Sunday, November 29, 2009

Crazy Story from SW China

China attracts all different kinds of expatriates.

From The New York Times:

Image of Dali from

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Turkey Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Few Tidbits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Recap of Obama's Trip

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

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

Friday, November 20, 2009

Tis the Season

Christmas tree ornamentation... hmmmmm.

From The LA Times:

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

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

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

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

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

But seriously...

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Obama to Meet His "Chinese" Family

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

From The Telegraph:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 13, 2009

Listening to the Chinese

The Obama Administration attempted an interesting public relations experiment yesterday.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Image from

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Open Thread?

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

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

iPhone's Meager Launch

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


Image from

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 2, 2009

Seeding Snow

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

From The Christian Science Monitor:

Photo from AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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