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.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Developing America

Every once in a while, I see something so outrageous happening in the US that it makes me cringe. Mind you, I've been busy studying for my upcoming exams, so I might be riled and stressed in general, but I stumbled across this article and just couldn't believe my eyes: Challenging Washington's ban on needle-exchange funds.

To summarize: this article explains the history behind a bill that bans federally funded needle exchange program within Washington DC. Because DC is not located in any state, the federal government has control over its budget (even though the elected representative from the district is still not allowed a vote in Congress--unless her most recent attempt to gain one passed, I can't remember. It would be a recent change though). Back in 1988, Congress added a clause that refused funding for needle exchange programs in the city with the caveat that the President could effectively overturn this decision if the Surgeon General proved that needle exchange programs didn't lead to increased drug use. Although there have been many of these studies, Bill Clinton, for whom I have much admiration, never removed this clause. In 1998, the clause was then removed from the appropriations bill. And here I was, ready to launch into a scathing attack on Bush and his support for abstinence-only sex education for USAid-funded projects, and his approach to HIV/AIDS prevention in general. Then I find out it's not his fault (in this very limited instance).

Well, Bill Clinton, you should be ashamed of yourself for not trying harder to reverse this decision while you had the chance. And Bush, don't get complacent, absitenence-only sex education equals worst idea ever!

Consider the situation of DC now: "In Washington, with just over half a million residents, 1 in 20 are HIV positive. Its rate of new AIDS cases is 128.4 per 100,000 people, compared with a national average of 13.7 per 100,000, according to 2005 data, the most recent available from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."

But now, some members of congress have finally recognized the completely inappropriate nature of this outmoded/uneducated provision and are trying to change it. I encourage you to contact your Representative and urge them to support Rep. José Serrano's effort to remove this ban!

You can find out how to contact your representative at http://www.house.gov/writerep/.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Soilent Green?

I have to admit, that when I saw this article, Why is Chinese Mountain Painted Green?, I was baffled by Chinese logic. In Fumin, a county in the Yunnan Province (read, one of my homes away from home) a local leader decided that an old rock quarry on a mountain behind his village was unsightly and messing with his fengshui (this part I understand). His solution was less explicable: he decided to hire workers to paint the old quarry green (please see the pictures of the newly re-decorated mountain for your viewing pleasure/horror below).

When asked in a Chinese news website why he decided to do this, Du said:

Which in English would be: "Originally, I contracted for the stone quarry and earned some money. Then I decided to build a house and settle here, the entrance looking out onto the barren red rock. Later, my life and career were really unlucky. The fengshui master (geomancer?) said that the barrenness of the quarry's red rock was interrupting my fengshui, so I hired some workers to paint the red rock green right away."

Right, obvious answer. Let's forget about the huge environmental impact that covering a mountain in synthetic paint has, and paint it an iridescent color that looks horribly unnatural. That makes things better. In the IHT article, they claim that over 470,000RMB was spent on the painting, though the man in the Chinese article says he only paid about 10,000RMB (about UD$1,250). In either case, for that amount of money, this guy could have made a real postive impact on the environment by working to reclaim the area with plants etc.

No, I'm just not following the logic there. But then, I don't think the Chinese are either, which is why it's in the news there. The international press has taken it up as some kind of a look-how-weird-the-Chinese-are kind of an article, which I can't say I approve of either.

Well, happy Valentine's Day anyway. Anybody want to paint something red to profess their love for me?

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Layin' Down the Law

Alright, I have tons of writing left to do before Friday, and I'm in a mad rush to do so, but I just saw this article and it really made me angry, so I just had to share.

It is entitled Drowning the Tiger Leaping Gorge, and is about plans by the local Chinese governments to build dams high along the Yangtze river in the Yunnan province.

These dams would effectively flood portions of the Tiger Leaping Gorge, a canyon deeper than the Grand Canyon in Arizona in places. The local government there must realize that the tourism industry in that location is enormous, especially with visits to Tiger Leaping Rock, where a tiger was said to have bounded across the river to avoid capture which is already covered during seasonal highs in the water level.

And the kicker is, according to this article, the energy isn't even required for China. They are looking at exporting their excess energy from hydroelectric dams down into other SE Asian countries (which they already do some of), especially a growing electricity market in Thailand.

The Chinese government should be ashamed at itself for its dedication to blind development without consideration of environmental consequences. This pristine land is part of the world's heritage, and to flood it is absolutely reprehensible. I hate that there is basically nothing that anybody can do about it either, except to just get angrier at the Chinese government, which doesn't really solve anything...

My message to China: think about the overall consequences of your actions, for pete's sake. After 20+ years of unconstrained development, isn't it time for some glasnost and reflection on how to develop BETTER?

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Turkmenbashi. Dead?!

I can't believe it. The famed "President for Life" of Turkmenistan just died. I'm strangely crushed, and I can't help wondering who the western media will be able to turn to in order to find crazy dictators. Oh wait, that shouldn't be hard (actually, I was just noting an article about crazy old Ahmadinejad in the IHT today as well).

But really, Turkmenbashi (Saparmurat Miyazov) was in a league of his own, and shall be missed (with the exception of the oppressive dictatory parts). In honor of his passing, I direct you to his Wikipedia biography, and share some important Turkmenbashi facts:

-"He banned video games, gold teeth, opera and ballet, and once encouraged his people to chew on bones — good, he said, for their dental health." (IHT)

-"He forbade independent news media and opposition parties, jailed rivals or drove them to exile, and imposed his name, words and image on all manner of public discourse and life." (IHT)

-"Global Witness, a private organization in London that campaigns against corruption, expressed concern about money held in Deutsche Bank that had been under Niyazov's control. It said that $2 billion to $3 billion were in an account used to accept payments from Turkmenistan's gas customers, but that Niyazov routinely used the account for personal expenses and vanity projects." (IHT)

-"Claiming Turkmenistan to be a nation devoid of a national identity, he attempted to rebuild the country to his own vision. He renamed the town of Krasnovodsk, on the Caspian Sea, Türkmenbaşy after himself, in addition to renaming several schools, airports and even a meteorite after himself and his immediate family. He even named the months, and days of the week after himself and his family; January becoming Turkmenbashi.[4] Niyazov's face appears on Manat banknotes and large portraits of the president hang all over the country, especially on major public buildings and avenues. Statues of himself and his mother are scattered all over Turkmenistan, including one in the middle of the Karakum Desert as well as a gold-plated statue atop Aşgabat's largest building, the Neutrality Arch, that rotates so it will always face into the sun and shine light onto the capital city." (Wikipedia)

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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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Friday, November 03, 2006

Speaking of...

Speaking of Asian politics, Taiwan's first lady indicted on corruption charges.

My Taiwanese friend, YMC, called the Taiwanese governmental corruption scandal to my attention a couple of months ago now. Indeed, I would direct you to his blog for an interesting Taiwanese perspective on the issue.

But the situation seems to have come to a new breaking point with the most recent round of indictments. Taiwan is prone to political protests, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the square outside of the CKS Memorial packed with people in the following weeks calling for Chen Shui-Bian (the current President) to resign.

It’s a scene that we’ve seen several times across SE Asia of late. In the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has faced corruption charges of her own (though they had to do with vote rigging, not fiscal matters), and as such has faced five different coup attempts within the last year. In Thailand, Thaksin, who has facing corruption charges of a fiscal nature, was overthrown by a military coup in September.

But for Taiwan, the stakes are bigger. If their government loses its power of rule, the whole sovereignty of the “nation” is called into question. How would Beijing react to a destabilized Taiwanese government? Would they see it as the opportunity they’ve been waiting for? Beijing would love to see the Nationalist party (which is a strong believer in reunification with the mainland) come back into power in Taiwan, and they might just wait for that eventuality and try to influence things in that direction. Or they might be more overt.

In any case, the ruling DPP seems to have lost whatever credibility they still had in Taiwan, and that is a sad state of affairs.

I watch with baited breath.

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Hakuna Matata?

With the China-Africa Forum on in Beijing at the moment the news is flush with commentary on Sino-African relations, and the subtitle of one of the IHT’s lead articles, China aims to increase its clout in Africa, Unsaid goal: Redraw world's strategic map, says a lot about how it’s being talked about.

Is China trying to become Africa’s next imperial ruler, or are they truly trying to promote universal development (see The allure of the Chinese model)? And what are the ramifications of China’s involvement in Africa? Should the US and Europe be worried that there is a new player in the game?

I’ve written several times before about China’s policy of non-interference in the “internal affairs” of other countries, especially pointing to an excellent article by Howard French back in May entitled Letter from China: A growing power lets a growing crisis fester. That article was a scathing critique of China’s approach to the Sudan, but The perils of Beijing's Africa strategy takes an even broader picture of the ramifications of non-interference.

And if you’re looking for an even larger view, the article that my friend Even pointed me towards, China paves way to Myanmar riches, talks about China’s growing influence in the junta-state of Myanmar (formally Burma, which borders the Yunnan province where I was for the last two years). Essentially the Chinese are trying to open up routes through Myanmar to get to Africa.

As for my opinion: is China trying to spread its influence outside of the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) countries? Absolutely. Is it doing it in an irresponsible way? Possibly. I’m not an expert on African studies (Aaliyah, I’d be curious about your analysis), but supporting corrupt governments with atrocious human-rights records for personal gain hardly seems the responsible thing to do.

On the other hand, if the US wasn’t so obsessed with promoting its ideologies throughout the world, we might not be in such the quagmire we face today.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Asian Times

Two big news stories are coming out of Asia today: the coup in Thailand, and Shinzo Abe being selected to lead the Japanese Liberal Democrat Party (effectively making him the next prime minister). Both of these events worry me. On the other hand, yesterday China agreed to send 1,000 troops to Lebanon, and this should be recognized as the landmark event that it is.

I have been following Thai politics for the last year and a half not only because I went there but also because they are really quite fascinating. I’ve ranted on several occasions before about Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand’s former prime minister. He won the election a year and a half ago in a landslide—mostly because he coerced farmers in the countryside to vote for him either by closely monitoring their votes, or by offering free cell phones (he became rich and famous in Thailand for owning one of the biggest telecommunication firms). I just chalked that up to Thai politics, and was at least mildly satisfied with the knowledge that he had fairly progressive rural reforms that were helping the poorer farmers properly establish themselves and earn better livings.

Then, several months ago, things started to go horribly wrong. Thaksin was exposed as the corrupt official that he is, having sold his telecommunications empire to the Singaporean government for US$1.9 billion tax free after having conveniently changed a few laws around so that he could avoid the taxes. $1.9 billion is a lot of money in any country, but in Thailand, where a meal could cost as little as 50 cents, it’s an extremely large sum. And so, protests blocked the streets of Bangkok.

Long story short, the protestors forced Thaksin to dissolve the parliament and have new elections, but they boycotted those, so the results from that election (which Thaksin won, again in a landslide) were annulled. Thaksin stepped down as prime minister (likely because the King, who was having his golden jubilee, asked him to) and said he would be a “caretaker prime minister” until new elections were held this November.

Given the fragility of the Thai democracy, this coup worries me a great deal. Will they be able to re-establish democracy like they say they will? Will they pull a Bush, and declare war on the Muslim terrorists in the south of Thailand and say they can’t leave? Will the Philippines follow the Thai lead and create a successful coup attempt (there have been four or five in the last year) to overthrow Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, further destabilizing the region? Or is this the only way to get a new Thai government without Thaksin? Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, China’s reaction: it is internal Thai politics, and we will not interfere. Give me a break.

On the Japanese front, the effective selection of Abe as the next prime minister is also of great concern. He is more nationalistic than even his predecessor, having come into my field of vision on July 4th, when the North Koreans test-launched their missiles (failure or not). At that time, Abe suggested that a pre-emptive strike on North Korea would be in Japan’s best interest. Born after WWII, I’m afraid he missed the impact that had on generations. He supports the annual visits to the Yasukuni shrine (which holds the remains of several Japanese military officials who were later charged with war crimes during WWII), and textbooks that downplay the Japanese-caused atrocities of WWII, both of which are certain to rifle Chinese feathers.

One of my friends in China sent me an email just the other day saying that it was the 60th (or something like that) anniversary of the Japanese invasion of Manchuria (certainly not something the Chinese would be celebrating). In commemoration, air-raid sirens rang through the air, followed by the Chinese national anthem broadcast over loudspeakers. One of her co-workers shouted out: “fight the Japanese.”

An even more hawkish Japanese prime minister is only going to further a great divide in Asia that would inevitably cause the US to take sides. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the United States (and maybe Australia) against China, North Korea, and maybe Vietnam. I’m afraid it’s not a pretty picture that doesn’t require much imagination to come up with.

And on a final note, I would like to call attention to the fact that just yesterday, the Chinese announced that they would be sending 1,000 troops to Lebanon. This is big! China loves to take the position of not interfering in the “internal politics of other nations,” for it would be hypocritical not to. They claim that the “Taiwanese issue” is a matter of their internal affairs, and should not be interfered in by other countries (read, the US). This means that they support the Sudanese government by buying oil ignoring the fact that the Sudanese government is committing genocide because it is the “internal affairs” of Sudan.

Indeed, when the tsunami struck almost two years ago, Thailand looked to its big brother, China, for support. Where Japan, Australia, the US, and the EU sent millions of dollars of aid, China sent a pittance and eight specialists. And at some level this is understandable; China has enough internal problems that it should be focused on before trying to help others.

But my argument always has been that if China wants to become a dominant player in the world, it has to start acting like a leader. That means helping other countries out when they are in difficult situations, and not covering up when their government screws up (like they did with the most recent typhoon, Saomei was the name I believe).

Well, now they have, committing a significant number of troops to the Lebanese peace-keeping mission, something the US can’t even claim to have done (because we’re busy maintaining “peace” in Afghanistan and Iraq of course). My kudos to the Chinese government for doing something morally correct for a change. At the same time, this could be a first step in a shifting world dynamic which has a jingoistic China on the ascendant.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Iraq Syndrome

Every once in a while, I will read an article that just so resonates with me that I can't help but want to share it with everyone I know. Today, it's The Iraq Syndrome will haunt America by Stephen Biddle and Ray Takeyh. I think it's an astute analysis of the problems America is facing today. Go read it!


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Another Bombing

On occasion, humanity makes me want to hurl.

This is usually when there are large acts of random violence such as happened just today in Mumbai. Seven explosions happened on Mumbai's commuter train network during rush hour, likely in the first-class cabins. Having been there just months ago, and experienced rush hour, I can guarantee that there will be many dead or certainly injured depending on the strength of the bombs.

My first impression of Mumbai was the trains. I remember clearly coming in through the slums, rickety shacks lining the narrow open spaces by the tracks. Several boys were out with plastic bats playing at cricket, immune to their surroundings. When we arrived at the station, Chesa and I made our way through the swarms of people onto the first-class cabin of one of the commuter trains and went into Churchgate, the station from which these trains departed. It was getting toward six when we arrived but we were coming into town, so there was not the crush of people that we had feared. Luggage in hand we started walking to find a place to stay in the center of town. For blocks we continued slowly making our way against the current, the flood of people heading to the station to get out of town. There were so many people I remember thinking to myself, 'This seems like some sort of mass exodus. Did something happen downtown that we don't know about? Should we be fleeing for our lives?' It was just that many people!

And so, I can imagine what it must have been like on those trains, the sheer numbers of people that had to have been involved. Most recent tally: 190 dead, over 500 injured. My heart weeps.

Also, and I've said this before, the thing that is getting to me is that these terrorists seem to be following me. Or maybe it's just that I'm well traveled. But New York, Madrid, London, Manila (the one I came closest to), Varanasi (should have been there), and now Mumbai. Earthquakes used to follow me. Now it appears to be terrorists. For shame!


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The World Cup of Football: The Invisible Killer

Right now the whole world is viberating with the hot World Cup of Football. Although the every-four-year competitions between excellent teams are exciting and valuable, it's actually an invisible killer threating people's lifes because it resets people's time skedules unscientifically, traggers bloody conflicts, and moreover, it causes dangerous diseases.

The tournament's skedule disrupts people's oridinary work and rest, especially for foreign countries. People have to stay up late at night to watch the match, but they won't have energy to keeping awake in working and studying.

Second, the matches may lead to the increasing violent conflicts between fans. Many fans can't control their emotion when their team fails, they often rely on violence such as beating other fans or wifes.

Third, the exciting matches greatly deteroate people's heath condition. The old people and who have heart attack may easily affected by it. The newspaper says there have been 6 Chinese died suddenly due to the World Cup.

It is clear to conclude that the World Cup is a killer can be easily overlooked, it has affected our life skedule, caused violence, and even killed people. All of us should watch it with a clear mind rather than go crazy to lose in it.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Population Rant

Well, the semester is coming to an end, which means only one thing: GRADING. And that is one thing that I cannot stand for! In that vein, I thought I'd procrastinate by posting to my blog. Today's topic, the world's population problems.

I just read an interesting article in the IHT (where else?) by Philip Bowring entitled "Who will replace us?."

Writing from Tokyo, Bowring explores an interesting problem "plaguing" developed nations, that of decreasing populations. He quite accurately notes that Japan has the oldest population in the world. In fact, several months ago I read an interesting article (again in the IHT, though originally from the NY Times) about one of the first Japanese villages to disappear. The elders of the village got together and sold their land to be used as a waste disposal site (if I remember correctly, which, since I can't read it again due to the NY Times' archiving policy, is going to have to suffice). What sons and daughters these people had had deserted the village for better prospects in neighboring cities. And so it begins.

According to the CIA world factbook, the net growth rate of Japan is 0.05%, with a fertility rate of 1.25 according to Bowring's article. Let's put that in perspective.

In Japan, according to their most recent census (I'm guessing probably in 2000, so the data is a touch old at this point), a baby was born on average every 26 seconds. This is comparable to the birthrate of Iran at 28 seconds per birth. In the US (also in 2000) a baby was born every 8 seconds. In China, every 2 seconds. In India, a new child was born every second!

Of course, this isn't the whole picture. One must consider the rates of death (every 28 seconds in Japan, every 13 in the US, every three seconds in China, every four in India) and the net immigrant rates (basically even in Japan, whereas the US gained an immigrant every 32 seconds, the fastest rate in the world!). This also doesn't necessarily paint a fair picture, because it doesn't take into consideration the size of the original population, so it's hard to compare across countries.

Having said that, the US gained a person every 12 seconds in 2000. In China, they netted a person every 4 seconds. It's every two in India. In Japan, however, it's easier to talk about net gain in minutes. It took just under 8 minutes (476 seconds) to gain a person in 2000, which ain't bad considering South Africa lost a person every four minutes or so. Of course, this rate in Japan has continued to decrease since then.

As Bowring notes, this is a "problem" seen around the world in developed countries. In Europe, Portugal and Italy have fertility rates almost on par with those in Japan. Singapore has an even lower rate, which has caused the government to intervene; beyond heavy advertising and continuing to consider homosexual acts as illegal, the Singaporean government goes as far as to sponsor official matchmaking soirees!

If we look at the decreasing fertility rates in the developed world at a national level, problems are obvious. Bowring mentions the effect of such a problem on the welfare state. In the US, for example, aging baby boomers are getting ready to start collecting their Social Security payments. Of course, the problem is in the system. Instead of using money saved from when these people actually started paying into the system, money paid in today is paid out today. It's a system that works great when there are more younger people entering the workforce than older people leaving it. But, with a top-heavy (old-heavy?) society, there is no monetary base to support such a system.

In many Eastern countries where welfare is not as prevalent, it still poses problems. There is a heavy strain on middle-aged Chinese today who must take care of their aging parents by themselves. Work cannot be passed on to other siblings, as there aren't any others thanks to decades under the One-Child Policy.

And in terms of nationalistic pride, imagining a world where one's country no longer exists because people failed to make enough babies to keep it going is less than comforting.

However, I think it's important to look at this so-called population "problem" on a larger, more global scale. In the last century, the world's population has increased exponentially. The fact of the matter is that the world, and indeed every ecosystem, can only support a certain number of beings. If I remember UN statistics correctly (which is questionable), it is estimated that the world's population will peak somewhere between 8.5-13 billion people. If we're on the higher end of that estimate, we're looking at roughly twice the population of the world today!

Though statistically I believe it is hard to prove global warming at this point (30 years of data out of 4.55 billion years of existence is hardly enough to declare a trend!), it doesn't absolve humans from being considerate shepherds of Mother Earth. The fact of the matter is, though Earth can certainly handle more people, it would be irresponsible to allow its overpopulation, not only on an environmental level but also with consideration to humanity itself. Living in China has helped me to appreciate what it's like to live in cramped quarters (remember, China is roughly equivalent in size to the US but has over 4 times the population!), and likewise, to appreciate those remote areas where there is nobody else within 15 meters of you. I would hate to see all refuges gone.

Now, to be clear, I'm not advocating for population controls such as China's One-Child Policy. Rather, I'd encourage people to, instead of considering a decreasing population a problem, look at the larger picture and consider it as a goal to strive for (I'm looking at you, India). The world should be congratulating countries like Singapore and Japan which are helping to reduce future problems related to pollution and consumption simply by doing their part to help decrease future populations!


Thursday, May 18, 2006

Boring ol' International Economics

Ok, well you'd think that I just spend all my time reading the International Herald Tribune or something, but actually it's only like half my time...the other half I spend in video arcades playing taiko drum games. Seriously though.

Nevertheless, I'd like to share an interesting article with y'all, Globilization a la carte, which is an interesting analysis of (mostly) France's new global economic perspective. The article also talks about the US and China, so I could hardly resist considering my three most familiar countries are all included in one article. Honestly though, if you could care less about economics or globalization, this article probably isn't for you.

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Perspective on China

I highly recommend that people read the following NYT/IHT article by Howard French about China's involvement in Sudan. It's a scathing, but beautifully written critique of the current situation.

Letter from China: A Growing Power lets a growing crisis fester

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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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