Sunday, November 29, 2009

Crazy Story from SW China

China attracts all different kinds of expatriates.

From The New York Times:

Image of Dali from travelmarket.com

DALI, China — Justin Franchi Solondz, an environmental activist from New Jersey who spent years evading charges of ecoterrorism in the United States by hiding out in China, was sentenced to three years in prison by a local court on Friday on charges of manufacturing drugs in this backpacker haven.

After serving his time, Mr. Solondz, 30, who is on the F.B.I.’s wanted list, will be deported to the United States, where he faces charges stemming from what the authorities say was his role in an arson rampage that destroyed buildings in three western states as a member of a group related to the environmental extremist organization Earth Liberation Front. He was indicted in absentia in 2006.

The story of Mr. Solondz’s life on the lam spanned three continents, involved at least two aliases and ended in a smoky bar in one of the world’s most authoritarian countries.

Mr. Solondz’s journey started in the fall of 2005, when he joined his mother in Italy for a wedding and then traveled around Europe and Asia. His parents say he stopped communicating with them in March 2006, just before the F.B.I. announced the charges.

The trail went cold until March 2009, when the Chinese police arrested Mr. Solondz here in the mountains of Yunnan Province after he was caught with drugs and fake Canadian identification, according to his parents. During a daylong trial last month, Mr. Solondz pleaded guilty to drug charges and asked to be deported to the United States.

Read On
Click the link and read this whole article. It is bizarre. An Evergreen State student turned narco-terrorist turned drug peddler in southwest China turned Chinese prison inmate.

I've been to Dali. I went there with my friend, Joseph, in the summer of '06 (sounds like I just missed Mr. Solondz). I'd heard all sorts of things about the place. Most of them did, indeed, turn out to be true. It's a different world there; a true hippie paradise. I was horribly sick my whole time there battling giardiasis so I didn't get to see the place as well as I would've liked. But I saw enough to know that it is a one-of-a-kind place in China.

I was shocked that such a place existed in China. I can't imagine that it will much longer though. The article makes it sound like China is on to what goes on in Dali and that authorities aren't going to turn such a blind eye on the place anymore.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Turkey Day

Today is always one of the best days of the year, here in America. I'm looking forward to a day of food and relaxing with extended family.

Fellow blogger, Josh Summers, from farwestchina.com wrote a nice poem about a theoretical Thanksgiving in Xinjiang Province. Josh has lived in Xinjiang for a few years now. After the riots in Xinjiang this past summer, the area could certainly use some reconciliation.



Once upon a time, in a land far to China’s west
where camels did roam and merchants had passed,
where a living was made with the cattle and soil
and no one yet cared for that ugly black oil,

Two cultures collided who shared nothing the same
not music, not language nor deities they claimed.
To celebrate these differences the leaders declared
that they had arranged this fictitious affair.

A large feast was planned and everyone invited
“Bring Your Own Meat” was the theme they decided.
The natives brought lamb and fruit and flat bread
And thankfully the Chinese didn’t cook that pig head.

The locals came wearing all their colorful clothes
surprised at the dull coats their visitors chose.
When Muslim men knelt on the prayer rugs they took
the Chinese read lines from Mao’s little red book.

All raised their glass for the evening toast
The natives said “Welcome” like any good host.
“We’re happy to meet you” the Chinese replied,
“And there’s many more coming on their way from Shanghai”.

The rest is just history, or that’s what I’m told
This friendly beginning has turned somewhat cold.
Now not quite a model of harmonious living
At least we can reminisce about Xinjiang’s first Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Few Tidbits

Haven't had the time/inclination to post the past few days. I apologize to anyone annoyed by the lack of content.

Things are all good here in the US of A. Qian and I are getting ready for Thanksgiving. It'll be my first in four years (!) and it'll be here first.

I was looking around on Google News for some fun China stuff. Found a few interesting things.

- Social networking is becoming a force for change. China's urban middle-class seems to be enjoying the freedom of expression that the internet provides.

- A horrible mining accident occurred in China's northeast this past weekend.

- Some good commentary on Obama's visit to China (h/t PKD). It says that, despite the spin, the trip wasn't a failure.

It's funny. I was really expecting to come back to America and be into the news and happenings of congress and all of that stuff. Now that I'm back, I couldn't care less. I'm so bored/turned off by the news I'm hearing no a daily basis. I'm not sure why this is the case. But I would imagine that the utterly polarized state of our nation has something to do with it (Sarah Palin's book release certainly isn't helping things).

On the other hand, I'm LOVING being back to watch American sports. I could never really get justin.tv to work very well for me in China. So I was basically completely cut off from sports in the US. When I was abroad in China, I told people the things I miss most are Mexican food and sports. Thankfully, tacos and college football are, once again, a big part of my life.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Recap of Obama's Trip

One of my favorite podcasts - The New Yorker's "Political Scene" - did a great job discussing Obama's trip to China this past week. The conversation can be heard here.

Evan Osnos, The New Yorker's main China writer, knows his stuff.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Tis the Season

Christmas tree ornamentation... hmmmmm.

From The LA Times:


Customs officials at the Los Angeles Harbor received a shipment from China listed as Christmas ornaments.

But when they opened the "presents" Tuesday, they found 316,000 bongs and pipes.

“They’re very colorful and big,” said Cristina Gamez, a spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “Some of them are like 2 feet tall.”

Gamez said glass bongs and pipes, contained in nearly 860 boxes of cargo, are worth about $2.6 million.

Read On
It's fairly amusing that even this sector of the economy has been outsourced to China. There could be some benefits to the Chinese pipes though. Smoking out of Chinese made glass, given the problems with lead paint and other hazardous chemicals that US products manufactured in China have had in the past, could very well give their users a wide array of added stimulation.

But seriously...

One difference between the US and China that I often told my Chinese friends and former students is the difference in recreational drug cultures. In America, nearly one out of three college students smoke marijuana.

I'm not even going to try to find statistics for China. I can guarantee you that it is nowhere near America's rate. In fact, I couldn't imagine that it is even close to being 1%. Marijuana, from everything that I've seen in China, just isn't popular there. Whenever I told Chinese people (admittedly mostly well-to-do ones) about young Americans' largely lax attitudes towards the drug, they could not believe it.

The only times that I ever really heard anything about marijuana were in foreigner tourist spots - the little old ladies in Dali and stocks of it at hostels throughout Yunnan Province come to mind - and in the expat community in Xi'an, for which foreigners living in Xi'an did actually seem to have a system in place for getting the drug consistently (which I think is insane).

Although marijuana is not being embraced by Chinese people, drugs like ecstacy and cocaine seem to be catching on. Whenever I went out to night clubs with friends, it just seemed like such drugs were around. I wasn't offered the drugs persay, but a large portion of the people there seemed to be on something and I knew foreigners in Xi'an who were in to that sort of stuff (and found it readily available).

I think America's drug policy is screwed up. But China's is even scarier. People are executed for drug related crimes there. Messing around with such stuff in China is not a good idea, in my opinion.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Four Character Chinese Idioms

From the time of my Chinese wedding ceremony in early August until about a month ago, I fell off from my Supermemo study method. I just didn't have the time or inclination to keep up with it.

The whole basis of Supermemo is that one has to be disciplined and keep up with that stuff, so I needed to get back into it. Fortunately I felt re-motivated last month and am now just about caught up with my time-lapsed study method. I've even started several new piles of flashcards in the past few days.

I'm happy that it looks like I'll be able to keep up with my Chinese being in the States. Having Qian around is, obviously, really helpful.

A few weeks ago, I was talking with some people about how I enjoy learning new Chinese idioms. As I was talking about how I liked to learn the stories behind the idioms, someone asked me to name a few. Put on the spot, it was hard for me to just come up with one on command. I was able to think of one, but it wasn't that smooth. I decided then that as I go through my piles of Supermemo, I would like to write down the idioms I know so that I have a list of them.

I've compiled a partial list so far. I'm going to talk about several of them below. If anyone reading this thinks that my understanding of the idiom or how it's to be used is wrong, please let me know.

First, I'll list idioms that I can and do use naturally in conversation.

乱七八糟 - (luan4qi1ba1zao1) - This is probably my favorite Chinese idiom. It's really easy to say (4th tone and then 3 1st tones) and is fun to use. The definition I have for it says, "In a mess." I think "cluster****" is probably a pretty decent translation as well (although this idiom isn't at all vulgar). It can be used on its own expressing dissatisfaction or it can describe something that is in a complete mess.

塞翁失马 - (sai4weng1shi1ma3) - For some reason, this idiom has just stuck into my head. It basically means, "A bad can thing can turn out to be a good thing." Here's a little write-up on the phrase. I often say this to Qian when we're annoyed or things aren't really going our way.

美梦成真 - (mei3meng4cheng2zhen1) - This idiom is very literal. My translation of it, word by word, would be, "Beautiful dream comes true." I said this to Qian on our wedding day in China when I had to officially ask for her hand in marriage at her parents' apartment.

问心无愧 - (wen4xin1wu2kui4) - Here's another very literal one. My translation would be, "I've asked my heart and I don't feel guilty." The best man for my wedding was a Chinese co-worker of mine. One day he was giving me trouble saying that his life is so difficult because it takes him a half year to make what I do in a month. He was messing with me trying to make me feel guilty. I'd just learned this idiom and used it as he was talking with me. After I did, he let out a big laugh.

早睡早起 - (zao3shui4zao3qi3) - Literally, "Early to sleep, early to rise." Qian's mom has said this to me many times. This is a big one for Chinese people. They definitely stand by this phrase and that it is the key to good health. When I first went to China, I was a 夜猫子 (ye4mao1zi - night cat). After being there for a while, I am, in fact, much more of a morning person now. This probably goes hand-in-hand with my personal discovery of coffee about a year and a half ago.

三人成虎
- (san1ren2cheng2hu3) - This is a phrase that a lot of Chinese people don't know. The translation is something like, "If three people know something, it then becomes a tiger." My understanding of this is that once information gets to be known by three people, it becomes a beast.

五颜六色 - (wu3yan2liu4se4) - This literally means colorful. The phrase has an interesting structure, I think.

自作聪明 (zi4zuo4cong1ming), 自以为是 (zi4yi3wei2shi4) - These two basically mean the same thing: "Someone who thinks they are always right."

人生如寄 - (ren2sheng1ru2ji4) - "Life is short."

人定胜天 - (ren2ding4sheng1tian1) - This one is from Mao. It means something like, "With work, man can conquer nature."

马马虎虎 - (ma3ma3hu3hu3) - Literally, this is "horse, horse, tiger, tiger." It means something like "OK" or "not bad." This is one of the first words that all Chinese language learners are introduced to.

And then here's a list of idioms that I'm not particularly familiar or comfortable with. Although I've been introduced to them, I can't use these in daily conversation.

一成不变 - (yi1cheng2bu2bian4) - My definition for this is "doesn't change over a long period of time."

愚公移山 - (yu2gong1yi2shan1) - There is a story behind this idiom. I suppose the idea of this is that persistence pays off? I'm under the understanding that this was one of Mao's phrases.

永不分离 - (yong3bu4fen1li2) - Means "forever won't depart."

守株待兔 - (shou3zhu1dai1tu4) - My definition for this one is "wait for a windfall." There's also a story behind this one.

春暖花开 - (chun1nuan3hua1kai1) - "When spring comes, flowers bloom."

举棋不定 - (ju3qi2bu2ding4) - "Unable to make up one's mind."

急不可待 - (ji2bu4ke3dai1) - "Can't hardly wait."

I'm pretty sure there are a few more that I've looked at, but I haven't come across those flashcards yet in the past few weeks.

At my level, it's probably not the most useful thing to study idioms a lot. I really enjoy learning them though. The Chinese word idiom - 成语 (cheng2yu3) - literally means "become language." Reading stories about idioms and understanding how they work help get deeper into China, I think. They're also a lot of fun to use when the time is right.

There is a great Chinese idiom dictionary here. If you like this post, you'll be able to find a lot more idioms at that site.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Obama to Meet His "Chinese" Family

Obama is going to meet his half-brother, who lives in Shenzhen, this coming week while he's in China.

From The Telegraph:


US President Barack Obama hopes to meet his half-brother Mark Ndesandjo and his sister-in-law during his first official visit to China. Ndesandjo and his Chinese wife live in Shenzhen - a southern city neighbouring Hong Kong - and plan to fly to Beijing to meet his famous relative.

"It will be the first time for Mark to introduce his wife to President Obama," a spokeswoman for AmCham in South China said.

Ndesandjo told China's state-run Xinhua news agency that he wanted his wife, who is from the central eastern province of Henan, to meet the US president as "she is one of Obama's loyal fans".

Ndesandjo, son of Obama's late father and his third wife, Ruth Nidesand, also said that he was delighted that the president was taking the opportunity to see China for himself during his first visit to Asia.

"I am very glad that he is coming here himself to experience Chinese culture," he was quoted as saying.


Read On
Last year about this time, I heard a lot about Obama's "Chinese brother" from my Chinese co-workers and friends. At first, I didn't know what they were talking about. But then I learned about Ndesandjo. Obama's relationship to Ndesandjo and Ndesandjo's relationship to China are, indeed, unique.

I think that this personal connection to China could help Obama's relationship with the country. Such ties to a place undoubtedly change one's perceptions. Of course, there's a lot that goes into the relationship between China and the US and such a connection isn't going to have that much influence. But it could have some.

As I've said many times, I'm confident that the US/China relationship is going to be the most important bilateral one going forward. Obama seems to be doing a good job so far towards China (China's still buying US debt, tensions relatively low, etc.) in a very turbulent time and I hope that such can continue.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Listening to the Chinese

The Obama Administration attempted an interesting public relations experiment yesterday.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Image from Ironicsurrealism.blogvisits.com

China’s bloggers are a focus of organizers of President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit, echoing similar efforts by the administration to use social-media tools to communicate with Americans.

On Thursday, U.S. State Department officials held simultaneous press briefings for a select group of predominantly Chinese bloggers in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, giving a rundown of the U.S. president’s China schedule and took questions from the bloggers.

The attendee list included many influential bloggers, such as journalist Michael Anti, who blogs about freedom of the press, and Rao Jin, whose Anti-CNN Web site scrutinizes China coverage by the news network and other foreign media.

Read On
This symposium with bloggers, along with the meeting with Chinese youth that Obama (says he) wants to have, is very progressive. Bill Clinton had similar open discussions when he visited China in the 1990s. I like to see Obama trying to connect with Chinese people directly. Based on the general positive things I heard about Bill Clinton, I think that Chinese people appreciate these kinds of gestures and attempts to hear what they have to say.

I hope that the upcoming trip goes well. Even if Obama's domestic numbers aren't as meteoric as they were before, he's still a huge asset to America abroad.

It'll be interesting to see how forceful Obama is in China next week. In the past, democrats have been far more critical of China than republicans. Particularly on human rights, democrats have traditionally been more willing to stir the pot than republicans, who were happy to see China's role as a trading partner expanding.

Like Clinton and Pelosi were earlier this year, I would not expect Obama to cause much trouble. He knows that the US needs China on board right now. I can't imagine that the US can or will be combative or overly ideological right now.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Open Thread?

I haven't had the time/energy to write a post over the past several days. I'll try to get things going here soon, but can't tonight. If anybody wants to post anything into the comments section, go for it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

iPhone's Meager Launch

There wasn't iPhone hysteria when the product was released a couple days ago.

From Internetnews.com:

Image from Socialmediaeo.com

With this week's launch of the iPhone in China, Apple became the latest foreign company to seek a slice of the country's booming mobile market. But some analysts point to factors endemic in China's wireless market that are growing too large to ignore -- and which could have serious implications for competitors in the space.

Some industry observers had predicted a tepid consumer reaction to the iPhone's debut in China, where it's being sold by carrier partner China Unicom. So far, those early expectations might not be far off: China Unicom has sold only 5,000 units so far, Reuters reported.

Analysts partly blame the high cost of the iconic handset, which retails for about $730 to $1,000 without a contract, and because of the fact that it's been stripped of Wi-Fi to comply with government regulations.

However, they've also pointed to another factor playing a huge role in Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) aspirations for China: The country's vast gray-market mobile phone business, which research firm iSuppli dubbed the nation's "dirty little secret."

Gray-market (define) handsets are made or sold outside authorized channels, enabling their sellers to avoid value-added taxes and government regulation, and other oversight, like quality assurance testing.

Read On
While "gray markets" may have an influence on Apple's struggles, black markets certainly do as well. A few months ago I wrote about the "Mobile Shanzhai" and the vast availability of counterfeit cellular phones (including the "hiPhone" Apple knock-off).

In addition to off-color markets, Apple simply isn't that popular in China yet. Most of my Chinese friends who saw my MacBook laptop were perplexed by a computer running without Windows. Windows, like it is for a lot of people in the States, is the only thing nearly all Chinese people have ever had any experience with. This unfamiliarity with Apple has to make the expensive iPhone an even harder sell for Chinese people.

I would think (and hope) that Apple's market will grow in China like it has in America. Whereas five years ago I had never actually used an Apple, I now would never even consider going back to a PC. I've never had one problem - either with the hardware or software - with my MacBook. It never crashes and runs fast, smooth, and virus-free. Web-surfing, photo-editing, and more complex stuff like video and music editing are vastly superior on a Mac compared to a PC. And it wasn't that expensive compared to Windows-based notebooks because I bought a refurbished notebook off of Apple's website (something I strongly recommend).

While in Beijing in June, I saw a slick new Apple store in the 三里屯 district. It was the first to open in mainland China. The more people are exposed to genuine Apple products - whether through iPhone, iPod, laptop, or desktop - the more I think they'll come to embrace them.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Seeding Snow

Beijing had a good snow on Sunday. Nothing too out-of-the-ordinary. Except that the white stuff was man-made.

From The Christian Science Monitor:

Photo from AP

BEIJING – When I drew my curtains on Sunday morning to find thick snow falling outside, I thought something weird was going on.

Saturday had been gloriously warm and sunny. And even if the temperature had plummeted overnight, which it clearly had, Beijing winters are generally dry as a bone.

Monday morning, all was revealed. Beijing’s weathermen had been at work, it turned out, seeding the clouds to make it rain. Or snow, as it happened.

“We have to seize every opportunity to increase precipitation,” the head of the Beijing Weather Modification Office, Zhang Qiang, told the daily Global Times. “Beijing had almost no rainfall in October.”

You may not have a Weather Modification Office in your country. You don’t know what you are missing.

Read On
In the past, I've voiced my skepticism about the ability for these kinds of seeding programs to actually work. This latest snow storm sounds pretty legitimately man-made. Doesn't sound like it could've happened on its own without the push from the "Beijing Weather Modification Office."

I wonder what the limitations to creating rain/snow are. From the sounds of it, the circumstances need to be just right for any tinkering to work. It doesn't sound like rain/snow can just be turned on or off on any random day.

With water tables dropping and rivers dying and pollution continuing, North China needs all the water it can get. Last winter in Xi'an, we had a drought that went on for several months. The dry air combined with dusty and coal soot covered streets made for a pretty horrific atmosphere. For the sake of China and its people, I hope that seeding technology can be refined and used effectively.