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.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Current State of My Chinese Study

Recently, I've been studying Chinese really well. I still feel far from "fluent" and wish I was leaps and bounds better, but I'm not sure I'll ever feel that great about my Chinese.

I'm beginning to realize more and more that, for me, studying Chinese is a lot like playing the guitar: I'll never be satisfied with where I'm at. I'd be lying to myself if I said that I haven't improved (in both guitar and Chinese), but I just feel so far from where I want to ultimately be.

Although frustrating, I'm not sure that having such resistant feelings towards contentment is a bad thing.

I'm 100% committed to SuperMemo. Avid readers of my blog know that I began using the spaced repetition study method this past Spring.

It is simply unbelievable. I don't know where I would be without SuperMemo. Trying to learn Chinese without it seems incomprehensible to me now. I turned my two best friends in Xi'an on to SuperMemo and the three of us are fully committed.

The following photos show just how strong my commitment actually is:

I'm now up to pile "BJ" on my Chinese flashcards. This means that I've already used "A" through "Z", "AA" through "AZ," and have recently gone from "BA" to "BJ."

By my calculation, that means I have 62 piles of flashcards integrated into my SuperMemo study method. I roughly have between 25 and 35 flashcards in each of those piles. So that means I have between 1,550 and 2,170 Chinese flashcards made.

I'd say that all of those are more or less part of my working vocabulary. Theoretically, I should know the pinyin, tones, Chinese characters, and English translation of every card in every one of those piles. Of course I don't know 100% of all these cards at any given time, but I'm getting there.

In addition to being a Chinese flashcard fiend, I'm still using my text book to develop my skills with the language.

Here are some photos from the chapter I covered last week with my teacher:

This is the last page of the previous chapter. At the end of each chapter, there is a passage with tons of new vocabulary. As you can see, there were a number of new words for me here. There are also a few reading comprehension questions to chew on. This is a traditional Chinese folk story about why the moon often looks so sad.

The beginning of Chapter 18. This is an article about the benefits and drawbacks of living in "the era of cards." The "cards" this chapter is referring to are credit cards and things like that. Quite a timely topic for me to be studying these days.

More of the passage and a cheesy dialog between two students studying Chinese in China.

The end of the dialog and the beginning of the "New Words" section. As I go over the words with my Chinese tutor, a graduate student who I spend four hours a week one-on-one with, I make notes about the words and add any new ones that seem useful to me.

The end of the new words and a few notes on some of the words.

The chapter goes on further with some grammar and then exercises, but I'll just end my posting of the chapter here.

Like I said, I'm by no means satisfied with my Chinese. I'm more conversational, yet still trip up quite frequently. My listening, not something that SuperMemo or studying by myself can help, really needs to pick up. And I'm still quite a ways from being able to read a Chinese newspaper.

But despite these frustrations, I'm not discouraged. I'm loving studying Chinese. At this point, I see it as a life-long commitment. I'll keep getting better and I'll keep having fun with it.

I'm finding the whole endeavor to be thoroughly satisfying.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Chinese Recession

Is 7.5% growth considered a recession? In China it is.

From the BBC:

The World Bank says China's economy will grow by less than expected next year, adding to the country's, and Asia's economic gloom.

China's economy is expected to grow by 7.5% in 2009, according to the Bank.

A few months ago, before the global financial crisis, it predicted the Chinese economy would grow by about 9%.


Until recently, China had largely avoided the effects of the global crisis because its financial system is insulated from the rest of the world.

But that crisis is now leading to a worldwide economic recession - and that will affect China.

If people across the world have less money to spend, they will buy fewer Chinese imports; that will lead to factory closures and job loses in China.

"So far [the crisis] hasn't impacted all that much [in China], but we will see that impact intensifying," said World Bank economist Louis Kuijs.

Read On
Being a white American working and living in China, I have not had too much direct contact with the economic crisis the world is currently facing.

Although I'm only twenty-five years old and have a bachelor's degree in philosophy, I am ridiculously employable over here. Now I'll be the first to admit that having anything to do with ESL (English as a second language) teaching is not something I want to do for the rest of my life (even being a manager, which I currently am).

But it is not bad given the rest of the world's financial problems. I'm saving a (relatively) decent amount of money every month and live a very comfortable life.

Things are still going OK for us foreign devils here in China now, but I'm fairly pessimistic that things are going to continue to be like this for me and other foreigners forever.

I can't find the article doing a quick search for it now, but I recently saw an article saying that China must keep its growth rate near 10% a year or else it will begin to have social unrest and serious economic problems such as unemployment. It seems strange to me that 6% or 8% growth could put China into crisis mode, but from what I understand, this is in fact the case.

The reason for this curious phenomenon is the following: China is currently undergoing the largest mass migration in the history of the world.
In the next 25 years, 345 million people are going to move from the rural areas into the city areas, which is the biggest mass migration of people ever, anywhere," Guy Hollis, of international real estate agents Jones Lang LaSalle, told BBC World Service's Global Business programme.
Simply, China has to create jobs to give to the millions upon millions of peasants who are currently making their way from farming villages into the megalopolises that are springing up all over China.

If there are no jobs to give these displaced farmers, people throughout China will feel the effects. Life in the cities will deteriorate and the countryside will have to back in the peasants who tried to make it in the big city but failed.

Right now, China's economy seems to still be running on the inertia it's built up over the past several years. I'm not counting on China being able to maintain this though. Especially if the rest of the falls much farther than it already has as well.

I have to imagine that the boom times are coming to an end here in China though. There's no way it will stand alone while the rest of the world burns.

And if things do really get worse in the Middle Kingdom, I reckon that being a white American working and living in China would no longer guarantee decent employment like it does now.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Gov. Palin celebrating Thanksgiving

I hope all of my American friends are enjoying themselves. It's one of the best days of the year in America today.

Everyone's thoughts should with the people of Mumbai and the terrorist attacks they have endured.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Dealin' By Mail From Xi'an

An explanation behind Xi'an's famous "potato chips."

From the Chinglish version of The People's Daily Online:

A couple in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, was jailed yesterday for exporting drugs labeled as "potato chips", the local court said yesterday.

Li Zhanfu and her husband Tian Guowei had been sending drugs abroad by mail since May 2006, according to the Xi'an Intermediate People's Court.

Li was sentenced to 15 years in jail and fined 1.26 million yuan ($185,000), and Tian to 13 years in jail and fined 1.04 million yuan.

Both were convicted of trafficking drugs and operating an illegal business, the General Administration of Customs said.

It was the first and biggest case of selling stimulants through the Internet and the post in Shaanxi to be cracked by Xi'an customs.

Read On

Selling drugs over the internet from China... not a good idea.

Ever since those Opium Wars, China has not had the most liberal of drug policies.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Crisis = Danger + Opportunity

Last week, President-elect Obama's newly appointed chief-of-staff, Rahm Emmanuel, said the following:
"Rule one: Never allow a crisis to go to waste," Emanuel said. "They are opportunities to do big things."
This quote from Emmanuel reminds me of another Democrat from fifty years ago.

On April 12th, 1959 in Indianapolis, then presidential candidate John F. Kennedy said the following:
When written in Chinese, the word "crisis" is composed of two characters - one represents danger and one represents opportunity.
This reference from Kennendy popularized the notion about the unique nature to Chinese's word for "crisis." Al Gore, Condoleeza Rice, and even the Simpsons have all used this idea. In fact, there is even a Wikipedia page entitled - "Chinese translation of crisis" - which gives information surrounding this translation.

Unfortunately, it appears as if this phenomenon is too good to be true.

A detailed debunking (one might say pwnage) of this translation can be found at the website from the Sinologist Victor Maer:
There is a widespread public misperception, particularly among the New Age sector, that the Chinese word for "crisis" is composed of elements that signify "danger" and "opportunity." I first encountered this curious specimen of oriental wisdom about ten years ago at an altitude of 35,000 feet sitting next to an American executive. He was intently studying a bound volume that had adopted this notorious formulation as the basic premise of its method for making increased profits even when the market is falling. At that moment, I didn't have the heart to disappoint my gullible neighbor who was blissfully imbibing what he assumed were the gems of Far Eastern sagacity enshrined within the pages of his workbook. Now, however, the damage from this kind of pseudo-profundity has reached such gross proportions that I feel obliged, as a responsible Sinologist, to take counteraction.

Read On
While my studying of Chinese is not anywhere near to the point of being able to fully understand what Mair is saying, I see his main points.

I know both the characters that make up the word crisis: 危机. I know 危 from the word 危险, which means "danger." And I know 会 from a variety of different phrases and usages: meaning to be able to do a learned thing, meaning something will happen in the future, and the words a "meeting" (开会), a "date" (约会), and "opportunity" (机会).

On the surface, I would say that Kennedy's interpretation of the word 危机 is correct. But I suppose that proves that my Chinese isn't that thorough.

I've asked Chinese people about 危机 before. They all agreed with Maer and said that I shouldn't read too much into this romanticized translation. Even after being shot down a bit from Chinese people, I still thought it was pretty cool.

Upon reading Maer's article though, I will all together drop 危机 from what I considered to be a "pretty interesting insight into Chinese linguistics and, possibly, Chinese people's worldview."

I'm also abandoning the notion I've flirted with for a few years which involved getting a small tattoo of 危机 on my back.

Oh yeah, and Emmanuel's quote from the beginning of the article also is not nearly as romantic as before.

We're all screwed on this economic crisis.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

China to the Rescue in Afghanistan?

I wouldn't count on this happening, but seeing it discussed is interesting to me.

From Newsweek:

Is Beijing, which is famously allergic to intervention, about to get involved in Afghanistan? It sounds crazy, yet there are intriguing signs. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently floated the notion at a talk at the Council on Foreign Relations, calling it a "possibility for the future."

Chinese Foreign Ministry official Qin Gang quickly rebuffed the notion last week, saying that except for United Nations' peacekeeping operations, "China never sends troops abroad," and that "media reports about China sending troops to participate in Afghanistan are groundless."

Yet the idea of greater Chinese involvement is not as outlandish as it might seem.

Read On

I was talking with someone who just began living in China a couple weeks ago today and told him that while in Western China last year, I was near the border of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, and a bunch of other -stans. He had no idea that China shared borders with all of these countries.

Honestly, before I came to China, I didn't either.

In fact, western China is right smack in the dab of Central Asia.

There's no doubt that chaos amongst China's neighbors has to be discomforting.

While China certainly won't be as brazen as America's been in the region, behind-the-scenes support from the Chinese, as this article suggests, would seem reasonable to me.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hua Shan - Part 3

Some more Hua Shan photos:

A daunting staircase

A staircase cut into the mountain

A view from the East Peak

No striding here

Andy, supporting a massive rock

Me, above a small waterfall

Me, on the deadly path to the South Peak

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Underground Coal Fires

Before reading this a couple days ago, I'd never heard of naturally occurring underground coal fires. Turns out, they're responsible for a significant amount of carbon emission and pollution.

From The Houston Chronicle:

RUJIGOU, CHINA — The barren hillsides give a hint of the inferno underfoot. White smoke billows from cracks in the earth, venting a sulfurous rotten smell into the air. The rocky ground is hot to the touch, and heat penetrates the soles of shoes.

Beneath some rocks, an eerie red glow betrays an unseen hell: the epicenter of a severe underground coal fire.

"Don't stay too long," warned Ma Ping, a retired coal miner. "The gases are poisonous."

Another miner tugs on the sleeve of a visitor.

"You can cook a potato here," said Zhou Ningsheng, his face still black from a just-finished shift, as he pointed to a vent in the earth. "You can see with your own eyes."

China has the worst underground coal fires of any country on Earth. The fires destroy as much as 20 million tons of coal annually, nearly the equivalent of Germany's entire annual production.

The costs go beyond the waste of a valuable fuel, however.

Scientists blame uncontrolled coal fires as a significant source of greenhouse gases, which lead to global warming. Unnoticed by most people, the coal fires can burn for years — even decades and longer — seeping carbon dioxide, methane and other gases that warm the atmosphere.

Read On
It's amazing to think how much energy is being wasted here.

Sometimes when I see news like this, I wonder what the whole point of "going green" is.

An article in The New York Times from last April - "Why Bother?" - captures what I'm talking about:
But the drop-in-the-bucket issue is not the only problem lurking behind the “why bother” question. Let’s say I do bother, big time. I turn my life upside-down, start biking to work, plant a big garden, turn down the thermostat so low I need the Jimmy Carter signature cardigan, forsake the clothes dryer for a laundry line across the yard, trade in the station wagon for a hybrid, get off the beef, go completely local. I could theoretically do all that, but what would be the point when I know full well that halfway around the world there lives my evil twin, some carbon-footprint doppelgänger in Shanghai or Chongqing who has just bought his first car (Chinese car ownership is where ours was back in 1918), is eager to swallow every bite of meat I forswear and who’s positively itching to replace every last pound of CO2 I’m struggling no longer to emit. So what exactly would I have to show for all my trouble?

Read the whole article
This is a problem I've though a lot about the last two years.

When I can hardly see a few hundred meters in front of me because of an all-encompassing smog, I'll often think of the thousands of Toyota Priuses being sold in America. Do the people who buy those cars think that what they're doing cancels out what's going on over here?

I think it's great that people are willing to spend a lot of money on a car that doesn't emit so much carbon dioxide, but man, their actions seem so fruitless in the grand scheme of things.

To truly curb carbon emissions, we're going to have to do a lot more than simply switching to small, fuel-efficient cars.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

More Americans Studying Abroad in China

Young Americans are seeing China as a good place to spend a semester or a year of college.

From The New York Times:

Record numbers of American students are studying abroad, with especially strong growth in educational exchanges with China, the annual report by the Institute on International Education found.

The number of Americans studying in China increased by 25 percent, and the number of Chinese students studying at American universities increased by 20 percent last year, according to the report, “Open Doors 2008.”

“Interest in China is growing dramatically, and I think we’ll see even sharper increases in next year’s report,” said Allan E. Goodman, president of the institute. “People used to go to China to study the history and language, and many still do, but with China looming so large in all our futures, there’s been a real shift, and more students go for an understanding of what’s happening economically and politically.”

While the traditional study-abroad sites for Americans — Britain, Italy, Spain and France — still attract more students from the United States, the report found that China is now the fifth-most-popular destination.

Read On
I studied abroad in Maastricht, The Netherlands in the fall of 2003. It was without a doubt four of the best months of my life. Living abroad taught me so much about myself and about life. I wouldn't trade the experiences I had studying abroad for anything in the world.

While studying in The Netherlands and coming to China to work after I graduated aren't directly connected, there's no doubt that living in Holland expanded my horizons enough to where it seemed like a good idea to come over to China by myself.

Personally, I think China would be a great place to spend time as a college student. So much can be learned from China's vastly different culture, formally studying Chinese could be very valuable, and, if in a big city, China's night life can be great.

And Chinese women aren't too bad either.

I'd recommend studying abroad anywhere to any college student who has the means to do so and is at all interested the idea.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Hua Shan - Part 2

Here are some more pictures from my two days at Hua Shan:

I really like this photo. It's so... bubbly (I suppose is the right word).

This little hut juts out from the East Peak. It is one of the only parts of Hua Shan that we didn't make it to.

A very long and steep staircase

A peak, through a valley

This is a waterfall on the lower part of the mountain. Left my shutter open for a while on this one.

Me overlooking the mountains

Andy took this photo. It was on a part of the mountain where people put locks to signify everlasting love and things of that sort.