation of the slaves. One of my more curious and bold students asked her why the slaves were freed. Aaliyah said something to the effect of “I like to think that it came from a general consensus that slavery was wrong.” Wishful thinking in my opinion.

So, yesterday, I decided to add some more information about the Civil War, including a discussion of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Now, most Chinese people know who Abe Lincoln is, and they also know that he ended slavery. Telling them that the Emancipation Proclamation actually only freed the slaves in the South (where he didn’t even have power) was a new one for them. I suggested that at the time, the more immediate reason for him freeing the slaves was more to create chaos than because he disliked slavery. “What a smart man!” they said.

Then I asked if there were any questions. One of my students seemed confused. “How can Aaliyah give us one reason and you another? Isn’t there like a book or something that you can just go to that tells you the right answer?” I was taken aback. How could I even begin to respond to that question?!

Americans are taught from a young age a) to always be critical, always, and b) that there is no such thing as Truth with a capital T. Everyone is biased in some way, so to some extent, anything that anybody says must be taken with a grain of salt. The Chinese, on the other hand, are not taught critical thinking until graduate school (and this is not an exaggeration!!!!). For the Chinese, learning equals memorization. The government also plays a large role in directing the curriculum, and so there are official books on many subjects—it’s a convenient way to keep China’s large population under control and keep the Communist Party in power.

Seriously though, in China, history is so black and white. Take for example the historical treatment of Chairman Mao. Deng XiaoPing, a party official who started China on the path of glasnost and economic reform declared that, “Mao was 70% right, and 30% wrong.” I triple-dog dare you to try telling a Chinese person that Mao was 75% right and see what happens.

My next thought, then, is ‘how do I express this without openly criticizing the Chinese government in front of my students?’ The best I could do after recovering from my original shock was “cultural differences.” “In the US,” I said, “we believe that there are usually many reasons, and that one person may say one thing, and somebody else might say something else, and that’s okay. Each of them are probably right in their own little way, and the truth is probably somewhere in between.”

They weren’t biting.

“Okay, let’s take the Nanjing Massacre for example.” I hoped I wasn’t getting into too dangerous territory, but I wanted an example they could all understand. “In Japan,” I explained, “some, NOT ALL, but some government-approved textbooks downplay or even ignore war atrocities committed during WWII. But, does that mean that Nanjing didn’t happen.”

A resounding “NO!”

“Okay, so the Chinese say that it happened, and that a certain number of people died. The Japanese might admit that it happened, but they admit to their own number of deaths. The Americans, who had reporters there, had there own death toll. Which one is right?”

“The Chinese number.”

“Then why are there three different numbers? If one is right, shouldn’t they all be the same then? The point is, we don’t know which one is right, and the fact of the matter is, none of them probably are, although some guesses are better than others.”

There were looks of sudden realization on several faces. It was probably one of the most satisfying moments I’ve had as a teacher.

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Sunday, May 29, 2005


I mentioned on a forum the other day that essentially, the goal of life in mainland China is figuring out how to work around governmental restrictions, and the more I think about it the more I think it’s true. At the very least, two experiences I’ve had this week have brought it to the forefront of my mind.

Event A- The School Bus

As some of you are aware, Yunnan University just this year opened a second campus about a 45-minute drive outside of town in an area called YangPu. It’s really a lovely campus, it being all new and such, but there are still many kinks that must be worked out with regard to its new operation. I guess this is normal, but in China the bureaucracy makes change slow. Of course, the decision to move out to YangPu was not, from what I’ve heard, entirely thought through and was just part of a work-around solution that the provincial government is trying whereby it’s moving all government facilities out of the city to the YangPu area so as to alleviate traffic (…everywhere except for on the already crowded, newly constructed highway that connects the two cities that is already undergoing expansion in preparation for the future move), but I digress (we’re surprised).

Anyway, one of the rather large kinks that still hasn’t been worked out has to do with the bussing situation from the main campus to the YangPu campus. Every Monday morning, I get up at 6:45AM to trudge down to the bus stop at 7:25AM to catch the 7:30AM bus to be able to teach out at YangPu at 8:30AM. It’s an early morning, and I’m, quite frankly, not willing to make it any earlier. Last semester, they had a bus that left at 7:20AM, a bus that left at 7:30AM, and a bus that left at 7:40AM. You could get on the 7:40AM bus and get there with enough time to prepare for class. Well, this semester they decided to have a bus at 7:30AM. Not only is this earlier than preferred for sleepy heads like me, but there are no where near enough seats to go around when you go from 3 buses down to 1. This is even more true on Monday mornings when an influx of students is headed back to campus after having spent the weekend at home.

This means that I sometimes have problems, and it has come to a head twice now—once about a month ago, and once last Monday. A month ago I arrived at about 7:25AM to get the bus, but alas there were no seats. After a reassuring (not) “等一下” (literal translation, “wait a moment,” actual translation “wait until the Earth enters its next ice age”), we were forced to sit in the cold waiting a half an hour for a minivan to come collect the fifteen stranded teachers. We were therefore about half an hour late to class, as traffic is worse at this period of time. I screamed bloody murder, and the university SEEMED to take action. The next week the minivan was ready and waiting next to the other 7:30AM bus.

Well, as time progressed, people found out about this and apparently stopped taking the 7:15AM (or something like that) bus in favor of the 7:30AM bus, so the university was forced to upgrade to two full buses on busy days. Two weeks ago, I’m down at 7:25AM and both the big bus and the little bus were full, so we migrated to an empty large bus. Last week, again arriving around 7:25AM, as I think I’ve shown I have wont to do, and finding the big bus previously departed, and the small bus full, the obvious solution to the driver was to put a sack of dirty towels on the floor for me to sit on. I grudgingly accept (but am not so happy about it as I was feeling very sick at that point and was on about one and a half hours of sleep at that point). Then two more teachers come running up to the over-full bus. The solution: go to the empty big bus next to us? No. Put oil-stained towels in the stairwell for these two nicely dressed female teachers to sit on? Yes. At that point I point-blank asked the driver if he was kidding and got off the bus to go to bed and sent a texto to the office saying that I refused to go to the YangPu campus until the bus situation was resolved. I made the mistake, however, of telling them that I was sick, and that’s kind of what they heard as the key part of my story.

In any event, the School of Foreign Languages seems to be taking this situation somewhat seriously, as they called both me and M-L (the French teacher) into a meeting with the head of the school (aka high muckity-muck). They have passed my complaint on to the transportation department, but seem to not expect much of a result. Therefore their solution was: have the secretary of the English department go to the bus at 7:15AM and save me a seat. If the bus is too full, then they will pay for a taxi to take me to the campus. I told them that this solved nothing, as my point was not that I shouldn’t have to sit on the floor, but rather that nobody should be forced to sit on the floor. Especially since the solution is not hard—on Monday mornings take two big buses at 7:30AM. I mean, if they are going to force teachers to go out to that bloody campus, the least they can do is make sure that everybody has a seat! The thing is that I know that the uni couldn’t care less about its own teachers, but when it comes to us foreign “treasures” I figured they’d listen. And actually, I’ve since heard that the party has become concerned about the situation and that I am to write an official report on the matter. We’ll see if that gets us anything!

Situation B- The Import and Export of Dogs

This is a long story that I will save for another post, as I’ve already gone on for like 1,000 words, and I don’t know about you other ADHD and ADD folk out there, but that’s a lot.


This week is Labour Week for my sophomores. As far as I can tell this is a holdover from the commie reeducation camps of the Cultural Revolution whereby the university rotates all the schools through one week of forced labour cleaning classrooms and toilets and whatnot. Fun for them, but even more fun for me, as it means that I essentially have a week of vacation.

So, another teacher suggested we take a little trip in Yunnan this weekend as she had a long weekend. But since I have from Monday afternoon till the following Monday off, that I would take a longer trip and maybe visit some friends in Xi’an (middle of China). Then I was in this XinJiang-style restaurant eating dinner one night, and I was like: “Hey, why not go there and eat the real food?!” So, I texto my travel agent while eating dinner and arrange tickets to Urumqi for this week. Yay for spontaneity!

So tomorrow night I’m off to Xi’an for a one night layover (which, rather conveniently means that I will have time to visit friends there), then the next day I fly from Xi’an to Urumqi. You have to understand that XinJiang is in the FAR northwest of China. The majority population there is actually Uighur, not Han, so I’m expecting it to have a more of a Turkish feel (the Uighurs are Muslim). If I’m lucky I’ll be able to follow the Silk Road as far as Kashgar (really close to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Pakistan) which is supposedly the capital of the bazaar (somewhere between 50 and 150 thousand people come to the town for the Sunday Market even from the surrounding countries). I’m expecting it to feel somewhat like Fez, Morocco, but who knows! I’ll keep you posted from the Middle Orient (that’s a term, right?)

I’ll also try to post a map for your reference! ;o)

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Saturday, March 19, 2005

The China Daily

Well, I know that this is already perhaps a beleaguered point, but I just wanted to let you all see for yourself what kind of a newspaper the China Daily is by presenting for your approval some articles out of their Friday, 18 March 2005 edition.

The way it works is that they have a whole page dedicated to news from around China, dividing it into 5 regions: Central, North, East, West, and South. Today’s top story from the central region with illustration and everything? “Mother hen cares for ‘adopted’ pups,” and it goes something like this:

“Motherly instincts know no boundaries in the animal kingdom, it seems.
“And a hen clucking away has decided that one mother dog’s neglect for her puppies shouldn’t cause the young dogs to go without motherly care this winter.
“So she ‘adopted’ five pups are her own, while the indifferent dog who gave birth to them stands idly by, the Beijing Morning Post reports.
“The touching story began at a farmer’s house in a suburban area of Changsha in Hunan Province. When the maternally gifted chicken noticed the mama dog leaving her babies unattended in the wintry chill, she decided to take over.
“Leaving her eggs behind on her daily search for food, she leads the little canines outside to take in some sunshine. She clicks and preens their fur with her beak. And, she sometimes warms them under her outspread wings.
“Interestingly, the mother dog remains a disinterested party, calmly watching all the activity from the mother hen as if she has simply found a babysitter, free of charge.”

Other interesting headlines include: “Girl slices hands to avoid piano,” “Dowplaying education helps find true love?” (about a woman with a PhD who had to fake her credentials when filling out a form at a matchmaking agency in order to find potential mates), “Offered: Unlimited adoration and pride” (about an old woman whose children did not want to have a child, so she placed an add in the paper offering her services as a grandmother. She got over 200 replies.), “Rebellious pedestrians get re-educated” (about 10,000 people in Wuhan being forced to watch videos about safe street-crossing practices), and it just continues on like that.

Granted, we can learn a lot about Chinese society from some of these articles. The one about the girl cutting her hands so that she wouldn’t have to play the piano anymore shows how much pressure parents put on their children to study hard in this country. Of course, you don’t want to study too hard if you’re a woman, or men will be too intimidated to approach you as is exemplified by the second article. Or the importance of family, with the grandmother looking for any way to have a grand child ($20 says she opted for a family with a little boy.). Or even the average Chinese’s complete disregard for laws, especially jaywalking laws.

But when that’s mostly all you’ve got as news, it’s a little discouraging. It can be almost as humorous as reading the crime report from the Bainbridge Island newspaper though :o).

To be fair, this IS only one page of the newspaper, but when discussing real news, such as the US House’s issuance of a resolution expressing “grave concern” over China’s new anti-cession policy, the party line is sufficiently towed (is that the right tow?). Maintaining its neutrality on the issue, the headline for the article I just mentioned reads “‘Groundless’ US resolution firmly opposed.”

Yeah, this newspaper is about as fair and balanced as Fox News (or my blog for that matter). :o)

Did I mention they censor their own Premier? Read the New York Times article!

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Monday, March 07, 2005

Surveys and Soapboxes

Well, for a change, I found an interesting article in a Chinese newspaper. It didn't actually just feel like a bunch of fluff, which is honestly what the papers here usually are--at least the ones translated into English.

This one, Sino-US relations in the eyes of Chinese: Survey, I found in the People's Daily (and all this time I was only reading the sorry excuse for a newspaper known as the China Daily!). It's a rather poor (shhh, don't tell anyone I said that :o) ) translation of an article written in Chinese summarizing the results of a recent study on the perceptions of Chinese about the United States and US-Sino Relations.

If I may de-Chinglicize (wOOt, über-useful neologisms! This is soooo what I do every day with my students!) the article a bit and summarize the salient points:

First, the survey basics for those of y’all who care about that scientificy (wOOt wOOt, two neologisms in two paragraphs!) stuff. The survey was conducted on 27 February 2005 in five geographically-diverse major cities across China, including: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan and Chongqing (yeah, I don’t know where Wuhan is either…). It was conducted via a random sample with “follow-up interviews” (although it is unclear what about, as the survey results only give statistics!).

In any case, some of the important numbers: People who “liked Americans” (which includes people who both “somewhat like Americans” and “really like Americans” accounted for a slight majority of people at 66.1%. Note that that’s about 44% of the URBAN population that doesn’t like Americans, and that of those 66.1% who do, it was only 13.2% of all polled who responded that they “really like Americans” sans caveats. Of the 66.1% of respondents who said that they like Americans, about 80% said that it was only somewhat (or as the article puts it “not particularly”)! No wonder I always get looks and am called “laowai” when I’m out on the streets!

As for politics, 49.2% of respondents indicated that they considered the United States to be China’s rival, with 56.7% believing that the US was “containing China.” The action taken by the US government that seemed to most concern these urban Chinese was the sale of arms to Taiwan (37.6% selected it), and in fact, 60.5% of those surveyed thought that the Taiwan question was going to be the main issue to shape Sino-American relations.

But despite not necessarily agreeing with American foreign policy, this seems to have little effect on consumers. American companies will be happy to note that almost half of respondents (49.8%) said they did not discriminate between Chinese and American products in the Chinese market. 25.5% even welcomed American products specifically, though they also noted that they didn’t necessarily meld with their daily life.

The most important part of the survey, as far as I’m concerned was where these urban Chinese said they learned about Americans and American culture. “62.7 percent of Chinese urban residents understood the US through mass media. Another 20.7 percent got their impression of the US mainly through American movies. Only 3.7 percent learned of the US through direct contact with the Americans.”

So in summary: Chinese seem split on how best to consider America and her citizens. Almost half of the respondents treat her more like a rival than anything else. And what’s at the top of the list for why this might be the case? Taiwan.

The thing that most concerns me is that only 3.7% of URBAN Chinese have some sort of direct interaction with Americans, and that a heavy majority of people are relying on TV, newspapers, and American movies to form their judgments about us. In fact, I had a student just the other day tell me that he spent his Winter Break watching Sex in the City, and was wondering if all Americans were like that…yeah, I’m Carrie Bradshaw in the flesh. Granted we are a little bit more open about sex than the somewhat repressed Chinese…

My question is where in TV we’ve been talking so much about Taiwan. It seems to be the one issue that has really shaped how the Chinese view us. The irony, of course, is that the average American probably couldn’t tell you the difference between Taiwan and Thailand. And although I do agree that Taiwan should be independent from the mainland (Chinese government take me now!), it has nothing to do with any of the reasons for which the American government wanted/s it—to think that we supported the dictatorship of Chiang KaiShek and his KuoMingTan because he ruled under the GUISE of democracy (the country was under martial law until 1987 or so)! It wasn’t any more of a democracy in its day than Marcos’ rule in the Philippines, or even Mao’s heavy-handedness on the mainland. To get an introduction to the 2-28 incident and ensuing “white terror,” for example, check out a recent China Post article. CKS didn’t have the mass starvation, which is a point in his corner, but I’ll tell you that when the Japanese during WWII start looking like the good guys, something is most definitely wrong!

Rather, I think it should be its own country because it is in almost every sense of the term already. They have their own currency. They have their own “rogue” consulates that you need to see if you want a visa to get in there. They operate under a different style of government (some would argue). They might share a common language, but there are serious cultural differences that would impede upon working towards a mutual destiny! A big one might be that the Taiwanese don’t hate the Japanese, but also the style and quality of life is better, its development is above par, and its health system is light years ahead of the mainland’s! It would really be a step back for Taiwan to reintegrate with China. And as far as I’m concerned, if we give China Taiwan, we might as well give them Vietnam: that’s about how far removed Taiwan is from China.

But look at me digress (like I ever have wont to do that!). My point is that most Americans could care less about Taiwan, and it’s the main defining feature of urban Chinese’s perception of Americans. Talk about misrepresentation or misunderstanding or miscommunication or something!

I keep on stressing that this poll was conducted of urban Chinese. These are people that I think are going to be the most knowledgeable about things foreign. And even there, so few have based their impressions on actual first-hand contact with other Americans. I can’t help but wonder what peasants in the countryside must think about Americans!

Of course, I’d love to see a survey about Americans’ perceptions of China. I’m sure I’d be just as rattled. After all, our favorite U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld recently called China "a country we hope and pray enters the civilized world in an orderly way."

Don’t get me started!

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Monday, February 14, 2005

Where is the love?!

Well, first let me wish you all a happy Valentine's Day! I hope that you all find your own way to celebrate appropriately. Me, I spent the day downtown with Chesa, Marie-Liesse and Chesa's grandma. We went to see "Meet the Fockers" at a mall in downtown Manila. After the show we ate frosties at Wendy's (God bless America!), and wandered around a bit. We got in the car at the mall at around 7:15PM and slowly worked our way through traffic back home. We got there around 7:50PM.

After chatting for a bit, Chesa's dad (who works in security) called from his office to check if we were okay. He informed us that a bomb had just exploded in downtown Manila and that we should turn on the news. Reports are still a bit sketchy but they said that the bomb went off in a bus parked under an MRT station at Ayala Avenue and EDSA (don't ask me what that stands for). The mall we left from just half an hour prior is about two blocks away. Currently the information is still fairly vague in the international press, but for more information you can check out either:


MSNBC doesn't seem to be so quick on the uptake. I don't know how much y'all know about the situation of the Philippines but here's a quick summary:

A long time ago there were indiginous tribes living here somewhat related to Polynesia. Then came Suluyman ddup through Indonesia to convert everybody to Islam. In the early 1500's the Spanish set foot on the island, tried negotians and burnt down the city of Manila two days later, deciding the patron saint of the Philippines would thenceforthe be St. James Killer of Muslims. The church then controlled the Philippines for centuries until the turn of the 19th century, when at the same time as the Spanish-American War the Philippinos were fighting for independence. The Spanish, realizing they'd lost the Philippines and the Spanish-American War ended the war and gave both Cuba and the Philippines to the US. It is for this that it is often said here that the Philippines spent 400 years in a convent and 50 years in Hollywood. At which point WWII started, MacArthur underestimating the Japanese, quickly lost it to them saying "I shall return," (eat that Schwartzenager), which he did en force, making Manila the second most destroyed city in WWII after Warsaw. There were around 100,000 civilian deaths in Manila alone. Then the US helped them rebuild and dgain independence. Shortly thereafter a dictator surnamed Marcos took control of things. He fell in the end of the 80s I believe, and they've been under the flag of democracy ever since.

What all this means, besides the fact that everybody is confused (I didn't even mention the enormous influence of the Chinese traders), is that there is a huge mixture of cultures here with tenuous relations. The southern island of Mindinao, close to Indonesia, is Muslim while the rest of the country is uber-Catholic. Led by Abu Sayyaf there has been an independence war for a while which has recently flared up.

The group has claimed responsibility for the most recent bombings. I have to admit that half an hour is the closest I've ever come to one, and the only thing that I can ask is, where IS the love? (to quote Black Ey'd Peas whose lead singer is Philippino by the by!)

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Tuesday, January 04, 2005

新年快乐!(Happy New Year!)

As effort number three-hundred and seventy-six to procrastinate grading more papers—but also because I love you all, of course—I thought I would take some time to wish everyone a happy new year. It’s been a rough start for some over on this side of the globe, and I hope that we can keep that fact in the back of our minds as we march blindly into the future. I know it may seem far away, and isn’t that always the problem, but death on such a mass scale cannot, should not, be ignored. May the unfortunate losses here help us all reflect more clearly upon our lives and help guide us throughout this new year.

As many (some?) of you know, I’ll be spending this winter break (I get like almost two months off!) travelling around South-East Asia. Right now the plan is to spend about one week in Vietnam (mainly in the north), one week in Laos (in Vientiane, the capital, and Luang Prabang further north), a little over a week in Thailand (ChiangMai in the north, Bangkok, and perhaps further south if we can help out in some of the effected areas), a few days in Cambodia (mainly to see Angkor Wat, the big temple seen in the movie Tomb Raider if that helps), and several weeks in the Philippines. I’m excited beyond belief. Although I enjoy travelling, I never actually expected to visit many of these countries. But I think it’s more fun that way—less expectations.

As I will be travelling soon to Thailand, it has been on my radar for a while, which is perhaps why the tsunami really seems to have struck me. I hope that we can help when we get there. Right now the main calls for help seem to be with donating blood, answering phones at international call centers, and KEEPING travel plans. Looking at Thailand’s entry in the CIA’s World Factbook, one notes that it is a highly service oriented economy. A full 46% of its GDP is based on services. Tourism is listed as its primary industry. They don’t tend to mention the other main service, but I digress. My point is that most of the tourism websites that I’ve been reading from Thailand say that the biggest way you can help Thailand is to keep travel plans. They need the money or their economy will tank. Seems like a good enough argument to me, but I don’t know that I can bring myself to sun myself on the beaches of Phuket island while relief efforts happen around me. We’ll see.

I was going to have an entry of things I learned in 2004 to really close it out (and maybe I still will if I have enough time before I leave, but I think that a better idea might be to share with you an answer that one of my students wrote on his final exam to the question: What is the best present you ever received? Sometimes my students surprise me with their insight. I hope it gives you warm fuzzies like it did me. Though Christmas is not a traditionally Chinese holiday, they seem to understand the spirit well (even if their idea of a good way to celebrate Christmas means donning pointy, shiny birthday/clown hats, spraying people with silly string, and going out to bars and drinking the night away…). The names have been changed to protect the innocent. I’ve also left the mistakes because that just makes it even cuter.

I have got my best present on last Christmas Day. Had it not been the very night, I would not have got it. Though it was Christmas Day, I could hardly felt happy becaust my girlfriend said goodbye to me just that very night. I was in a desperate state that I wished to die soon. It was Oliver, my best fellow, that stayed with me all that night, and tried his best to comfort me. His words came to me as the spring wind, and made me better. As you know, it was reasonable for anyone to enjoy himself on such a night. Yet he chose to stay with me and shared my sadness without any gift. Though I havn’t get any gift that night, I have just jot the best present in my life—friendship.

PS: Sorry I haven’t been good about updating my photoblog. I’ve been having problems with the program I use to upload my pics. I’ll try to get it resolved soon. Or, well, maybe after I get back from my grand adventure. :o)

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Monday, December 27, 2004


Yesterday at about 15:40 local time I was sitting in my apartment working on a crossword puzzle from a book that I had gotten from Christmas when I noticed that the back of the sofa I was sitting on was tapping lightly the wall behind me. I noticed that the curtains were swinging slightly and realized that, well, yes, the building seemed to be shaking slightly. My first earthquake that I remember clearly. I thought I was probably just imagining it, but I logged the time and thought I'd ask others the next day. Then I got online.

As I normally do, I headed over to MSNBC and found this article More than 11,350 die as tidal waves sweep across Asia and realized that I was certainly not making things up. I couldn't believe it when I saw such a high number! What I had felt was only an aftershock (I was very passed out when the big one struck in the morning), and I was quite far away from the epicenter in the Indian Ocean, so I couldn't even begin to imagine the gravity of the situation. I can only send my condolences to the many many many thousands of families who have lost loved ones during this tragic event. I was planning on visiting some of these areas (mainly Thailand) next month, but I guess we'll see now. Maybe there will be sort of international relief efforts that we can help with. For now, I highly encourage all of you in this time of giving to help by donating funds to the Red Cross or to other organizations who are currently sending aid in that direction!

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Friday, December 17, 2004

The CCP and ME

Well, it’s been a good long while since I’ve posted anything to my blog, so it’s really about time. Although I’ve had a lot of really interesting experiences of the last couple of weeks, the problem is that I’m not sure that I can find a logical string to tie them together nicely with one exception. Thus, I first present you with one topic for discussion, followed by some vignettes of events that have taken place over the last few weeks (which I think will just be some future posts cause this turned out to be long enough already).

I would guess that doing things like this is exactly the kind of thing that that’s getting me in trouble, but recently I’ve started to actually feel the weight of the Chinese government on my head. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve encountered a few problems with the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) that made me realize that I’m maybe not as free as I had thought here, and that I probably have a file somewhere keeping track of me (although this has no basis in fact, it’s pure speculation).

My first major upset was when my new website, www.knezzy.com got censored. I’m not sure how targeted this is, for many of my host’s IPs are banned in China, but it REALLY pissed me off. Also, it’s not like there are a lot of pages that I find are actually censored here, so it felt like they were just picking on me! One of the main reasons that I moved over to the new website was that I was getting annoyed that the government blocked all access to blogspot pages, and I wanted to see my blog. I also wanted to work on my City Insights Project which I will use next semester with my students. This turned into only a minor annoyance, for I just had my hosting provider help me change IP addresses to a number under the block blocked by the Chinese government. So, right now I’m flying under the radar and am hoping to continue to be able to do so!

My other censoring incident happened on my final exam. This one was actually my fault—it was a kind-of-stupid-I-knew-I-shouldn’t-have-done-it-but-was-trying-to-push-the-limits-anyway kind of a thing. For my writing class, one of the writing questions on their final was “Write a paragraph arguing whether or not Taiwan should remain a part of China. Remember to use good logical order, and NOT to include any logical fallacies.” Yes, I had explained to them what logical fallacies were. I was thinking of wording the question as “Write a paragraph arguing why Taiwan should remain a part of China…” but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Heck, I had a hard enough time phrasing it as a “remain part of China,” which is already somewhat of a leading question. I thought I could get away with it with that wording though.

I asked because I was truly interested to know why my students even cared about Taiwan and to see if they could come up with some good reasons. In class I had also used it quickly as an example of a persuasive paragraph that one could write, and inevitably when I asked for one supporting argument for it, the students all said “Well, historically it’s been part of China.” Later in class we started discussing logical fallacies. I presented them with the fallacy of “appeal to tradition” whereby one argues that something should be one way because that’s the way it’s always been. I managed to slip in there that their main argument for why Taiwan should remain part of China was thus a logical fallacy of the aforementioned type. I don’t think made them particularly happy, but no one said anything and I think it got them thinking. In the end, although my final passed inspection by another (Chinese) colleague and the head of the English department, the local Party Secretary said that question was too much of a hot topic right now to be included on my final exam and that I had to change it.

The changing is actually also a funny, typically Chinese, story. Because of their love of bureaucracy (it reminds me so much of France in that way), first I had to submit my final to the department for review. But beyond that, I actually had to submit two versions of my final, a and b. Apparently all teachers must submit two versions of their final exam papers, but it was kind of a shock for me. The way it was presented to me was something like: “Okay, so in the end you have to submit two versions of you exam, a and b. But don’t spend too much time on b because we never use it.” Of course, since they had to change my question, they were just going to fall back on the same writing question from paper b, but that was also about a governmental policy (forcing all students to learn English), so I decided to change it entirely to talking about famous movie stars which I’m sure they’ll like a lot.

I guess the moral of the story is that I need to learn when to sit down and shut up (which doesn’t come easily to me), but I guess that’s just a part of China that will take some getting used to!

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