Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Back in China

After two weeks in Kansas City, I am now back in Xi'an.

Last night was definitely the quietest New Year's Eve I've ever experienced. I didn't do anything. I met Jackie and had a very quiet evening. After spending 26 hours in transit from America, I didn't even make an effort to go out with friends or anything. In fact, I was in bed just a few minutes after midnight.

In a few minutes, I'll be going to my girlfriend's parents' house for a hotpot lunch.

It feels good to be back. I'm going to have to jump right back into a ton of work beginning tomorrow. That is going to be annoying, but it's all right seeing that I just had sixteen days off.

Hope everyone reading this blog will have an awesome 2009!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Hua Shan - Part 5

Another round of photos from Hua Shan:

This is one of the best photographs I've ever taken. Andy appears to be floating on the ledge jutting out of the mountain.

Some instant noodles planters

This woman was struggling with the climb just before the North Peak

A map of Hua Shan. This helps me visualize the north, east, south, and west peaks a lot. It's easy to lose this perspective while on the mountain.

A shot from the lower part of the mountain

Me ordering/negotiating our dinner with the owner of the small guesthouse we stayed at near the North Peak. As you can see, I opted for Kobe Bryant-style leggings on this cold night.

Andy, me, and a middle-aged Chinese man going on a cable car down the mountain. As you can see, we were all soaked from being out in the rain all day.

These are a few Chinese guys I chatted up near the South Peak. The guy in the Texas Tech hat was very talkative. I still can't get over that he was wearing a Tech stocking cap.

Here is a video of us discussing beautiful women from all over the world:

Monday, December 22, 2008

Freezing in Sichuan

I saw Dickens' "Christmas Carol" at a theater yesterday. It was very enjoyable. Dickens' timeless classic reminded me of the importance of remembering the people who are roughing it this holiday season.

This holiday season, there are many reasons why we should not forget the victims of China's earthquake earlier this year. Actually, about 3.6 million reasons.

From Reuters:

BEIJING, Dec 22 (Reuters) - Quake survivors living in prefabricated housing in China's mountainous Sichuan province need 3.6 million quilts and the same number of cotton-padded clothes to survive the winter, state media said on Monday.

More than 80,000 people were killed in the May 12 disaster, with millions now living in resettlement sites surrounded by the rubble of their old homes and facing a colder winter than normal.

"Weather experts have forecast that temperatures in the quake-hit areas will be 0.5 degree Celsius to 1 C lower than usual. The areas are likely to get more rain, snow and frost too," the China Daily said, quoting provincial government officials.

Read On
If you would like to make a donation to an organization which helps China's staggering number of poor people, this is a really good organization I know of based out of Xi'an: The Yellow River Soup Kitchen.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Kickin' It Back in KC

After way too many hours on airplanes, I got back to Kansas City late Monday night/early Tuesday morning.

I've suffered a bit from jet lag, slept in until 4PM my first day back and I didn't sleep well last night, but overall everything is really nice back here in the US.

There's been snow on the ground since I got here. Has been a fun thing to play around with. My brother and I went and threw the football around the other night. Good fun.

I went out to my friends and my favorite bar last night. Friends of mine from many different time periods came out. It was a bit surreal to be out with my friends, people who I've grown so close to, when I hadn't seen them in such a long time. Though, I'm a firm believer in the idea that your best friends are the ones who you don't need to be in constant contact with to be close to.

Everything around Kansas City is pretty much the same I remembered it from when I was last here, sixteen months ago.

There's that whole financial systems collapsing thing which is new. People seem to acknowledge that something completely messed is going on on a daily basis, but are sure that things will be back to normal by the end of 2009 or by the beginning of 2010.

I hope they're right. I suppose that this is what America's punditry and intelligencia have been telling everyone here in America.

I'm just not that optimistic about the situation.

One of the things that living in a developing country has done to me is convince me that the lifestyle my family and friends enjoy in suburban/urban Kansas City just doesn't seem very sustainable.

This may very well be the gloomier and doomier side of my beliefs, but it is my first reaction being back and looking at the economic crisis through my experiences.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I'm Going to Kansas City...

In about 36 hours, I'll be back in my hometown of Kansas City. My flights and airport layovers - from Xi'an to Beijing to Newark to Kansas City - will total about twenty-six hours or so (fun!).

For my entertainment on the flights, I have Chinese to study, Catch-22 to read, and I've downloaded a bunch of free podcasts from the iTunes store. Hopefully these things will make my journey will be close to bearable.

I don't have too many specific plans for when I'm back in KC. I'd really just like to catch up with my family and friends, who I have not seen in person in almost a year and a half.

This will also be my first Christmas back in Kansas City/America in three years. That will be great.

Unfortunately, I can't bring my girlfriend fiancee, Jackie, back with me. Hopefully she'll be able to come sometime in the not-too-distant future though.

The following are a few of the food items I'm most looking forward to:

And of course:

Kansas City here I come!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Top Ten China Travel Features from 2008, probably the best China travel site on the internet, has unveiled its list of the top ten feature articles on the site from 2008. The list can be found here.

This is a very good collection ranging from a ridiculous story of camping on the Great Wall, to the ten most romantic destinations in China, to an absolutely stunning collection of photos from a professional photographer who captured pictures from every province in China.

Of course I'd be remiss if I forgot to mention that my article on China's rugged Xinjiang Province, entitled "Kashgar: The Far West of the Far East," was also included in the list.

I'm quite honored to be included in this collection of articles considering the quality of the other pieces.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Next Paramount Leader of the PRC: Xi Jinping

After Obama won the US presidency last month, I had a long coversation with my adult "English Corner" about how and why Obama won. Nearly everyone taking part in the discussion was excited about Obama coming in and Bush leaving.

During the course of the hour-long conversation, I asked the students who will be the next president of China. I knew that Hu Jintao is in his last term and will be replaced in the next few years. Specifically, I was interested whether the next in line has been named or is clear.

I was told that the next president of China will be Xi Jinping.

Xi's biography, from Wikipedia, can be found here.

Here are some tidbits about the man:
- Although born in Beijing, Xi's ancestral home is in Fuping County, Shaanxi Province. The students I talked with said that his ties to Shaanxi (Xi'an's province) would surely benefit Shaanxi and Xi'an when he takes power.

- His father was purged during the Cultural Revolution, was sent to work at a factory, and eventually jailed.

- Xi was in charge of coordinating the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

- In 1987, Xi married the famous Chinese folk singer, Peng Liyuan.

His wife is widely considered more famous than her husband, one of the most powerful politicians in China. 2008 was one of the first years since its inception that she didn't performed at the CCTV New Year's Gala, which is viewed by an estimated (and unfathomable) 700 million people every year.

- US Treasury Secretary is a big fan of Xi. He said of him, "(Xi is) the kind of guy who knows how to get things over the goal line." I'm not sure if Paulson's endoresement means much to American people after the past couple months of bailouts.
One of the more interesting things my students told me was that they didn't know when Xi would take over and, current paramount leader, Hu would step down. My students told me that in China it will just happen one day with little advanced notice.

I should note that the students in my class were very enthusiastic about him. It may very well be that Xi'an and Shaanxi Province would stand to benefit from Xi being the Paramount Leader.

Hua Shan - Part 4

Below are some videos I took from Hua Shan in October:

From the South Peak. The wind up there was absolutely brutal. As you can see from my lens, rain was pouring down at that point. Probably not good for my camera, but worth the cool video.

From the East Peak. Great panoramic view.

This is from earlier on in the mountain before getting to the peaks.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

China's Most "Googled" Phrases

Seeing China's list of most Googled phrases shows just how unimportant Google is to Chinese people.

From PC World:
YouTube? No. Facebook? Nope. Yahoo, eBay, MySpace? No, no and no.

The only U.S. name to make Google's 2008 most popular keyword search list for China was NBA (National Basketball Association), at No. 10. In fact, the NBA was the only non-Internet company to make the list, with the others all popular Chinese sites for news, videos, file sharing and more.

If Google's top keyword search list for China in 2008 can be considered a guide, U.S. Internet companies continue to be stymied by Chinese Web firms.

Google itself is an also-ran in China's Internet search market, where reigns supreme with around 65 percent of all searches in China at the end of the second quarter.

Still, Google's 2008 most-searched lists make for an interesting look into what China's Internet users are viewing.

The most popular search on Google in China during 2008 was for Sina, one of the most popular portals in the country. Another portal, Netease, came in second. The online auction site Taobao, which is owned by, took third, while video-sharing sites Youku and Tudou, placed fourth and fifth, respectively.

Read On
Google took an absolute beating a few years ago when it decided to censor itself for China. Maybe the huge loss of face Google took for that action wasn't even worth the trouble.

I'm being a bit facetious here. I'm so thankful that Google is available to me here. But as a whole, China has not embraced Google.

Baidu is China's Google equivalent and is dominating the Chinese search market.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Want to Live Amongst Wild Wolves in Xi'an?

If you have three days to kill, want to earn £500 for doing a small amount of work, and don't mind being around wild wolves, this is something in which you might be interested.


A wildlife park in China is looking for three human volunteers to share an enclosure with 36 wild wolves.

Qinling Wildlife Park in Xi’an says they will be safe in a tree house 10ft above the ground, reports the Xi'an Evening Post.

It wants three volunteers, aged between 22 and 45, to spend three full days in the treehouse in exchange for a certificate and a cash reward worth £500.

"They will be safe in the hut. We will equip them with a walkie-talkie and monitor the hut around the clock. In case of emergencies, we can shoot tranquilizer darts at the wolves,” said a park spokesman.

Read On
£500 is a pretty good sum of money, at least in terms of Chinese RMB.

Doubt it is worth the hassle of doing this publicity stunt though.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

China's Exports Plummet

This isn't good news for China's economy, which is utterly dependent on its exports.

From Reuters:

BEIJING, Dec 6 (Reuters) - China's exports for November fell in value compared to the same month last year, the first such decline in more than 7 years, a Chinese business newspaper reported on Saturday.

Citing an unidentified source, the 21st Century Business Herald said that according to estimates from customs authorities, China's exports in November were worth "over" $100 billion and imports worth over $70 billion, marking declines in both.

The report said the fall in November exports marked the first such monthly fall since June 2001. In November last year, China's exports were worth $108 billion.

The Chinese-language report cautioned that its trade numbers were "the product of a partial collation and may have omissions."

Read On
This shouldn't be too big of a surprise, really.

From January through June of this past year, 67,000 factories in China closed their doors. Yes, you just read that right. It's not that 67,000 employees lost their jobs. 67,000 factories closed in the beginning of 2008.

And that was before the economic crisis grabbed headlines in September. The official numbers, when released regarding what is going on now, will surely be mind boggling.

Many of my ex-pat friends here in China, knowing that I'm American, have been joking with me about how screwed America is with the crisis. I just laugh and say, "You know what, everyone's f*^%ed. If you think China or England or Australia or Canada is going to get through the coming months and years unscathed, you're a fool."

When having these discussions, I constantly think about a poster advertisement that is up on the walls of the private English training school I manage. It contains quotes from a number of famous western people. My two favorite quotes are:
"In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes." - Andy Warhol

"The future belongs to those who prepare for it today." - Malcolm X
Now I think it's pretty cool that these, rather quirky, quotes made it on to one of the official posters of my school. The Andy Warhol one doesn't really fit in with what I'm talking about here, but the Malcolm X one does.

I'm amazed at a lot of the nonchalance that people are having about the economic disaster that is currently engulfing the world. So many people I encounter don't seem to be attempting to wrap their minds around the absolute insanity which is going on on a daily basis.

Maybe people are just putting their heads in the sand and not paying attention. Or maybe the people who've been ribbing me don't understand the connectedness which defines our current, globalized, economy. Or maybe they're all the sane ones and I'm the one who's lost touch with reality.

For the world's sake, I hope that they're right and my pessimistic view on the near future of our world is wrong.

X's quote here gives me inspiration at this time of great uncertainty and fear. I feel as if I prepare myself for what I believe is going to happen in the coming months and years ahead, then I believe I'll be better off for it.

At the moment, I'm trying to manage my way through the stages of grief that come with the realization that the world I'd been imagining my young adult to be like just isn't going to come to fruition.

For the time being, trying to understand what is going on on a daily basis and the ramifications these actions are going to have in the future is my way of preparing myself for what is in store for us.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Ancient Marijuana Stash Found in Northwest China

Shamans in China's great northwest had, apparently, discovered marijuana's psychotropic powers nearly three millenia ago.


Nearly two pounds of still-green plant material found in a 2,700-year-old grave in the Gobi Desert has just been identified as the world's oldest marijuana stash, according to a paper in the latest issue of the Journal of Experimental Botany.

A barrage of tests proves the marijuana possessed potent psychoactive properties and casts doubt on the theory that the ancients only grew the plant for hemp in order to make clothing, rope and other objects.

They apparently were getting high too.

Lead author Ethan Russo told Discovery News that the marijuana "is quite similar" to what's grown today.

"We know from both the chemical analysis and genetics that it could produce THC (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid synthase, the main psychoactive chemical in the plant)," he explained, adding that no one could feel its effects today, due to decomposition over the millennia.

Russo served as a visiting professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Botany while conducting the study. He and his international team analyzed the cannabis, which was excavated at the Yanghai Tombs near Turpan, China. It was found lightly pounded in a wooden bowl in a leather basket near the head of a blue-eyed Caucasian man who died when he was about 45.

Read On

I'm not sure what to say about this one...

I went to Turpan last year, near where this stash was found.

Turpan is a really interesting place. It's rich history is based upon it being an oasis in the middle of hundreds of miles of sprawling deserts. The man-made irrigation canals which Turpan is famous for is one of the greatest engineering projects of ancient man.

To see some of my photos of Turpan from when I was there, click here.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

My Fantasy Football Team... Dominating

I've been on a tear with my fantasy football team recently.

Surprisingly, I don't have any Giants, Chiefs, or Buccaneers on my team. Instead, it's populated with players from the Bolton Wanderers, Wigan Athletic, and Hull City.

No, I'm not in a fantasy NFL league. I'm in a fantasy English Premiership league.

This is my first experience playing any sort of fantasy sports, and I'm absolutely loving it.

For the month of November, I won a league that has seven English guys living in Xi'an and myself participating. We each throw down 50RMB into the pot each month for the winner. So there will be 350RMB (about $50) coming to me once I track all of these guys down!

As the only American competing in a league against eight other Englishmen, I'm quite proud of the domination I enjoyed over them in November.

Here is the results table from my league, Xi'an Yuan, for November:

My squad, named Slug Dubbin' after one of my favorite tracks by The Orb, had an incredible month. I was ranked 11,686 out of the 1,761,849 total players. That means that I was better than 99.33% of the players all over the world playing this game in November.

This is a graphic I like seeing, my ranking on the leader board for the entire country of China for the month of November:

Here is my squad as it currently stands:

In addition to having a good November, I'm doing pretty well overall as well. Being ranked 54,586, I'm beating 97% of the players worldwide.

The basic rules for this version of fantasy Premiership are as follows:

Each team owner is given £100 million to work with. Each team must have two goal keepers, five defenders, five mid-fielders, and three forwards. Each week, you can make one transaction for free (each additional transaction costs you four points). Each team can only have three players from any one team, so you can not load up on all Chelsea, Liverpool, or Manchester United players.

Without a doubt, Christiano Ronaldo has been the key pick up for me. Ronaldo was this week named "Eupopean Footballer of the Year." He is a freak. He picks up insane amounts of points in this game.

Participating in this league has been a blast so far. It's given me the chance to get reengaged with the Premier League, after not paying attention at all last year.

One of the most bizarre consequences of living in Xi'an, China for almost three years is that I have learned so much about English culture from the loads of English people whom I work with. They far outnumber Americans in Xi'an, at least from the people I've been exposed to.

Strangely, right now I could have a better conversation with an English bloke about the current state of the English Premiership than I could with an American dude about the happenings of the NFL.

China does strange things to people.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Vote for "Mark's China Blog"

I don't stand a chance, but if you like this blog, vote for it for "Personal China Blog of the Year" at the website

To vote, click here. At that page, click on the little plus sign with a number next to it.

Chinalyst is a China blog community. It aggregates dozens of China blogs making all the China blogs out there, collectively, into one blog. Pretty nice resource.

AIDS and China's Migrant Workers

On the spreading of AIDS amongst China's poor.

From Reuters:

BEIJING, Nov 30 (Reuters) - The new face of AIDS in China is a shy man with a heavy provincial accent, a weathered face and the rough hands of a manual worker.

Zhang Xiaohu, a character in an educational film for migrant workers, is part of a trend that worries Chinese officials: the potential for AIDS to spread among the estimated 200 million rural migrants driving the country's rapid economic expansion.

AIDS in China has, to date, mostly been limited to drug users, gay men, prostitutes and the victims of reckless blood-buying schemes in the 1990s.

By the end of 2007, China had about 700,000 people with HIV/AIDS -- 0.05 percent of the total population -- health officials said on Sunday, ahead of World Aids Day the next day.

"The epidemic is lowly prevalent in general but it is highly prevalent among specific groups such as migrant workers, and in some regions particularly remote areas and the countryside," said Wang Weizhen, deputy director of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment at the Ministry of Health, according to state media.

Read On

Migrant workers in China often will leave their home for months or years on end. It's not surprising, as the article goes on to say, that in big cities like Beijing there are more and more people and places beginning to cater to the new inhabitants of those cities: ie. cheap prostitutes.

Prostitution is endemic in Xi'an. Within a twenty minute walk of my apartment, there are literally dozens of places one could go to get prostitutes. I know this from the pink lights emanating from seemingly every hair salon once night falls, not from the experience of actually having visited the women myself.

I might be completely off base here, but it seems to me as though prostitution is more acceptable in Xi'an than it is in the cities I've lived in in America: Kansas City and St. Louis. It is very possible that I'm just oblivious to America's prostitution, but I'm sure that the prostitution that goes on in the mid-west cities I've inhabited is not as blatant as it is in Xi'an. Between the loose women in dance clubs and the pink-lit salons dotting Xi'an's streets, there are literally endless opportunities for those looking to buy sex.

Since I've never visited these women, I'm not 100% sure about how much they cost. But one night in a taxi, the driver was telling me that they could be had for 50RMB, or about $7.

The plethora of cheap prostitutes found in China's enormous cities combined with millions of men working hundreds of miles away from their homes does indeed sound like the perfect recipe for debauchery and a public health crisis.