Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Photos of the Week - Doodles

Bear with me here.

These doodles don't have anything to do with China. They're just random drawings I've done over the past year or so.

I've always enjoyed drawing. When I was in high school, I turned a corner a bit in the development and complexity of what I was doing. My drawing became markedly more abstract.

Towards the end of high school I drew several really intricate pieces. In more recent years, I've hardly done anything at all.

These drawings, mostly done during down time of observations that I do at my school (notice the random comments I have on their classes on the sides), are the first drawings I've done in years. I like a couple of them a lot.

This is the most "advanced" one I've done in a long time. It took me several hours of the course of a day.

Monday, July 27, 2009

US/China Summit

China and America kicked off an important round of meetings yesterday.

Photo found on

For many years, U.S. officials traveled to Beijing and lectured the Chinese about the value of their currency and the need for economic and political reforms.

On Monday, about 200 senior Chinese officials traveled to Washington and heard soothing words of reassurance from U.S. officials: The dollar is still sound, your investments are safe and we are working really hard to restructure our economy.

Such is the nature of the U.S.-China relationship today. Behind all the reassuring language is a nervous sense that the fate of the world economy is increasingly dependent on the United States and China working together.

President Obama opened the first meeting of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue on Monday by declaring that the two countries share a responsibility for the 21st century, and should strive to cooperate not only on economic matters but also on key issues such as climate change, nuclear proliferation and transnational threats.

"The pursuit of power among nations must no longer be seen as a zero-sum game," he said at the start of the two-day meeting, held at the Ronald Reagan Building and co-chaired by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. "Progress -- including security -- must be shared."

The meetings are intended mostly to allow officials to exchange views on a wide range of issues and to establish contacts in each other's governments. On Monday, Obama gave a gentle prod to China on its human rights record, noting that "all people should be free to speak their minds," but otherwise focused on forming with China a partnership "of opportunity."


"The United States will never become China, and China will never become the United States," he (State Councilor Dai Bingguo, who oversees foreign policy) added. "But the living fact is that China and the United States' interactions have never been so frequent, our interest has never been interwoven so closely, and the mutually beneficial cooperation between our two countries has never been so broad, and the driving force boosting the China-U.S. relationship has never been so strong."

Read On
I hope that these talks can be fruitful and do some good.

There's little doubt that the election of Obama has done a good job of garnering favor from the citizens of the world. America's favorability ratings in China went from 34% in 2007 to 47% now in 2009. Hopefully some of that good will has also spread to the leaders of China and countries around the world.

There's no doubt that America is mired in a terrible recession. I will not argue with that. The conventional wisdom is that China is the lone nation leading the world out of such dire circumstances. That, I'm not 100% sure about.

There are a few signs around that China's growth might not be all that it's cracked up to be. I'm sure China is optimistic that its massive stimulus and vast amounts of resources will give it keep it's economy going, yield it more power in the international community, and give it the upper-hand in the US/China relationship. It might very well, but I believe there are some reasons to question this thinking.

If these kinds of talks and a general respect from each side towards the other can keep China and America's relations normalized, the world will benefit. There'll sure be huge problems as the world moves forward - both with the economy, the environment, and a huge array of other issues. I'd like the US and China to work together on these things. I don't think the world is going to be able to afford having the two countries at each others' throats.

Cruisin' on E-Bikes

This won't really surprised anyone who's been to China the past couple years; electric bikes are really popular over here.

From The Associated Press:

SHANGHAI — It's a simple pleasure, but Xu Beilu savors it daily: gliding past snarled traffic on her motorized bicycle, relaxed and sweat-free alongside the pedal-pushing masses. China, the world's bicycle kingdom — one for every three inhabitants — is going electric.

Workers weary of crammed public transport or pedaling long distances to jobs are upgrading to battery-powered bikes and scooters. Even some who can afford cars are ditching them for electric two-wheelers to avoid traffic jams and expensive gasoline.

The bicycle was a vivid symbol of China in more doctrinaire communist times, when virtually no one owned a car. Even now, nearly two decades after the country began its great leap into capitalism, it still has 430 million bicycles by government count, outnumbering electric bikes and scooters 7-1.

But production of electric two-wheelers has soared from fewer than 200,000 eight years ago to 22 million last year, mostly for the domestic market. The industry estimates about 65 million are on Chinese roads.

Car sales are also booming but there are still only 24 million for civilian use, because few of the 1.3 billion population can afford them. And unlike in many other developing countries, Chinese cities still have plenty of bicycle lanes, even if some have made way for cars and buses.

"E-bike" riders are on the move in the morning or late at night, in good weather or bad. When it's wet, they are a rainbow army in plastic capes. On fine days, women don gloves, long-sleeved white aprons and face-covering sun guards.

One of them is Xu, on her Yamaha e-bike, making the half-hour commute from her apartment to her job as a marketing manager. She had thought of buying a car but dropped the idea. "It's obvious that driving would be more comfortable, but it's expensive," she says.

"I like riding my e-bike during rush hour, and sometimes enjoy a laugh at the people stuck in taxis. It's so convenient and helpful in Shanghai, since the traffic is worse than ever."

Read On
A few months ago, I bought a mountain bike from a friend of mine who was returning back to America. The lightly-used bike, an XDS MA530, cost less than half of what I would've bought it for new. It's the best bike I've ever owned. It's a 21-speed, has shocks, and disc breaks. Here's a stock photo I just found of it on the internet:

While it is an old-fashioned pedal bike and not an electric one like those featured in this article, I can definitely relate with that last quote of the abstract above. Cruising around on a bike is vastly superior to riding other kinds of transportation.

As the article mentions, Chinese streets are well-equipped with bike lanes. Just about every main street in Xi'an has a small bike lane off to the side of the street for two-wheeled traffic. This makes cruising around (relatively) safe and quick.

I can get from my apartment into the city to meet Qian at work in about fifteen minutes on my bike. On a city bus, the trip would take at least twenty minutes (if I don't have to wait very long for the bus to come). And while a taxi would be faster than my bike, it'd cost about 15RMB ($2). So I view my bike riding as the best way for me to get around the city.

One of the interesting aspects of my bike riding in Xi'an is that I wear a cloth mask covering my mouth and nose as I cruise around. After I began riding several months ago, I realized that my throat would hurt after being out on the streets. Particularly after riding on a typical gray and smoggy day in Xi'an. I found wearing a mask really helps though. Sometimes I'll ride for a while, reach my destination, and then take off my mask only to find that the air outside actually stinks. But I hadn't realized this until taking off the mask.

It sounds as if the electric bikes are helping out with this problem of terrible urban pollution. Although the bikes are not a long-term pollution prevention because the bikes still require electricity (provided by, more often than not, coal-fired power plants in China) and have serious problems with disposal of the large batteries (that is discussed in the article above).

Despite the problems associated with electric bikes, they're a step in the right direction. I really enjoy seeing them on the streets of Xi'an. I have no problem being passed by an electric bike on the streets of Xi'an. A gasoline-powered one shooting exhaust in my face is another story all together.

And I can't expect all of China to stay content with pedal bikes like I am at the moment.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Heading Back to Canton

Qian and I are going to Guangzhou tomorrow to, hopefully, take care of her visa once and for all. We've been approved, but still don't have the visa actually in her passport. We should feel relieved and confident the process is over, but there is a certain degree of nervousness given how the last trip there went and how the whole process has gone.

If something doesn't go according to plan tomorrow, I'll probably lose it and go nuts. That would be pretty funny to witness from outside of my body. Probably not much fun for Qian or me though.

But honestly, I don't think anything weird will happen.

We'll leave Wednesday night after the visa is ready and picked up.

It'd be great if the American consulate that handles all of this stuff wasn't in Guangzhou. The city isn't a place that Qian are dying to go back to. Beijing on the other hand...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Troubled CBA

I realize that I've been doing a fair amount of sports posts recently. I apologize to those completely uninterested. I'm just having a bit of trouble getting up the energy and motivation to wax about the latest goings on in the economic crisis or the political scene over here.

An article on the Chinese Basketball Association and its myriad of problems caught my eye yesterday. The league has quite the assortment of problems.

From The New York Times:

BEIJING — With 1.3 billion potential fans, China is increasingly seen as a financial promised land for N.B.A. stars through endorsement deals, and the league itself has established a robust organization here valued at $2 billion.

But China’s own professional league, the Chinese Basketball Association, has hardly enjoyed a smooth ascendance alongside this country’s basketball boom. American players and agents describe broken contracts, unpaid wages, suspicions of game-fixing and rising resentment toward foreign players. Several players have left China after failing to receive paychecks. Last month, the league announced that it lost $17 million last season, which ended in May.

Players and coaches in China’s professional league said problems escalated last season after the association loosened salary and court-time restrictions on foreign players, part of an effort to heighten the game’s appeal to China’s growing N.B.A fan base and to bring in more lucrative sponsorship deals. The association also hoped the prowess of imported players would help bolster China’s basketball prospects for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

The efforts yielded conflicting results. TV ratings soared, and foreign players found starring roles — the top 15 scorers were non-Chinese, and players like Bonzi Wells and Dontae’ Jones — who had less than stellar N.B.A. careers — frequently scored more than 40 points a game. At the same time, the dominance of foreign players fueled frustration.

“Foreigners should play supporting roles, not dominate the game,” said Zhang Xiong, director of operations for the Chinese Basketball Association.


The dominance of international players is not the only systemic problem in the 18-team league. Coaches, visiting players and their agents suspect that the outcome of some games is predetermined.

Players recounted locker-room lectures in which they were told to slack off on the court. On other occasions, they said, the best players had to sit out particularly competitive games or were sent home once their teams made the playoffs.

Gabe Muoneke, an American player who joined the Yunnan Bulls last season, said he was told by a Chinese teammate that a game against the Shanghai Sharks in November was fixed.

“He said, ‘Listen, my bookie told me we’re going to win today, so don’t worry,’” Muoneke said.


Muoneke said the incident confirmed what he and other players have long suspected: that game-fixing is a problem for the Chinese league.

“It’s common knowledge that Chinese teams bribe referees,” he said.

Read On
As much as the Chinese love basketball and as much as NBA Commissioner David Stern dreams of China being the future of the NBA, the country is having trouble embracing the game at the highest levels of competition.

Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention about the problems that the NBA is having and has had over the past couple years. There have been plenty.

At the same time though, the NBA and its place either at or near the top of the global sports scene is well-established. And then China's attempt at a league appears to be flawed in a large number of ways.

My only explanation is that professional sports in China are a curious phemonenon.

Sure, the NBA and European soccer leagues are incredibly popular over here. But when you turn on CCTV 5, the nation-wide sports channel, pretty much all you see are Olympic sports. This is still the case now, in 2009, the year after the Olympics in Beijing.

From my subjective experiences, I've seen far more international ping-pong, badminton, and diving competitions than I have coverage of Chinese professional basketball or soccer leagues. The masses here just don't seem too keen on supporting their local teams.

I can't say exactly why the Chinese prefer international sporting competitions like China vs. Cuba in women's volleyball compared to domestic professional sports leagues like Dalian vs. Qingdao in soccer. But from the times that I've glanced at CCTV 5, it appears that Chinese people prefer watching its athletes competing against other counties than competing with each other in professional leagues.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Photos of the Week - An Evening on the Water at Houhai Park

The most enjoyable part of our trip to Beijing a couple weeks ago was taking a motor boat out in Houhai Park. Houhai Park is centrally located in Beijing northwest of the Forbidden City and Beihei Park.

Qian and my friends Richard and Ling and I went out on the water a little after 6:00PM. We were out on the water as the sun went down.

It was a surreal experience; both the people I was with and the setting around the four of us could not have been better.

Here are some of my photos:

The sun going down

A wonderful scene out on the water

Qian at the helm of the boat

Ling driving with Richard up front

There were little bars and restaurants like this everywhere around Houhai. There are lots of nice and expensive places around the lake.

After we got off of the boat and before dinner, the girls went shopping and the guys had a couple drinks. This is a rather sinister looking photo of Ricardo.

This is our friend, Elliot, who met us after the ride. I really like this photo. It doesn't look that good after I pared it down for this blog. But it looks great in full resolution.

This is a trippy photo from atop the bar we were at. I left the lens on for five seconds as the masses below went about their ways.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Rewarding Pirating?

A columnist at PC World is confused and upset as to why China gets ridiculously cheap copies of Microsoft Office.

From PC World:

Image from

In order to take a bite out of piracy, Microsoft sells copies of its Office Suite in China for just $29 dollars. I wonder how many copies Americans would have to pirate to get the same price? So much for the notion that "crime does not pay!"

I found the pricing information earlier today in a BusinessWeek story about how Microsoft is slashing prices to grab market share and fight off Google and the others that are giving away functionality Microsoft customers are used to paying for.

The magazine said Microsoft estimates 95 percent of all copies of Office used in China are illegal copies. Since the $29 pricing started in September, sales of Office have supposedly increased 800 percent.

This looks like a case of where crime pays big dividends. And, no, I am not suggesting for readers to pirate copies of Office in order to send Redmond a pricing message.

Still, we Westerners have been paying through the nose for Office for almost two decades. If anyone deserves a price break, it's us--not the thieving Chinese. But, it seems that if you are a fast-growing market, lawlessness aside, Microsoft wants to cut you a deal.

I understand what Microsoft is doing and why. I am happy for anything that reduces software theft, but that doesn't make me nearly as happy as a $29 copy of Office would.

Read On
The full version of Microsoft Office 2007 on costs $290.49 (while the home and student version costs $89.99. I just read the original Business Week article. I couldn't tell whether the $29 version in China is the full version. But even if it isn't, this is a huge price break for the Chinese.

I can see why this remarkable discrepancy in price would be frustrating for American users of Microsoft Office. It does, in some sense, seem to be rewarding pirating software.

I'm tempted to bring up the differences in cost of living between the two countries (ie. things are more expensive in America than in China), but really, when it comes to computers and high-tech stuff, the prices are pretty much the same. In fact, a lot of techie items, from my experience, are more expensive in China than in America.

The most obvious solution to this wide gap in prices is for Microsoft to significantly lower its prices in America. Given new challenges from Google, open source word processors, and surely many more challengers to the Office platform, I would have to imagine that in five years, a newest version of Microsoft Office will not cost $300.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Killer Booze

China's machismo culture of baijiu is under scrutiny.

From AFP:

Image from

BEIJING — One Chinese official is dead and another in a coma in a pair of cases highlighting the risks of China's culture of drinking heavily to seal political or business deals, state media said on Monday.

Jin Guoqing, a district water resources chief in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, died last week of a heart attack after drinking excessively while entertaining official guests, Xinhua news agency said.

Also last week, Lu Yanpeng, a district chief in Zhanjiang city in southern Guangdong province, fell into a coma after drinking heavily during a dinner with a Communist Party official, it said.

They were just the latest casualties in a booze-soaked culture in which officials and businessmen are expected to ply guests with strong Chinese liquor at elaborate banquets amid cries of "gan bei," or "drain the glass."

Xinhua quoted an official in eastern Shandong province, who asked to remain anonymous, saying officials would "lose face" if they do not get guests drunk.

"Neither my guests nor I want to get drunk but we have to play under the unspoken rule, which has been around for so long. We don't know how to do business otherwise," the official said.

Read On
From my experiences, Chinese men to feel the need to prove how manly they are by how much baijiu they can drink. Personally, I think this whole aspect of Chinese (male) culture is a bit silly. I believe I got this kind of stuff out of my system in my late teens.

The ironic thing is that many Chinese men simply don't hold their liquor that well because of their body chemistry. So it's easy to see why and how this kind of binge drinking can be problematic.

One other aspect I wonder about in these kinds of deaths is China's shanzhai culture. Just like every other kind of product in China, there is fake baijiu everywhere.

Little cigarette and alcohol shops notoriously sell fake bottles of the baijiu. The owner of the shop next door to my work got arrested last weekend because of this. I'm sure that the fake bottles of the nice baijiu brands make their way into nicer restaurants as well.

One can only imagine what is actually in the bottles of fake alcohol. If you think real baijiu is foul, imagine how awful fake stuff has to be.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Tao of Yao

The title of this post has nothing to do with the content of it. Just love the title of this book on Yao Ming.

Unfortunately, Yao Ming and his decrepit body have run into a major stumbling block.

From Reuters:
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Chinese basketball star Yao Ming's foot surgery will keep him out next season, but the National Basketball Association will not feel the pain in China because the U.S. sports league has grown beyond any one player there, analysts said on Friday.

Yao's NBA team, the Houston Rockets, said the towering center would undergo surgery next week after fracturing his foot during the playoffs in May, and would miss the 2009-2010 season.

For a league that has focused on building its fan base in China and making money through its TV contracts and sales of its branded-merchandise, the news was not a total shock as the injury to China's most famous sports personality had previously been called "career threatening."

However, the sport's popularity in China should allow the NBA to shake off the loss.

"Yao was a catalyst for the NBA's growth in China but now shares the stage with so many other players and league-sponsored initiatives," said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon.

"Yao's absence, while disappointing, will not damage the NBA China effort," he added. "Rather, it will demonstrate how diversified the business has already become."

Read On
Yao Ming is a great player. I really like him. I've heard a lot of Chinese people, frustrated at this point in his career, say that they don't think he's any good. I always argue that Yao is a great player who plays with such finesse and smoothness for such a tall player. But I do concede that he can't stay healthy.

And at this point, it's safe to say that Yao Ming cannot stay healthy. Yao has missed significant playing time each of the past four seasons. And in this coming year, he will miss the entire season.

The guy is just too tall for his own good. Whether it's the rigorous routine he endured as a child in China or simply a product of being a genetic freak, Yao's body has broken down at the age of twenty-eight.

While Yao Ming missing next season will obviously have some effect on how Chinese people watch the NBA, I agree with the main premise of the Reuters article that the NBA will remain strong in China.

As the article goes on to say, Yao Ming jerseys are the tenth best-selling in the country. While Yao helped the NBA get on a better footing in China, China's love of the NBA goes much deeper than its country's most successful player.

The NBA began being broadcast on China's CCTV in 1987. Chinese people are well aware of Michael Jordan and everything he did in the 90s.

A few weeks ago, Qian and I were talking about Michael Jordan and she brought up Scottie Pippen and the guy who Jordan was a huge rival against late in his career. She couldn't remember his name. I threw out a couple possibilities and then said "Karl Malone." She responded, "Yeah, that's it!" Qian is not much of a sports fan at all. So the fact that she knows who Karl Malone is says a great deal about the roots that the NBA has already seeded in China.

The NBA is stronger than it's been since Jordan left the game in 1998. The league is full of young stars like LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, and many, many more. The success or failure of Yao Ming and his compatriot, Yi Jianlian, are not going to determine how well the NBA does in China.

I hope that Yao Ming can recover from his injury. He's a great athlete and seems like a genuinely good guy. But if he doesn't, China is still going to be crazy about the NBA.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Atmospheric Optics Photo of the Day - Rainbow at the Great Wall

I found out about the website Atmospheric Optics from the reader, Jonathan Shock, and his comments on my Great Wall photos post last week. Atmospheric Optics and its photos and explanations of curious atmospheric phenomena is fascinating and is definitely worth checking out.

Per Jonathan's suggestion, I sent the Great Wall with the rainbow in the foreground photo to the AtOptics administrator. The admin said the photo was great and made it the photo of the day today.

Check out the great write up on the type of rainbow I saw and the work he did on the photo here. It looks beautiful.

Thanks a lot to Jonathan and Atmospheric Optics for getting this photo in front of more eyes.

Fitting the Noose Around the White Collar

China is serious about punishing white-collar crime.

From AFP:

Image from Bloomberg

BEIJING (AFP) — The former head of Chinese oil giant Sinopec, Chen Tonghai, was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve in a corruption case involving millions of dollars, state press has reported.

A Beijing intermediate court handed down the sentence after finding Chen guilty of graft amounting to 195.7 million yuan (28.8 million dollars) when he served as a top Sinopec official from 1999 to 2007, the People's Daily said.

Chen was also convicted of illegally appropriating funds from projects and land transfers during the period when he served as assistant general manager, then general manager and chairman of the board of Sinopec, it said.

The two-year reprieve means that Chen's sentence will be commuted to life in prison if he commits no further crime while in jail.

"Chen Tonghai received large amounts of bribes, the circumstances of his crimes were very serious and warrant the death penalty," the report, citing the verdict said.

Chen, 60, also turned over to the state all of his gains from the graft, it added.

Because Chen helped investigators in the case, expressed remorse, and provided information on the crimes of other people linked to the case, the court issued the two-year reprieve, it said.

Read On
I was drawn into this story by the headline: "Death Sentence for Oil Executive." The whole suspended sentence makes it a little bit anti-climactic (in a sensationalistic sense), but the tough love still says a lot about China's commitment to stamping out corporate crime.

I'm not a huge fan of the death penalty. I used to be. But somewhere along the line the whole idea of state-sanctioned killings.

While I don't support capital punishment, I do like that China is serious about punishing the people who do big crimes. The Ken Lays, Bernie Madoffs, and Chen Tonghais of the world should pay dearly for their crimes. Even if they committed them from behind mahogany desks while sitting in leather chairs.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Kansas City/Xi'an Connection

Just doing a Google search on Xi'an, I found out that yesterday the local government of my hometown, Kansas City, declared July 13th to be "Kansas City-Xi'an Day."

This isn't ground-breaking stuff here, but I would like to highlight some media on the special relationship my hometown and my Chinese hometown have.

Here is a video from WDAF in Kansas City and an article Kansas City Infozine:

Kansas City, Missouri Celebrates 20-year Partnership with Xi'an, China

As part of the celebration, the City Council will adopt a resolution declaring July 13 to be "Kansas City-Xi'an Day.

Kansas City, Mo - infoZine - The City of Kansas City, Mo., will mark its 20-year Sister Cities partnership with Xi'an, China with a celebration from July 12-14. Three delegations from Xi'an, representing government, trade and tourism, will attend economic and cultural activities while visiting Kansas City.

As part of the celebration, the City Council will adopt a resolution declaring July 13 to be "Kansas City-Xi'an Day.


The mission from Xi'an to Kansas City represents the culmination of a three-year China strategy, which included leveraging the sister cities program as a "door opener" for trade and as an innovative economic development tool. Mayor ProTem Bill Skaggs led two successful missions to China in 2007 and 2008 focused on trade and the City's global strategy with Asia.

Read On
Kansas City and Xi'an are a perfect match for being sister cities. Both are in the central of their respective countries. Both are "Gateways to the West." And there is some significant history between the two cities in that the journalist and author Edgar Snow is from Kansas City.

Snow's work in the 1930s essentially introduced the world to Mao. His seminal book - "Red Star Over China" - is incredibly famous over here. I've asked several young people I know, and well over half have at least heard of the book. Somewhat surprisingly, a foreigner from Kansas City wrote the official history endorsed by the CCP of the Long March and the communists living in northern Shaanxi Province in the mid-1930s. Pretty interesting stuff.

I know (or have met) several of the people in that above clip. The KC/Xi'an Sister City Organization is actually the means by which how I ended up in Xi'an.

When I was a junior in college, I spent four months studying abroad in Maasticht, the Netherlands. Living abroad for the first time just blew my mind. I knew that after I graduated from college, I wanted to go abroad again. My first choice was to go to Japan via the JET Program. JET didn't want me though. I had an interview at the Japanese consulate in Chicago and then was wait-listed to go, but then never got called up to go to Japan.

After going to Japan fell through, I looked into going to Chile and Taiwan. But after I began contacting schools in those countries, a friend of my one of my parent's friends told my mom about chances to teach English in Xi'an, China. Seeing that I wasn't being blown away by any offers in Taiwan or South America, I pursued the Xi'an angle.

Needless to say, Xi'an is the path I went. And I'm happy I did it. Being rejected from the JET Program and coming to China instead has been a great thing.

For any Chinese speakers reading this, I think the idiom 塞翁失马 (sai4weng1shi1ma3) is appropriate for my path and how I ended up in China. The idiom dictionary at says this idiom means "a loss may turn out to be a gain."

Seeing the way my life is going at the moment and my general level of contentment/happiness, I feel like I gained having found the KC/Xi'an Sister City Organization back in the summer of 2005.

Monday, July 13, 2009


An incredible tale of survival has occurred in China over the past month.

From AFP:

Image from Xinhua

BEIJING (AFP) — Three miners were rescued after 25 days trapped in a flooded mine in southwest China chewing on coal and drinking filthy water, local media have reported.

The three were hauled out of the mine in Guizhou province on Sunday, their faces black with soot and their eyes covered by a cloth to protect them from the light, the Beijing News and the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The Xinqiao coal mine flooded on June 17, trapping 16 miners underground, and rescuers had previously only found one body.

The miners -- Wang Quanjie, Wang Kuangwei and Zhao Weixing -- were trapped in a deep part of the mine that had protected them from the flood, according to the Beijing News report.

Rescuer Yang Sen, told the paper the three survivors had survived by drinking some of the remaining filthy water and had relied on the weak light still emanating from their lamps.

Once the rescue team had located the trapped miners, they were able to pump in air through ventilation shafts, the report said.

Read On
I've been thinking a lot about "survival" and Darwinism the past few days. A lot of this surely has to do with the excellent piece on whales from this past week's New York Times Magazine. The article is long, but completely worth the time required to read it. The article left a profound impact on me.

This section was particularly interesting:
Scientists have now documented behaviors like tool use and cooperative hunting strategies among whales. Orcas, or killer whales, have been found to mourn their own dead. Just three years ago, researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York discovered, in the brains of a number of whale species, highly specialized neurons that are linked to, among other things, the use of language and were once thought to be the exclusive property of humans and a few other primates. Indeed, marine biologists are now revealing not only the dizzying variety of vocalizations among a number of whale species but also complex societal structures and cultures.

Whales, we now know, teach and learn. They scheme. They cooperate, and they grieve. They recognize themselves and their friends. They know and fight back against their enemies. And perhaps most stunningly, given all of our transgressions against them, they may even, in certain circumstances, have learned to trust us again.

Read The Whole Article
If nothing else, go read page ten of the article. If that doesn't move you at all, I'm not sure what will.

Life, in all forms, is amazing.

Yet at the same time our world is also cut-throat.

In a manner that would make Daniel Dennett proud, Robert H. Frank, also of The New York Times, invokes evolution and survival of the fittest, the means by which life on Earth has reached such a wonderful diversity and sophistication, to help explain why the economy is in the state it currently is.

From The New York Times:
IF asked to identify the intellectual founder of their discipline, most economists today would probably cite Adam Smith. But that will change. Economists’ forecasts generally aren’t worth much, but I’ll offer one that even my youngest colleagues won’t survive to refute: If we posed the same question 100 years from now, most economists would instead cite Charles Darwin.

Darwin, renowned for the theory of evolution, was a naturalist, not an economist, and his view of the competitive struggle was different from Smith’s in subtle but profound ways. Growing evidence suggests that Darwin’s view tracks economic reality much more closely.

Smith is celebrated for his “invisible hand” theory, which holds that when greedy people trade for their own advantage in unfettered private markets, they will often be led, as if by an invisible hand, to produce the greatest good for all. The invisible hand remains a powerful narrative, but after the recent economic wreckage, skepticism about it has grown. My prediction is that it will eventually be supplanted by a version of Darwin’s more general narrative — one that grants the invisible hand its due, but also strips it of the sweeping powers that many now ascribe to it.

Read On
I'm a hardcore Darwinist. I agree a lot with the above-hyper-linked philosopher, Daniel Dennett, and his ideas that Darwin's idea of evolution through natural selection is like a universal acid. Here's a brief explanation of Dennett's attitude towards Darwinism from the Wikipedia article on Dennett's "Darwin's Dangerous Idea:"
Dennett writes about the fantasy of a “universal acid” as a liquid that is so corrosive that it would eat through anything that it came into contact with, even a potential container. Such a powerful substance would transform everything it was applied to; leaving something very different in its wake. This is where Dennett draws parallels from the “universal acid” to Darwin’s idea:
“it eats through just about every traditional concept, and leaves in its wake a revolutionized world-view, with most of the old landmarks still recognizable, but transformed in fundamental ways.”
While there are people who would like to see Darwin’s idea contained within the field of biology, Dennett asserts that this dangerous idea inevitably “leaks” out to transform other fields as well.
If I had financial security for the rest of my life, I'd love to go to graduate school so I could study Darwinism and this kind of stuff more. Specifically, I think it'd be fascinating to get into research into the compatibility of the theory of evolution and Kant's idea of the pneumena.

Mmmmm..... academia...

This post has gone wildly off topic and I need to wrap up my ridiculous ranting...

Basically, living creatures (Chinese miners, whales, investment bankers, etc.) and the survival that they fight for are incredible things to observe.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

When in Doubt, Quarantine Away

I've largely ignored the H1N1 news so far on this blog. I just don't find it to be that interesting of a story. Chinese people around me continue to talk about it though.

"You and Qian are headed to America soon," they'll say in a worried tone. "What about H1N1 and all the people who've had it there?"

My response, "What about it?"

Nearly all Chinese people I've heard talk about H1N1 are scared. If I didn't read the news and just based my perspective on the people around me, I'd certainly think that humanity is on the brink of a worldwide flu pandemic.

Reading the following editorial from The Los Angeles Times from someone who experienced a quarantine in China helps explain why Chinese people are on edge:

Image from Xinhua News

When I arrived in China late last month, the hazmat-suited public officials who met my plane had the same question for each passenger: "Have you had contact with pigs?" The officials took our temperatures, and then we were free to pass through customs and go on our way.

As a physician who had come to Shanghai to lecture at a Chinese medical school, I found it interesting to witness firsthand China's public health response to the H1N1 virus. The process seemed like overkill, and it had debatable public health benefits, but it didn't inconvenience me terribly. Or so I thought at the time.

The next evening, I returned from dinner to find two white-coated public health workers waiting for me in the lobby of my hotel. Apparently, a passenger three rows in front and five seats across from me on the flight had tested positive for H1N1. I was given 30 minutes to pack my belongings. When I returned with my bags, I noticed that the hotel staff stood in the corner of the suddenly cleared lobby wearing surgical masks. "I have no symptoms whatsoever," I tried to explain, but the siren of the ambulance that sped to the front of the hotel drowned out my protestations. The back door opened to reveal three fellow American passengers from my flight. I climbed in, and we drove two hours in darkness.

At 3 a.m., we arrived at a rural motel complex. Each of us was assigned to a single room and handed a letter. "Ladies and Gentlemen, I hope you have had a good trip to China," it read without a hint of irony. "In order to combat H1N1 you will stay at the Fengxian Medical Observation and execution institution for these special days. Stay at your observation room, no come out of your room. This temporary separation is for your family and friends' happiness and health. You will find quality services here. Have a nice time at this special moment."

Read On
Simply, the people who are suspected of possibly having H1N1 become, for all intents and purposes, swine on the back of a truck. Seeing this kind of action, it's easy to see why Chinese people are freaked out.

As this doctor acknowledges later in the article, influenza pandemics are something to be worried about. But he does a nice job breaking down why China's interpretation of swift and precise action are both antiquated and off-the-mark.

It is important for H1N1 not to take off in China. The sanitary conditions here leave a lot to be desired.

I remember being dumbfounded when, getting my first medical check examination for my work visa in China, there was no soap in the hospital bathroom for the patrons to wash their hands. So you can imagine the state of the rest of society if hospitals can't even muster up the energy to provide soap dispensers.

Saying that, locking up foreigners who were on the same plane as someone who tested positive for H1N1 doesn't seem to be a proportionate response to this situation.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Photos of the Week - The Great Wall From Jinshanling to Simatai

On July 1st in Beijing, Qian, a group of five friends, and I went to a section of the Great Wall a few hours north of Beijing. The section is a hike from 金山岭 (Jinshanling) to 司马台 (Simatai). It is widely known as the best, relatively-accessible, section of the Wall.

This trip was my fourth trip to the Great Wall. I went by myself in 2006, with my friend Meaghan in 2007, and my family, again, in 2007.

It's been great every time.

Here are my most recent photos:

The Wall and its forts go on and on

There were two quick rain showers while we were out there. I thought they were great. They cooled us down, cleaned the air and kept the sky immaculately blue, and also provided this ridiculous rainbow. It was the closest full rainbow I've ever seen. I couldn't take a picture of the whole arc. Quite the setting!

The 10km hike had some difficult patches

A few of my friends walking through the terraced fort

Another steep section

I'll be honest with you, I had an urge to go try to push this little wall over. I, of course, didn't. It just looked like it was about to fall at any moment!

This is the Simatai section at the end. We didn't hike this part. It looked incredibly grueling.

A look back at the Wall after we'd finished

Me and Qian. On my chance to endorse something with my clothing for my Great Wall pictures, I chose to wear my hapless Kansas City Royals hat.

Qian felt this was a nice setting to make a yoga pose

Friday, July 10, 2009

Friday Diversion

Last night, I adminstered a pub quiz at my favorite bar in Xi'an.

It was a lot of fun researching the questions and reading the quiz. I got a really good response from the teams that participated. Each team had four people on it. In total, six teams competed.

I'm going to post the quiz below. If you're bored at work or have nothing else better to do, this very well could take up a half hour of your day.

The quiz was designed for foreigners from North America or Britain living or traveling in China. You, of course, can't use the internet to help find the answers.

I'll post the answers in the comments section of this post.


Mark's Pub Quiz: July 9, 2009

1. Thriller is the best-selling album of Michael Jackson's catalog. What is the second best-selling Michael Jackson album of all-time?

2. What are the three totalitarian super-states featured in the novel 1984?

3. Which southern Chinese "Special Economic Zone" city went from a population of 25,000 in 1979 to 8.6 million at the end of 2007?

4. Name 3 James Cameron-directed films that have grossed more than $100 million worldwide.

5. What is the freezing point of water, in Farenheit?

6. In terms of traffic, what is the most popular website in China?

7. Which country, on average, has the tallest people on Earth?

8. How many Paramount Leaders of the People's Republic of China have there been since the country was founded on October 1, 1949?

9. Cassius Clay is better known by what name?

10. Which corporation has the largest number of employees in the world?

11. What character did Robert Duvall play in the films The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II?

12. How often is Halley's Comet visible from Earth?

13. What make of car was Princess Diana riding in when she was killed in 1997?

14. How many bones are in the typical adult human body?

15. Name the three largest provinces and/or autonomous regions in China in terms of land size. Order doesn't matter.

16. Name three of the four sitting US presidents to be assassinated.

17. In what industry did the bin Laden family make its fortune in Saudi Arabia?

18. Which country has the largest AIDS population?

19. The oldest certified individual animal in recorded history was named Tui Malila. The animal was born in 1777 and died in 1965. What kind of animal was it?

20. In what year was China's one-child policy implemented?

21. What does the acronym "DVD" stand for?

22. On The Simpsons, what country is Groundskeeper Willy from?

23. What is the smallest planet in our solar system?

24. What is the deepest fresh water lake in the world?

25. Which prolific rock musician created the albums Joe's Garage, Sheik Yerbouti, and Wacka Jawaka in the 1970s?

26. In what year was the United Nations formed?

27. Which philosopher famously wrote, "I think, therefore I am?"

28. Which Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning novel is based on the Joad family during the Great Depression?

29. July 20th of this year marks the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 and the first manned-mission to the moon. Who was the first astronaut to exit the ship and walk on the moon?

30. In the poker game Texas Hold 'Em, what is the strongest starting hand?

Answers in the comments section.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Replacing the Old With the New

The changing of the guard in the world economy is easily seen on the 2009 Fortune 500 list.

From AFP:

Image from China Daily

WASHINGTON (AFP)--The number of U.S. businesses featured in the annual Fortune 500 list of top global companies fell to lowest level ever, the business magazine said, while more Chinese entries appeared than ever before.

Signaling the effects of the devastating financial crisis on the U.S. economy, a non-U.S. firm topped the list for the first time in over a decade, with Anglo- Dutch energy giant Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSA) coming in first.

The company brought in $15 billion more in sales than second-place oil rival Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) of the U.S.

China's fortunes rose across the board, with a Chinese company - oil giant Sinopec, or China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. (SNP) - appearing in the top 10 for the first time, the magazine reported.

Sinopec supplies about 80% of China's fuel.

Overall, China had an unprecedented total of 37 companies featured on the list, with nine new entries and the others climbing in the rankings.

Read On
This is no surprise. It is interesting to see this list of the top companies in the world on paper though. It's also incredible to think that as recently as the year 2000, General Motors was number one on this famous yearly list. But seeing that the company is still ranked number six makes me think that these rankings (based on gross revenues) don't really give a person a full picture of what is really going on in the business world. The list is still interesting to see nonetheless, I suppose.

Seeing all the Chinese companies on this list surely shows that the economy is moving and shaking and creating revenue. Seemingly unable to make a news post without pointing out bank lending (I know, I know), I have to wonder what's behind those moves and shakes though.

From Bloomberg:
July 8 (Bloomberg) -- China’s new lending surged almost fivefold in June from a year earlier, increasing concern that attempts to revive the world’s third-largest economy will lead to bad debts and asset bubbles.

New loans last month totaled 1.53 trillion yuan ($224 billion), the central bank said on its Web site today. First- half lending rose to a record 7.37 trillion yuan, more than three times the level in the same period a year earlier. The June number is a preliminary calculation, the central bank said.

Chinese banks have now extended 47 percent more loans this year than the central bank’s minimum target for 2009, after the government eased lending restrictions to counter an export collapse. The benchmark stock index rose 69 percent this year and property prices rebounded, while the banking regulator said yesterday that credit growth poses a risk to financial stability.

“There can be no question that China has now moved into dangerously over-stimulatory territory,” said Glenn Maguire, chief Asia-Pacific economist at Societe Generale in Hong Kong. “The quantity of lending has taken undeniable precedence over the quality of lending and that policy now needs to be reversed.”

Read On
The article goes on to say that China is, in fact, concerned about this trend and that it is trying to encourage banks to buy bonds as opposed to lending more money. We'll see how that goes once things, inevitably at that time, slow down.

My recommendation: If you're with a Chinese business that has a short-term cash-flow problem, get to a bank now because the come-as-you-go days of super-happy-fun lending are (supposedly) coming to an end!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


My life is pretty hectic right now.

Am laying the groundwork for a Chinese celebration of pending marriage and a legal wedding in America. And I'm trying to figure out how the hell Qian and I are going to financially survive the next few weeks in addition to trying to streamline into the American workforce. It's going to be rough.

But in the end, I'm confident things life be OK for us.

That can't be said for everyone in the world right now though...

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Forging Ahead

In an attempt at getting back into news blogging, I searched through Google News for China articles today. There's a lot going on here in the Middle Kingdom. I'm going to try to highlight a few of the pieces I found most interesting.

First, on the changing role of China's currency from The Financial Times:

Image from

China has taken another step towards internationalizing its currency and reducing reliance on the US dollar with the announcement of new rules to allow select companies to invoice and settle trade transactions in renminbi.

The regulations released by the People's Bank of China, the country's central bank, will allow approved companies to settle transactions through financial institutions in Shanghai and other cities in southern China.

Offshore, the trial scheme will allow transactions to be settled in renminbi in Hong Kong and Macao, the two self-governing territories on China's southern borders, and later in a limited fashion in south-east Asia as well.

Importers and exporters will be able to place orders with authorised Chinese companies, and settle payment for them, in renminbi.

Although it has no short-term implications for the full convertibility of the renminbi, the announcement adds to the volley of political signals Beijing has sent recently over its dissatisfaction with the US dollar.

"To many minds in China the US dollar's time is almost up, the eurozone suffers from political paralysis and a too-conservative central bank, while two decades of economic stagnation and a shrinking population do the yen no favours," said Stephen Green, of Standard Chartered, in Shanghai.

"For them, the renminbi is an obvious, and imminent, replacement."

Far from being a replacement for the dollar as a freely-traded reserve currency, the move has been justified by the PBoC initially as assisting exporters buffeted by the greenback's fluctuating value.

Read On
Until now, China's yuan/RMB has not been an international currency. So, as I understand it, the currency is only capable of being used in the People's Republic of China.

I just did a bit of searching on why this has been the case. I couldn't find much except from this Wikipedia article on the Chinese RMB:
The second series of renminbi banknotes was introduced in 1955. During the era of the command economy, the value of the renminbi was set to unrealistic values in exchange with western currency and severe currency exchange rules were put in place. With the opening of the mainland Chinese economy in 1978, a dual-track currency system was instituted, with renminbi usable only domestically, and with foreigners forced to use foreign exchange certificates. The unrealistic levels at which exchange rates were pegged led to a strong black market in currency transactions.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the PRC worked to make the RMB more convertible. Through the use of swap centres, the exchange rate was brought to realistic levels and the dual track currency system was abolished.

The renminbi is convertible on current accounts but not capital accounts. The ultimate goal has been to make the RMB fully convertible. However, partly in response to the Asian financial crisis in 1998, the PRC has been concerned that the mainland Chinese financial system would not be able to handle the potential rapid cross-border movements of hot money, and as a result, as of 2007, the currency trades within a narrow band specified by the Chinese central government.
China is seeing the present-day as the time when it can life its controls on the yuan and begin implementing it as an international currency. Although the role of the Chinese yuan is changing, China says that the country is still fully committed to the US dollar and that the internationalization of the yuan will not challenge the US dollar as a world reserve currency in the near future.

Regardless of exactly how the yuan develops internationally, these steps from China towards getting the yuan out on the international market are a significant event.

The second article, from a few days ago in The New York Times, is about China's investment into oil in Iraq:

Image from

HONG KONG — Oil companies from China, the world’s second-largest and fastest-growing consumer of oil, bid aggressively on Tuesday as Iraq began auctioning licenses in six large oil fields.

A partnership of BP and the China National Petroleum Corporation, or C.N.P.C., won the first contract awarded, in the latest indication of Chinese interest in Iraq, a country that has until recently seemed to be firmly in the American sphere of influence for natural resources.


Few Americans or Iraqis may have expected China to emerge as one of the winners in Iraqi oil, particularly after six years of war. But signs of stability in Iraq this year, and a planned American military pullout from Iraqi cities on Tuesday, happened to coincide with an aggressive Chinese push to buy or develop overseas oil fields.

The Chinese companies “have been interested in Iraq,” said David Zweig, a specialist in Chinese natural resource policies at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “They were interested in Iraq before the war, and now that things have improved somewhat there, it’s on their agenda.”

Some experts contend that the West should not be concerned about a substantial Chinese presence in Iraqi oil fields, because it gives China greater stake in improving stability in the region.

“If you want China to be a responsible stakeholder in the world, you need to let China buy stakes in the world,” said Mark P. Thirlwell, the program director for international economics at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, during a speech in Hong Kong on Tuesday.

Read On
It's great to know that the 4,323 US soldiers killed in Iraq so far and thousands upon thousands wounded have expanded the universe of Chinese oil resources.

And third, from The International Business Times on China's stock market:

Image from

A nice little bubble is simmering away in China: not the vaunted stimulus-induced recovery, but the country's stockmarket which is becoming increasingly heated.

Chinese shares closed higher again on Friday, a phrase that has become all too monotonous in recent months as the market has soared.

Chinese shares have now jumped 65% since the beginning of this year.

Media reports suggest that tens of billions of dollars in bank loans are riding in the market; stimulus money that is being parked to earn big profits by banks and other companies before it's spent.


The surge in China has all the appearances of an emerging bubble, especially with reports in the local media of high prices being paid for property in Beijing and some other major coastal cities.

Read On
In a taxi last week in Beijing, Qian had a conversation with the driver that I could kind of follow along with. She was asking him about real estate prices. The driver told her that the prices are continuing to go higher and higher in Beijing.

I couldn't believe this.

One of the most striking things to me about Beijing is the endless skyline of twenty-or-so floor apartment blocks. When coming back from the Great Wall with our friends, I asked, "Are we getting into Beijing now?" Our friend who lives in Beijing responded, "No, not yet. There aren't any high-rise apartments around us. That's when you know you're starting to get into Beijing."

My friend, Elliot, had a good point. The sprawl that surrounds Beijing is vast. And the amazing thing is the ubiquitous scene of cranes putting up new apartment buildings.

I understand that Beijing is a massive city of about thirteen million people and those people all have to live somewhere. But it seemed to me, from being in the city, that the apartment situation is getting a bit insane.

To hear that China's stock market surge is, at least partly, being fueled by high real estate prices is concerning to me. I don't see how real estate prices can continue to rise when there are already so many apartment and so many more are going up and the world is mired in a once-in-a-lifetime economic crisis.

I've talked before about Beijing's unfathomable commercial real estate glut.

This post was fun. Hopefully I can continue to find time to make posts like these.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

On America's Birthday: 干杯!

As America celebrates its 233rd birthday, I raise it a glass and give it a big 干杯(ganbei) of 白酒(Baijiu)!


From The Financial Times

Image from

Beijingers call the hot and sticky months of July and August the "sauna" season. On muggy summer evenings, sensible locals sweat it out in the capital's old lanes with sticks of fatty lamb kebab and cold bottles of Yanjing beer.

But real men roll up their T-shirts under their armpits, ditch the pansy lager, and instead glug down the local firewater known as baijiu - a potent mash of sorghum, rice, unhusked barley and other grains.

For foreign businessmen forced to drink the stuff at countless banquets, baijiu provides an infamous challenge for the unconditioned palate. But this white spirit - generally 40 to 60 per cent alcohol by volume - is a mainstay of Chinese culture, first popularised during the Xia dynasty 4,000 years ago.

Baijiu, the world's largest spirits category by volume, traditionally dominated the domestic booze market. But in recent years, sales volumes of China's national liquor declined as beer, a foreign upstart, gulped up market share.

Now baijiu-makers are fighting back with a proliferation of new, luxury varieties designed to appeal to the country's growing band of big spenders. Revenues are shooting up at major distilleries and the spirit is giving beer a run for its money.

Read On
Anyone who's been to a Chinese banquet knows the culture of baijiu. The Chinese are serious about this liquor.

My first experience with baijiu in China was a bad one. The people I was drinking with told me, "Have some Chinese wine!" Thinking that I'd be drinking something in the same vain as "wine," I was all for it. After my first glass was poured and the glasses around the table were raised, I didn't even bother smelling the fluid inside the small shot glass. As the "firewater" hit my mouth and throat, I nearly gagged.

"This is wine?!" I remember yelling as I was short of breath after my drink.

The Chinese around the table all laughed and immediately poured me another glass.

I don't need to get into the details of what ensued. You can easily guess. Let's just say the next day I had one of the worst hangovers of my life.

For the next couple years I was staunchly opposed to baijiu. Whenever I was at a wedding or event where people were drinking the stuff, I'd take a drink or two out of politeness but rarely ever imbibed any more than that.

My attitude changed towards baijiu changed last fall when my friend from America, Andy, came to visit me in Xi'an though. On our way out to travel out in Gansu, Andy and I bought a bottle to drink on the train. We then ended up having an absolutely excellent drunken time. A week or two later, we drank some more baijiu at the north peak of Hua Shan when we stayed at a guesthouse there. Another truly great experience.

So since those positive instances last fall, I'm totally fine with drinking baijiu. I can't say I do it that often, but when the occasion arises, whether it be a wedding or a house party, I'm happy to participate.

To America on its best holiday of the year, 干杯 and have a great day!

Friday, July 3, 2009

After 403 Days...

Qian and I arrived back in Xi'an today after an incredible week in Beijing. Despite my crotchetiness with the young backpackers at our hostel, the four days we spent in Beijing were delightful.

The highlight of the trip for me was renting an electric-powered motor boat and taking that out on Houhai with our friends Richard and Ling. We got into the boat at sunset and cruised out on the water as Houhai and the bars surrounding the lake went abuzz with the darkness. A surreal experience.

Other highlights included watching Qian see Tiananmen Square for the first time (I'll post some goofy pictures of her there in the coming days), the Temple of Heaven, the Great Wall at Jinshanling and Simatai, hanging out with a number of different friends we know in Beijing, and having a cup of coffee with probably one of, if not the best, China blogger on the internet.

As great as our few days in Beijing were, the biggest news for me at the moment is the news Qian and I received this morning.

When Qian and I got back to Xi'an a few hours ago, we checked her email. Yesterday we'd sent an email to Guangzhou asking about the status of her visa to America.

Well, today the consulate in Guangzhou responded that they'd received all of the documents they needed, had reviewed our case, and have given approval to Qian for a visa to the States! Wooooohooooo!!!!!!!!!! The Land of the Free (and adjustable rate mortgages), here we come!!!

The final step will be going back to Guangzhou again in the coming weeks (Ramesh, Qian and I would love to buy you dinner) to get the visa in Qian's passport. We then will have a party for us here in Xi'an (an event with bells and whistles celebrating our upcoming marriage, but without an actual marriage certificate or anything official... we need to still be unmarried upon entry to the States) and then going to America.

Today, July 3rd, 2009, is a good day. We sent in our first application for Qian's visa to the States on May 26, 2008. So only 403 days after initially sending in information to the United States Customs and Immigration Services, we've received confirmation that Qian can come to America on a fiancee visa.

Someday in the future, I'm going to give a detailed plan for how to get through this process. We made a few mistakes and it cost us a significant amount of time. I'll try to type up something clear and simple explaining how one should go about this K1 visa process.

Until I do that, I'm going to enjoy life as much as possible here in Xi'an, wrap up all of the loose ends that I'll need to after being in China for more than three and a half years, and Qian and I are going to do our best to prepare for the insanity that will be getting married and going to the US in the next couple of months.