Monday, September 29, 2008

The Journey West

Andy, my friend from college, has been in Xi'an the past couple days. He arranged a trip to Xi'an around the October 1st national holiday.

We've been bumming around Xi'an a bunch the past couple days. Not doing too much besides eating awesome food and taking in Xi'an's street life (both worthwhile endeavors in themselves).

Tomorrow night Andy and I are going to embark upon a seven day journey to Gansu Province.

We're catching a train from Xi'an to Lanzhou tomorrow. Then we'll take a bus from Lanzhou to Xiahe.

From what I've heard about Xiahe and its Labrang Monastery, it sounds like a pretty cool place. From Wikipedia:

Labrang Monastery (Tibetan: བླ་བྲང་བཀྲ་ཤིས་འཁྱིལ་ Wylie: bla-brang bkra-shis-'khyil; Chinese: 拉卜楞寺 Pinyin: lābǔlèng sì) is one of the six great monasteries of the Geluk (Yellow Hat) school of Tibetan Buddhism, of which the Dalai Lama is a member. Labrang is located in Xiahe County in Gansu province, and also in the traditional Tibetan province of Amdo. Labrang Monastery is home to the largest number of monks outside of Tibet Autonomous Region. Xiahe is located about 4 hours from the city of Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu.

Labrang Monastery is located in the town of Xiahe, which belongs to the Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. The town is reflection of the different minorities that can be found in China, such as Tibetans (about 70% of the population), Hui Chinese (20%) and Han Chinese (10%).

Although the region is mostly rural and pastoral (including yak and other animal rearing), tourism is growing rapidly mainly due to the monastery.

The monastery was founded in 1709 by the first Jamyang Zhaypa, Ngawang Tsondru. It is Tibetan Buddhism's most important monastery town outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region.

Read On

I'll surely have some awesome pictures and stories in the coming weeks. I'll try to post as much as possible over the coming days.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Tainted Instant Coffee and Milk Tea

The rest of the world, rightly, doesn't want anything to do with Chinese drinks.

From Bloomberg:

Sept. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Seven instant coffee and milk tea products made in China are being recalled in the U.S. because of possible contamination with melamine, as health fears increased worldwide over the safety of Chinese dairy exports.

The Mr. Brown brand mixes are being recalled by King Car Food Industrial Co., based in Taiwan, and were made by China's Shandong Duqing Inc., the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said today in a statement. The agency said consumers shouldn't use the products.

The recall is the first announced by the FDA since milk tainted with melamine, an industrial chemical, was tied in China to the deaths of at least four babies and the illnesses of an estimated 53,000 children. The 27-nation European Union yesterday banned all imports of dairy-based Chinese food products for children and infants. India also has placed a three-month ban on diary products from China.

"The FDA is still in the process of determining how widespread the distribution is of Mr. Brown products in the United States,'' said Stephanie Kwisnek, an FDA spokeswoman, in an e-mail.

Read On

I'm trying my best not to drink any Chinese dairy products.

Thankfully, I don't drink instant coffee any more. I only drink the real thing. I do drink milk tea from the store sometimes, but that is Lipton brand. I won't be touching any of the Chinese brands of that kind of stuff any time soon.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Pass the Popcorn

I've had far too much fun today following John McCain's epic meltdown.

What's up with McCain's left eye?

Wow. "Suspending" his campaign. Calling for the debates to be postponed. Going back to Washington to save the day. Just wow.

Here are a couple gems from the day:

Sarah Palin not being able to take the grilling from heavyweight Katie Couric

John McCain getting pwned by Dave Letterman

I've always wondered about McCain's psyche. The guy isn't too sharp to begin with. Couple that with his "five years in a Hanoi Hilton" and it looks like you get one hell of an entertaining presidential candidate!

This election is quickly falling away from McCain/Palin. They're running out of money, they're running out of options on the electoral map, they haven't prepared for the upcoming debates, and they have blood on their hands from the current financial crisis.

As congressman Barney Frank said yesterday of McCain's brazen move:
"I think it's the longest Hail Mary in the history of football or Marys."
After their moves yesterday, John McCain and his handlers are either political geniuses or are in fact conceding this race to Obama. History will ultimately be the judge, but to me this looks like the beginning of the end for Jonah McPalin.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Into Outer Space

China's putting men in outer space tomorrow.

From Reuters:

JIUQUAN, China (Reuters) - China will send its third manned mission into space on Thursday evening on a mission which will include its first space walk, the government said on Wednesday.

The Shenzhou VII will lift off from the Jiuquan space center in a remote desert area of the northwestern province of Gansu between 9:07 p.m. (9:07 a.m. EDT) and 10:27 p.m. (10:27 a.m. EDT), mission spokesman Wang Zhaoyao told a news conference.

Fuelling of the rocket has already begun, meaning the launch is "irreversible," the official Xinhua news agency said.

In October 2003, China became the third country to put a man in space with its own rocket, after the former Soviet Union and the United States. It sent two more astronauts on a five-day flight on its Shenzhou VI craft in October 2005.

Read On
It surprised me that only two other countries had put men in space before. I guess I take for granted the fact that I grew up in a incredibly developed and pioneering country.

As an American, it seems a bit strange to me that China has the plan of one day, in the coming years, putting a man on the moon. It seems that the propaganda and pride that such an event would surely inspire would have to be tempered by the fact that America already did this forty years ago. But I suppose one also has to consider that when America put men on the moon in 1969, China was an absolute disaster.

I'm still seeing daily montages of Olympic highlights on TVs on buses and in public places. I can only imagine what China would be like during a lunar mission.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Chinese Characters That Look Like People

Over the last several weeks of studying, I've noticed more and more Chinese characters that resemble human beings. Maybe my mind is just going a bit nuts learning all of these insane characters, but I do think there is something to this.

Here are some examples of what I'm talking about:

- shang3 - This is the best example of what I'm talking about and the reason I decided to make this post. You can see the hair on top, the head under the hair, and then arms and legs on the bottom. I learned this character as the second character in the word "to appreciate."

- yuan2 - This character means "person" when added to words. The head, arms, and legs are all there on this one.

- tang2 - This character seems to mean "place" based on the words I know it from. Again, hair, head, arms, and legs.

- chang2 - This character means "often."

- jue2 - There's no head on this one. Ironically, the Chinese meaning is "to think."

- fu4 - I know this character as part of "to bully." The head on this one is a bit screwed up, but the arms and legs are there.

- gui4 - This character means "expensive." This one is a stretch, but I can see a person in there somewhere.

- ren2 - This is the character for "person." It makes sense that it would visually represent a person. This is fairly abstract, but you can see the two legs.

- nv3 - The character for "woman." No head and rather curvacious. Hmmmm.

- nan2 - The character for "man."

My knowledge of Chinese is still quite superficial. The assumptions and connections I've just made on here with these characters may very well be wrong or off-the-mark. I'm just just calling out some characters as I see them.

If anyone reading this has any insight into the above characters, I'd love to hear some knowledge from someone who actually knows what they're talking about.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

That Milk Scandal

I've been seeing a lot of this in the news and hearing a little bit about it from other Chinese people. Seems to be quite serious.

From AFP:

BEIJING (AFP) — China's cabinet ordered an all-out effort Saturday to save babies poisoned by contaminated milk powder which has claimed the lives of four infants and sickened thousands more.

The State Council said sick babies should be given free medical treatment, ordered more checks on the dairy industry and vowed to punish those responsible for the scandal, the state Xinhua news agency said, quoting a statement.

The government has already announced the arrest of 18 people for their roles in the contamination of milk with the industrial chemical melamine.

Four babies have died and more than 6,000 are ill after drinking tainted infant formula, and the government said this week that regular milk, yoghurt and ice cream were also affected.

Read On

Not that I'm a huge milk and yoghurt drinker anyways, but I'm certainly watching what I eat and drink these days.

Honestly, I've always been grossed out by China's milk. Some of my western friends in China drink this "milk" that comes in little plastic bag-like containers that just sit outside little store fronts in the hot summer sun or whatever season it is. Considering that I've never been that big of a fan of America's "normal" refrigerated milk, there's no way I was ever going to try this unrefrigerated preservative filled junk.

Thankfully Xi'an is a big enough city that I can buy Wisconsin's very own Land of Lakes sharp cheddar or mozzarella imported whenever I want. Jackie's learned how to make a pretty wicked pizza with this cheese too. Something I'm very happy about.

Friday, September 19, 2008

China's Stocks Soar

China's markets are behaving just as erratically as the US'.

From Forbes:

SHANGHAI, China - China's key stock index surged 9.5 percent Friday - its biggest one-day percentage gain ever - as investors took heart from government moves to support the markets, although most of the buying was over before noon.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index gained 179.25 points to 2,075.09 and stayed at that level all afternoon after many shares quickly hit the 10 percent upside daily limit.

The heaviest weighted share in the index, oil and gas producer PetroChina, jumped 8.6 to 11.04 yuan. Refiner Sinopec likewise gained 10 percent to 9.96 yuan.

"I knew it would rise, but didn't expect it to jump so high," said Zhao Yueming, a dealer at Cinda Securities, in Shanghai. "China's stock market is always crazy beyond people's expectations."

Read On
Although markets have rebounded in the last couple days, I can't imagine that this is anything but a small respite or calm before more storm.

Of course, maybe I've just been reading this blog too much and don't understand the economy as well as John McCain does.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Xi'an Funeral Music

This is surely going to give me bad karma, but I taped a funeral's music ceremony going on outside my apartment several weeks ago.

The music is, well, ah, interesting. Some traditional Shaanxi-style opera for you.

Crank your computer's volume up while you listen for the full effect:

This music went on for a good three to four hours.

The proper funeral procession was the next day. I knew because I heard old women weeping as they walked beneath my apartment.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Chavez and China

America's favorite whipping boy and China will meet next week.

From Reuters:

BEIJING, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will visit China next week, sealing agreements that may include expanded energy cooperation and prompt wariness from the United States.

Chavez's state visit from Sept. 23-24 will include meetings with President Hu Jintao and agreements for cooperation in sports, judicial affairs and other areas, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a news conference on Tuesday.

Asked whether his visit would also bring the energy-hungry Asian power expanded access to Venezuela's plentiful oil, Jiang was circumspect but did not rule out deals.

"Energy cooperation is a constitutive part of mutually beneficial cooperation between China and Venezuela," she said, adding that Venezuela supplied only 4 percent of China's oil imports.

"As to whether both sides will sign other agreements, they are continuing consultations."

Chavez has repeatedly said he wants to sell more oil to China and Jiang said Chavez had been eager to visit "as early as possible."

Read On

While America gets high and mighty with a lot of the world, China builds relationships with them. China has recently expanded ties with a score of, what one could call, "shady" nations: Iran, Zimbabwe, Russia, North Korea, and Sudan.

China's economy is expanding and it's obvious they need oil and other resources, but it's abundantly clear that China puts pragmatism before idealism when it comes to international relations.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Obama and McCain on China

There's not a whole lot of meat in this article, but it's a basic rundown of America's presidential candidates' attitudes towards China.

From Reuters:

BEIJING (Reuters) - Presidential contenders John McCain and Barack Obama both vowed to press China on trade and to work with it on climate change if elected, and Obama said he would make shifting Beijing's currency policies a priority.

Democratic candidate Obama and Republican candidate McCain laid out their views on Beijing's rising diplomatic and economic power in position papers published by the American Chamber of Commerce in China on Monday (

Both senators want China to grant citizens wider rights, but stressed security, economic and environmental issues that make ties between Washington and Beijing globally important and often contentious.

Read On
I find the US/China relations on a national/presidential level quite amusing. There is certainly a lot of rhetoric and hand-wringing between the two countries. It remains to be seen just how much each country really listens to the other though.

Although not terribly pressing in terms of China relations, I can only hope that there will be a new tone coming out of Washington come January (cough Obama cough cough).

I'm on pins and needles these days with McCain surging ahead in the polls. Friends of mine in Xi'an from other countries, mostly England, have been asking me how it is possible that America would even consider voting in another Republican after the Bush fiasco. I honestly don't have a good answer for them except that we, as a nation, are idiots destined for a fall.

Being a very concerned American, I can only hope that Obama wins this thing on November 4th. I've registered to vote (in Kansas, unfortunately) and hope that everything goes smoothly with my absentee ballot. I want to have no blood on my hands if we elect McCain/Palin.

If America is in fact foolish enough to vote in McCain, a guy tied to the hip to Karl Rove and President Bush and their failed policies, then we fully deserve the harsh realities that will surely result from that misguided decision.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

China Succumbing to Real Estate Downturn

China appears to be caught in the line of falling real estate markets.

From The New York Times:

GUANGZHOU, China — China has joined the United States, Britain, Spain and others on the list of nations suffering a real estate decline.

Although the last national statistics showed single-digit growth from July 2007 to July 2008 in the average price of commercial and residential real estate, real estate brokers say prices are down from peaks reached earlier this year, while the number of transactions has plunged.

This downturn comes as the growth rate of Chinese exports has slowed — sharply in yuan terms — and stock markets have plummeted. The confluence of events has resulted in what economists describe as a deceleration in China’s economic growth — although at nearly 10 percent it remains the envy of many nations.

Brokers say that sales volumes first dropped precipitously here in southeastern China, and then the decline spread across the country. Faced with few buyers, sellers started cutting their prices for residential and commercial real estate.

In some neighborhoods in the southeast, prices have dropped by 10 to 40 percent.

Read On
Although things appear to be cooling off in China's housing (well, apartment is more appropriate) market, the article goes on to say that it isn't going to completely destroy China's economy like America's housing woes have done to America's economy.
But unlike the subprime meltdown in the United States, and the resulting credit crisis, weaknesses in China’s real estate market do not at this point appear to pose a threat to the vitality or stability of the financial system.

One reason is that Chinese banks require down payments of at least 30 percent, giving banks an ample cushion of cash against losses. American banks frequently did not require down payments. Foreclosures are also rare here, and many Chinese still pay cash for their homes, particularly in rural areas.
What a crazy idea the Chinese people employ: they don't live beyond their means and don't/can't buy things they can't afford.

Anyone who's been to China in the past couple years can see that China is fully embracing America's consumptionist culture. I'm sure that this trend is helping China's booming economy. Yet China probably shouldn't mimic America too closely.

The Chinese most certainly shouldn't take economic advice from our failed president George W. Bush.

Here is an article from 2006 where he encouraged the Chinese to "stop hoarding their money:"
US President George W. Bush said today that he hoped China would transform from a country where people "hoard the money they have" into one where people buy large amounts of US products.

In an interview with conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, Mr Bush said China should become "a society in which there's consumers. Because now they're a society of too many savers".

"And the reason why they're saving so much money is because there's not a pension plan or a legitimate health care system. And so, therefore, people hoard the money they have in anticipating a bad day," said the president.

"If we can encourage China to become a country of consumers, you can imagine what it would mean for US producers and manufacturers to have access to that market," he said.

Read On
It's funny to hear Bush chide China's social services. He sure has done a fantastic job of making sure nobody "gets left behind" in America.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Some of the More Compicated Characters/Words I've Learned

The following are some of the more pain in the arse Chinese characters for me to master:

The Chinese character(s) - the pinyin pronunciation and tone - the English meaning

警察 - jing3cha2 - police or police officer

- ying2 - to win

锻炼 - duan4lian4 - to exercise

魅力 - mei4li - charm

糟糕 - zao1gao1 - awful

整理 - zheng3li3 - to order/arrange

- zui3 - mouth

擅长 - shan4chang2 - to be good/skilled at x

Depending on what day you ask me, I should theoretically be able to write all of these off the top of my head. They're all currently in my SuperMemo regime.

Yes, I am insane.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Diverse, But Not Really

This is a quick and easy run-down of China's "multiculturalism".

From The Vancouver Sun:

Clad in brightly-coloured costumes, 56 children paraded through the Bird's Nest at last month's Olympic Opening ceremonies.

Each child represented one of China's 56 ethnic groups. All smiles, they carried the Chinese flag to a group of soldiers who hoisted it up the mast.

The symbolism was evident to anyone watching -- the state protecting the culture of each child.

When the ceremonies were over, the hoax was revealed. The children were part of an acting troupe and all were Han Chinese, the group makes up about 92 per cent of the population.

Yes, the children represented a scandal that caught headlines. But the symbolism may be the bigger deception.

Read On
One of the things I like about living in Xi'an is the "culture." To my foreign eyes, walking down a random street in Xi'an can be quite the experience.

From the old Muslim men in white kufi skull hats to the Buddhist monks that I occasionally see on my walks to work while passing the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, there is a lot of diversity within Xi'an (or at least there appears to be on the surface).

But at other times I'm forced to remember that I'm smack dab in the middle of a country where, forty years ago, the Chairman of the country tried to completely wipe out China's ancient culture and history. Unfortunately, the cultural revolution was wildly successful and it seems to me that China still feels its after affects to this day.

Indeed, China can be a very contradictory place. Maybe the word fascinating is better though. I find this dichotomy incredibly interesting.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Sour Gummy Worms

As many of my friends from back home know, I'm a huge fan of Trolli's sour gummy worms. These gummy worms along with nacho cheese, flavor blasted sunflower seeds, and a few other kinds of junk food are some of the things I miss most about America.

Seeing that not even every American supermarket or gas station has these sour gummy worms, I never thought I'd see them in central China.

Well, a small convenient store near my house just started stocking these sour gummy worms for 5 mao a very small package. Trolli brand at that. So soft, sour, and nice.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Heroin Addicted Elephant Cured

This is a wonderful story of recovery and redemption.

From AFP:

BEIJING (AFP) — An elephant has kicked his heroin habit after a three-year stint on an island rehab in southern China, an official and state media said Thursday.

The four-year-old Asian elephant, called Xiguang, has now being transported to a wildlife reserve in southwest China after being cured of his addiction with some clean living on Hainan island, Xinhua said.

Xiguang became hooked on the narcotic after animal smugglers captured him and other elephants by luring them with bananas laced with heroin in 2005, the official news agency said.

"The four elephants are arriving here from Hainan tomorrow," wildlife park official Mr Xu, who refused to give his full name, told AFP on Thursday.

Police caught the smugglers in May 2005 on the border between China and Myanmar, and noticed that Xiguang was acting strangely, the Beijing News website reported.

His eyes kept streaming, he made continuous trumpeting noises, and was finally diagnosed with withdrawal symptoms from the drug, the report said.

Read On

Heroin laced bananas... interesting. I remember hearing rumors that Sichuan-style hot pot back in the day was laced with opium (although some Google searches to confirm this is not showing evidence of this). If one could get away with such a practice, seems like it'd be good for business.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Deadly Mine Explosion, (Yawn)

I see so many of these reports on a daily basis in the news that I'm not even sure that it is really worth noting. But hey, twenty-seven people are twenty-seven people.

From AFP:

BEIJING (AFP) — Twenty-seven people were killed and six injured Thursday in a coal mine explosion in northeast China, state media said, the latest disaster to hit the nation's notoriously dangerous mining industry.

The gas blast occurred at a mine in the city of Fuxin in Liaoning province, one of China's main coal-producing areas, an official surnamed Li at the Fuxin local work safety bureau told AFP.

The official Xinhua news agency said 27 people had been confirmed killed as rescuers found the bodies of the last three missing miners, and six others were injured.

The explosion took place on Thursday morning when 41 miners were working in the mine, Xinhua said.

Read On

The article goes on to say:
Nearly 3,800 people died in Chinese coal mines last year, according to official figures, although independent monitors say the real figure is likely to be higher as many accidents are covered up.
So if you take 2007's 3,800 coal mining deaths divided by 365, you get an average of 10.41 deaths a day.

I suppose today's explosion which killed 27 isn't really that significant or out of the ordinary.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Doping at the Paralympics

I must not have a very good understanding of what the Special Olympics Paralympics are all about.

From China's Xinhua News Agency:

BEIJING, Sept. 3 (Xinhua) -- China's drug watchdog planned to keep close watch on the production and sale of performance-enhancing drugs during the upcoming Beijing Paralympics, as was the case during the recent Olympic Games.

State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) inspectors were conducting checks on pharmaceutical companies and retailers in the Chinese capital and Qingdao, a Paralympic co-host city in the eastern Shandong Province, SFDA spokeswoman Yan Jiangying said here on Wednesday.

The inspections between Tuesday and Thursday aimed to ensure no violation of the country's anti-doping regulation before and during the Paralympics, scheduled for Sept. 6 to 17, Yan told a press conference.

The rule, which took effect in March 2004, set stringent requirements for the supervision and management of performance-enhancing drug producers, including market entry, export approval and warning labels for athletes.

Read On

This news surprised me.

It really shouldn't have I suppose. It is clear that any athletes at any level will abuse performance enhancing drugs. Even at the Paralympics!

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Quakes Keep Coming

China's tectonic plates still aren't finished rumbling.

From AFP:

BEIJING (AFP) — China deployed more than 8,000 soldiers and military reservists to help search and rescue efforts in the southwest Monday after a 6.2-magnitude earthquake that left 40 people dead, state press said.

The weekend quake, in a mountainous region spanning the Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, destroyed or damaged more than 392,000 homes and injured nearly 675 people, according to the Xinhua news agency.

Xinhua was quoting figures announced by the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

The China News Services said earlier Monday the military were rushed to the scene to beef up search and rescue efforts as more people were being located and pulled out from the rubble.

Some 2,000 troops, police and firefighters already in the area have rescued more than 130 injured victims from collapsed buildings since the quake struck on Saturday afternoon, it added.

Read On
Sichuan cannot catch a break this summer. So sad.

Jackie told me an interesting story the other day regarding the Sichuan earthquake in May and this summer's Olympic Games. A parent of one of her students told her that China's Olympic medal count had an unbelievable connection to the Sichuan earthquakes.

China won 51 gold medals, 21 silver medals, and 28 bronze medals. Now if you put those numbers together, you get 512128. Now if you manipulate that a bit, you get 5/12, 1:28. The parent told Jackie that this is the exact moment that the Sichuan earthquake hit this past May - May 12th at 1:28PM.

I was pretty shocked by this. What a truly incredible coincidence?!

I then told a friend of mine here in Xi'an this story. He responded, "No f'ing way!" We were at a computer and then Googled these numbers to check its validity.

The Olympic medal count for China was indeed correct.

We then checked out when exactly the Sichuan earthquake hit. I knew that it was May 12th. I then thought about the time: 1:28PM. After a quick search, we saw that the earthquake did not hit at 1:28PM China time. It hit at 2:28PM China time.

Disappointed, my friend and I agreed that this amazing coincidence, it turns out, it not that amazing. Still pretty interesting though.

If only one more Chinese man or woman could've won another silver medal! This would've been a truly great tribute/inspiration to the number obsessed and superstitious country that is China.

Let's Give This Another Try

Let's see if my third China blog is a charm. My fingers are crossed.

I'll get things going full steam again here in the next couple days.

Go ahead and update your Bookmarks and RSS Feeds since you won't to miss a day of the new and (possibly) improved "Mark's China Blog!"