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Archive for July, 2007

What would Buddha do?

Buddha in the sky with diamonds

Several years ago, attending a Jimmy Buffet concert with a Catholic priest (Indian trail, NC, not Margaritaville) , we were discussing ways to raise money for his new parish. In neighboring Georgia a woman was drawing huge crowds claiming to see incarnations of the Virgin Mary. So, we laughingly concocted a never-to-be scheme that involved catching and releasing a trout on the church property that we would say bore some saint’s likeness on its its tail. We would then put donation baskets all up and down the creek. It was sacrilegious, but damned funny anyway.

A few years later I visited Shingo, Japan where they claim to have Christ and his brother buried on a hill above town. Jesus, according to local mythology, let his brother take his place on the cross and then went to rural Japan and retired to a happily married life in the sticks. Surprisingly, there was no marketing involved anywhere near the grave site.

Please bear with me as this all comes together for you in the usual intuitive flash at the end…

I just read a delightful book first printed in 1999 entitled What would Buddha Do? by Franz Metcalf. The pocket-sized tome is rife with well thought out answers to a host of everyday questions, some that made me laugh out loud:

1. What would Buddha do if his credit cards are maxed out?

2. What would Buddha do when making a salad?

3. What would Buddha do to avoid burnout?

4. What would Buddha do about trusting the media?

The answer to last question can be found in the Buddhist writing Undanavarga 22.17: “One’s ears hear a lot; one’s eyes sees a lot. The wise should not believe everything seen or heard.” Buddha must read the China Daily too, where I found the picture above. It seems Buddha hung around for about an hour on Heibei’s Zushan Mountain, but unlike the manifestations in Georgia, he didn’t impart any wisdom to the local tourists.

In another book I reviewed recently, One Couple, Two Cultures, there was a story about a British man and his Chinese wife discussing behavior common in each other’s country. The wife seemed to have no trouble commenting on behalf of the entire 1.3 billion residents of China, while the Brit’ demured on speaking for the whole of England. I can with absolute certainty say that had the Buddha appeared in Stone Mountain Park, Georgia, that every redneck (remember before you shoot that my father hailed from Harlan County, Kentucky), instead of burning him as a heretic would have tried to sell him on Ebay. I still remember the eerie glow-in-the-dark St. Joseph that watched over me as a child sleeping in the dark.

Now I’m not sure what made them think it was Buddha and not Mother Theresa, Confucius, or Steve Irwin. But I continue to digress…

What surprised me the most is that nobody is now selling watches of Buddha waving from the peak or claiming to have private chats with Gautama himself. Another missed marketing opportunity for China. David and I are thinking about sorting through seaweed potato chips until we come up with  some that look like Sun Yat Sen or Lao Zi. We promise to donate all proceeds (and extra chips) to charity.

So what would Buddha do if Buddha were alive today? I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t be standing around in the Heibei fog, though he might possible blog a few meditations–using a wordpress platform, of course. So I’m off to see if WWBD-in-canton.com is taken. This way, we can answer the pressing questions like:

1. What would Buddha do if someone stole a taxi out from under his nose?

2. What would Buddha do if someone took the food from his plate at a Cantonese buffet?

3. What would Buddha do if he found out he were watching a bootleg copy of Seven Years in Tibet?

4. What would Buddha say if his disciples kept commenting on his weight and skin color?

Now I’m getting ready to read Metcalf’s answer to “What would Buddha Do about that Coffee Habit?” If this post isn’t a call for my spiritual rehab or caffeine detox, I don’t know what is.

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Bamboocycles!

Bamboo Bike

I have been blogroll diving again! There is a new one in town Responsible China (No, it is not an oxymoron!) and it is worth your attention: Erica Schlaikjer, a trained journalist (She has had paltry internships at: The Chicago Reporter, Crain’s Chicago Business and National Geographic. But, she has never written for OMBW, so….) one of the producers for Entrepreneur Magazine’s online radio show, The China Business Show, hosted by WS Radio, is the author.

She has a bunch of great posts up now and I picked one to showcase that I thought was interesting:

The article is on Bamboo Bikes. It caught my attention because I helped a company create a prototype of a Bamboo baseball bat last year, but it proved too durable and they opted for something that Barry Bonds could break–even off the juice. But, I digress….

According to Erica, China is home to 450 million bicycles and 4.21 million hectares of bamboo and it make sense to combine the two into something good for the environment. And it appears that designers Liakos Ariston and Jacob Prinz, who started Daedalus Custom Bamboo Bikes two years ago after drawing up designs on a napkin, feel the same. The problem is the bikes will be for Laowai or well-heeled Chinese as they cost about $1,250 each. For $1250 a Cantonese would want it to float, double as a shelter, act as a fishing rod, stand-in as an eating utensil and play bootleg MP3s and DVDs. If the truth be known, I wouldLOVE to have one of these, but at my salary it would take three months of starvation.

“The raw materials are sustainable, so potentially make less of an impact on the environment, the designers say. But that’s not the only appeal.”

‘We’ve gained a lot more respect for the material we work with because we’ve had a few accidents on them and generally riders and bikes have come out unscathed,’ said Ariston, 25 . . . .” I get the unscathed bike part, but I wonder how the rider gets a break (no pun intended) from injury.

If it gets cheaper to make it could have a future in China as Erica reports that China’s Ministry of Construction wants to restore bike lanes to their old glory.
Here are some links she posted to bamboo related projects and designers:

Bamboo Bike Project
“The project aims to examine the feasibility of implementing cargo bikes made of bamboo as a sustainable form of transportation in Africa.”

Brano Meres Engineering & Design
“This is my second home-made frame. This time I used bamboo rods connected with carbon composite joints.”

Calfee Design
“Beginning as a publicity stunt in 1996, Craig’s bamboo errand bike evolves into a well-tested new model for the general public.”

Thanks Erica and welcome to the Sphere!

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Global Voices Correspondent Facing Jail and $400,000 HKD Fine For Obsenity

Posted in ESNW:
In brief, Oiwan Lam published an essay at the InMediaHK website that included a linked photograph from Flickr for the purpose of discussing the state of censorship in Hong Kong. Oiwan Lam has just been informed that the essay was classified on a preliminary basis as “Category II: Indecent” by the Hong Kong Obscene Articles Tribunal. The maximum penalty is HK$400,000 and 12 months in jail”

Oiwan has been an important freelance voice who also writes, edits and aggregates for Global Voices Onine. A fund to assist her with what is likely to be a lengthy court battle may be found at: InMediahHK

The offending picture is here: Continue Reading »

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One Couple, Two Cultures: A review…

Futo

Running through the bookstore near customs in Hong Kong is generally a snatch and buy operation. I pile up titles that look interesting and hope none of them get confiscated going entering the mainland. It is often more of a risk that I will grab a paper doorstop that would have better have been seized by a agent than brought home. But, I am glad I found Waters’ book, albeit a bit dated in its outlook and appeal –even for me a couple only of decades behind him in age.

One Couple, Two Cultures is a a series of interview that was published in 2005 by then 85-year old Waters. I am more anxious now to read Faces of Hong Kong: An Old Hand’s Reflections, his autobiography. He is a decorated British WWII Veteran, Karate Black Belt, a weight lifting Champion, an over seventy record holder in 800 and 1500 meter races, a PhD. in Hong Kong History, a Best-selling author and an educator with an enviable academic and governmental service record and more.
The book heavily weighted with Bristish-Hong Kong-ese unions began in the 1980’s, or before, is rife with the history of social acceptance regarding cross-cultural marriage in Hong Kong and does have a handful of very illuminating quotes and anecdotes:

“Never marry a Chinese woman. They’re steel rods swathed in flowers.”–Jonathan Hughes

“She doesn’t like to kiss on the lips. ‘It is very unhygienic’.”–The British husband of a Hong Kong Chinese wife

Despite my selected quotes, the book is filled with the hard-earned reflections of many happy couples grateful for the trials and tribulations of language, bi-racial child-rearing, overcoming stereotypical thinking, “fusion cooking”, the courting of neighbors and in-laws and the daily wonderment that brought them closer as they successfully conquered difficulties.

While the book won’t be an advisory manual for a young couple courting in Northern China it will be an enjoyable historical treatise on the yin and yang of relationships in 20th century China. From the mentions of early “protected women” (mistresses of western men who could not marry in polite society and carried a certificate that identified them to police as respectable women and not prostitutes) to the “Nanyang” emigrants to south-east Asia there is much to learn here. It is evident that the xenophobia experienced by some inter-racial couples in today’s China today is a much smaller price to pay for love than days of yore.

With a hat tip to the best lady-pipes in Chicago, for the cautionary photo above…

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And don’t forget to put the seat down….

It tastes like chicken

I just got back from Phuket* where most things are suspect: The prettiest girls are, well, guys and the DVDs are more expensive, but still originally shot on a camcorder in a movie house projection booth. The one thing they could not fake was the pristine water surrounding Phi Phi (unfortunately pronounced a lot like “pee-pee”) Island. I could actually see to the bottom and nothing dead floated by me.

Upon my return to Guangzhou I really could not help notice that our city prostitute, the Peal River, who looks great at night still was not someone you would want to wake up to in the morning. To mix a metaphor, pun intended, during daylight hours it looks like payday in a five year old’s proud potty chair.

Last year I respsonsibly reported that China produced more than 12 billion tons of industrial waste-water in the first half of 2006. That was up 2.4 percent from the same period in 2005 according to The China Daily quoting a State Environment Protection Administration report.

A major index of water pollution called the chemical oxygen demand increased by 3.7 percent in the first six months, while emissions of sulphur dioxide rose 4.2 percent, the report said. Acid rain, which affects almost one-third of the nation, also remained unchecked, it said. The environment watchdog attributed the increased volume of pollution to the country’s booming industries, as the economy steamed ahead by 10.9 percent in the first half of the year. It said food-processing, paper-making and chemical plants accounted for more than 80 percent of the increase in the chemical oxygen demand level. The watchdog said only 30 to 40 percent of public industrial projects had undergone environmental evaluations before they went ahead, and criticized local governments for not implementing strict environment protection policies.” China may only wake up when it truly realizes the monetary value of its failed five-year plan for environmental improvement: pollution has resulted in economic losses of over 65 billion US Dollars–about three percent of its GDP.

Shortly after that the then Guangdong Governor Huang, Hua Hua (such a happy name, huh?) led three thousand apparantly blind and olfactory challenged people in a swim across the river to prove it was indeed cleaner than in previous years–this despite local hospitals publicly warning folks off of the adventure.

Hua Hua said the, “We hope everyone will join hands to protect the river so the day will soon come when Guangzhou citizens can swim in it every day.” I would think walking on it everyday would be a more attainable goal.

In recent years, local governments have spent 27.5 billion yuan ($3.6 billion) reducing and controlling sewage discharge into the river and you still cannot see the sun reflected in the murk on a good day. It is good to be a government contractor in China.

Well, the worst publiciy stunt since Bush landed a plane on an aircraft carrier is going to be repeated this year! Guangzhou’s top gun Zhang Guangning is leading the charge sometime in the next week or two. They will be celebrating the cleanliness of the Pearl River.

I think the boy-girls in Phuket are more believable. For a MARGINALLY work-safe photo of David and the “Boys” Continue Reading »

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For a laugh, or not…

china censorship

Click on the pic…Some of you may have seen this a while back, but….

Update: My jubilation was short-lived. WordPress is blocked in China again…..

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Nothing Funny Happened on the Way to Shanghai

Remember the old joke I shared with you a few months ago about the airliner flying over China with transponder and communication difficulties? Somehow the tower figured out they were trying to ask the time, and they responded with, “If you’re Singapore Air, it’s 1300 hours. If you’re United, it’s one o’clock. If you’re China Eastern, the big hand is on the twelve, and the little hand is on the one. And if you’re Dragon Air, it’s Tuesday.”chinese shanghai prostitute

There were a handful of positive things on David and my recent trip to Shanghai, and one of them was being on time for an interior China flight for the first time in two and a half years. I thought this was a harbinger of good things to come, but I was wrong.

David and I used a China travel service (I’m a very slow learner) to book a hotel in a location that would be reasonably convenient for all the places we would travel to in Shanghai. The hotel and the staff looked like the barnacled versions of rthe set from the latest Pirates of the Caribbean sequel…

Let me continue to digress. I’ve always had this impression of Shanghai as this up and coming, modern, and sleek city that would someday soon supplant Hong Kong as an economic and cultural mecca for China. Some of my favorite bloggers correspond from here. So I’m hoping that this is just a one-off, skewed view of one portion of this city. Of course, I haven’t been psychologically “right” since my trip to Thailand. I’m currently suffering from gender identification disorder (GID): I compared the women in Shanghai to the men in Thailand and damed if the women dis not measure up. Maybe it’s time for that laser surgery. (on my EYES…)

We quickly determined that there were only two English-language stations on the hotel TV, one of them being a mindless version of ESPN China with replays of snooker marathons. The other channel was Chinese HBO. My best guess is that Chinese HBO in Shanghai has a transmission lag built in for the censors. Unfortunately, it’s about a ten-year delay. If you’re into B-grade horror movies rehashed from the Scifi Channel, well-known shows from the late 70s, or formulaic teenage drivel involving monkeys gone wild, you’re in luck! If you’re a six year old, or were a six year old at the time of transmission, you’ll also be quite pleased. The most recent release we caught was Arthur, with Dudley Moore, who I’m sure would be happy to know the broadcast first started its journey to China while we was still alive.

Our next adventure was the search for that hard-to-find creature, the toothbrush. In Guangzhou, we’d pass 16 hospitals and 14 medicine stores (albeit mostly knock-off products) in the course of two blocks, but it appears that no one in Shanghai takes much for colds or considers dental hygiene a high priority. During our travels, we passed herds and packs of common urban China wildlife: beggars, the RolexDVDbagwatch man, and prostitutes, but no one hawking designer Oral Reach on the street. The nearest drug store in the direction we went was six hawkers, twelve prostitutes, and four beggars from the hotel. Since that accounted for about 7 blocks, we decided to stop at Taco Bell for a well-deserved break.

Imagine our excitement to come from Guangzhou to find a Taco Bell. Instead of finding Tacos, Bells, or the greasily satisfying goodness of its American counterpart, we found a staff of very unhappy-looking Shanghainese dressed in novelty-store sombreros and ponchos. It took me a minute to place their expression, but then I remembered: my mother’s Chihuahua looked similar after being dressed in an Afghan knitted by my mother. Some things are just not meant to be.

We never did get that toothbrush, so we decided we use toothpicks and shirtsleeves, and take a meandering route back to the hotel in hopes of discovering some cultural treasure, or at least some amusement. We passed the Shanghai Grand Theater, which visibly lives up to its name from the outside. It’s has a Maxine’s restaurant with no customers and lots of waiters in tuxedos, looking about as comfortable as the sombrero-clan in Taco Bell, and a DVD/CD emporium next to the box office filled with much better packaged, but 20 yuan bootleg versions of their 5 yuan ($0.60 USD) Guangzhou cousins.

Thinking we might take in an off Broadway show, we checked the ticket prices for Mama Mia!, which was both the current show and our reaction to cost. One seat was the price of our round-trip ticket from Guangzhou, but we assumed that these were really famous, important actors as their names were covered with umlauts.

It was roughly thirteen prostitutes, two beggars, and 11 hawkers back to the hotel, where we wondered if we should order in for dinner or venture back out into the streets. To make a long story longer, let’s fast forward to the evening meal. We did a 180 from the toothbrush escapade and headed in the direction of bright McDonald’s signs in the process discovering that at night the predators become much more aggressive: maybe it’s a night vision thing. After David got a cold milk tea literally ripped out of his hand by a very thirsty-looking man I would have strangled but for fear of contagion, we decided to be more aggressive in our stance. From that moment on, calls for massages and Singapore girls were answered with shouts: “I’m GAY!” (I am not), or “I have AIDS and I am not afraid to use it”, which does flummox these guys.

We did catch a talented street band playing in the midst of all this. But, their repertoire was mostly torch songs, which had enough pedestrians and beggars in near tears to allow us faster passage to a Hunan restaurant, where a culinary self-immolation seemed preferable to returning outside. We stayed so long they turned off the AC to turn us, the last customers, out. So it was back through the gauntlet, where one really never had to buy a massage because of all the manhandling they gave us trying to get us to buy one. We finally made it back to the shipwreck hotel, where we fell asleep watching the end of the snooker tournament.

Several good things did happen on this trip, but that is another post . All of this made me think of my last entry: so what would Buddha do if every person he met in the street was a prostitute, a beggar or fake Rolex dealer?

He’d catch the next flight out of Shanghai. And so we will…..

Just in case you were wondering, Chinglish is alive and well in Shanghai:

Chinglish in Shanghai

Would that it were so, aye?

(thanks to Witty World for the photo)

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The trouble with Oiwan….

censored in china

When the Oiwan Lam controversy began I predicted four things:

  1. Support for her cause would be hard to muster because people might feel as though Oiwan invited trouble by publishing a picture that she knew might provoke the ire of Hong Kong Censors. Civil disobedience is not as cherished as it was in the past;
  2. Support would quickly wane as the matter did not seem as urgent or foreboding as the Hao Wu case. Oiwan is facing 12 months in jail, a costly defense and a hefty fine, but she is not incarcerated at the moment;
  3. Bloggers might not pass the torch, or the hat, because the issues are complicated and Hong Kong specific;
  4. People would find it hard to empathize with Oiwan: Hong Kong is part of China and censorship is expected here.

EastSouthWestNorth, Rebecca McKinnon Boing Boing, Lost Laowai, Image Thief and a handful of others have done their best to explain the issues while rightfully advocating for one of their own. An advocacy group on Facebook has collected 69 members, but few calls for action have subsequently originated from western computers.

Oiwan did not invite this kind of response. She put her journalistic foot in the water and was dragged below the surface by the well-mapped but unpredictable undertow that is the Hong Kong Television and Entertainment Authority (TELA) and the Obscene Articles Tribunal (OAT). These are the same forces that roiled against a Hong Kong University student newspaper for a ridiculously benign sex survey, Michelangelo’s David in a 1995 magazine ad and Cupid and Psyche on a book cover at the most recent Hong Kong Book Fair.

The charges against Oiwan created a tremor in the blogsphere , but the aftershocks are so imperceptible that we have gone about life as usual. Some Hong Kong bloggers are taking up the cause by posting other classic art works as an act of protest and solidarity. The rest of us should also act on her behalf.

I met with John Kennedy of Global Voices Online today and he spoke again to the issues involved in Oiwan’s case that affect all of us:

  • He thinks, and public opinion in Hong Kong backs him up, that the Tribunal and the TELA are antiques in need of dry storage and replacement (my sorry metaphor, not his). He thinks the Tribunal, which operates independently without reliable standards and accountability, should be elected officials that have to answer to the public.
  • He feels, and again is far from alone in his opinion, that a legal and reliably quantifiable definition of “obscene” or “indecent” should be adopted.

The latter is important to all of us as it would prevent dissidents from being punished at the whim of judges with personal or political agendas.

IF blogger’s rights can be upheld in Hong Kong it can instruct and inform governments and lawmakers everywhere about the need for free speech legislation and reform. Oiwan, who has no desire to be a martyr, is every man and woman who wants to speak their mind or read another’s in cyberspace. And, as Rebecca McKinnon has said so well in her blog, Oiwan is a writer who has devoted herself to the non-profit sector most of her adult life, so she has few financial resources to assist with what will be a costly and important court battle.

Help Oiwan and help yourself with a little link love to her cause blog (Banned in Mainland China), a posting of the banner below (feel free to use my bandwidth) and by, please, donating a few dollars to her legal campaign by clicking here:

Free Oiwan Lam

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Can the Wheels Be Put Back on Chinese Quality Control?

bad wheels

I remember as a kid when “Made in Japan” was a euphemism for junk or soon-to-break disposables. That was long before Toyota turned the “S” in Sinophobia into a dollar sign.

Now I run through 2-3 VCR’s a year due to the poor workmanship and the less than perfect DVDs that you have to buy locally. As I write I can look down to a sack of local medications that are headed for the trash as I fear the consequences of taking them. Even the mainland Chinese are jamming the aisles in Macau and Hong Kong pharmacies in hopes of safer, more efficacious drugs.

As profit margins decrease due to global tariffs and increased competition, some manufacturers are cutting a few safety corners. The phenomenon is not isolated to the Middle Kingdom as the West has had its share of debaucles: Firestone, Perrier, Dell, ect….

The latest scare (with a hat tip to Tim Johnson’s blocked Typepad site ) is reminiscient of the Firestone and Ford scare: Tires and autos. China’s Brilliance BS6 is meant to be positioned as a premium-style import sedan at a budget price. After viewing the videos of this tiny hearse traveling only 40 miles an hour I would say it is unsafe at any price–with apologies to Ralph Nader.

Germany’s test group gave it one star out of a possible five. And I am with some of the dark humorists in the comments section of an Autoblog (also blocked in China) article on this beast. They wonder if it takes an explosion to get no stars and one reader thought a riding a tricycle without a helmet would be preferable to taking the wheel of a Chinese car.

The picture above is from a tire sold by Foreign Tire Sales, Inc. of Union, NJ. They are in a panic after a death resulting from one of China’s Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Company’s tires, sans an important layer of rubber, overheated. FTS says the tires may need to be recalled. What?! And since the geniuses at FTS don’t have the financial resources, and obviously product liability insurance, to deal with a recall disaster, they are suing the Hangzhou Rubber to cover the expenses. They claim Hangzhou built the tires in a way that differed from the FTC’s specifications. Score one for stupidity and indifference in due diligence and zilch for the consumer at risk. The company executives should be made to crash test the next 100 shipments personally.

I am a staunch supporter of buying locally and doing my bit to support the economy that pays my rent. As an example, all my computers are Chinese save my laptop MAC. But, I have now drawn the line at anything ingestible or drivable in a crisis.

The scariest part of all of this? Analysts and consumers (also blocked in the mainland) don’t think this information will negatively affect sales of the Chinese car. People would rather save a buck than breathe.

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We need an Olympics in China EVERY Year!

Censorship China

WordPress.com is unblocked! Wikipedia is free (albeit a teeeeenie bit censored for individual items like the two “T” words…), Technorati is out of the closet!

It is almost like being back home–Well, on dial-up during a storm with a Commodore 64….But I digress….

Now if we can only get Typepad, Blogspot and a few others out of cyber-purgatory….

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SORRY, DETOXING TODAY….

Some of you may remember my writing this piece a few months ago. Tragically, I have become hopelessly addicted since that time. I now have coffee cola delivered by the case to my door. I would get it myself, but it is 27 flights of stairs to the store and I am afriad that my heart will explode becuause even at baseline it now putters like a Cajun trolling motor.

I am off today, not in detox, but recovering from some real meatball dentistry that had had me ill for weeks. Thank heavens for surgery by Dr. Dee at Can-Am Medical center in Guangzhou who corrected the earlier problems.

I will be back tomorrow with a post on mirth….Meantime, I am resting, drinking coffee cola and learning to levitate…..

From March:

COFFEE COLA CHINA

Idon’tkowwhyIneversawthisstuffbeforetoday.It’sbrilliant!!
TWICEhtecaffeineofordinarycola.It’slikethatBUZZBEERontheDrew
CareyshoworJOLTfromyearsback.WaitasecondwhileIitchmylegandget
myhairtolieflat.HEYIcanstandandtypewithonehand!!!!DidIsay
ithadTWICEthecaffeine???!!

So,wherewasI??

This liquid crack (NO), if it didn’t taste like vinyl on a bus seat smells (No, never up close!), would be a huge hit! It looks like a Safeway logo on the bottle I have (If it would just hold still I could read it…) and I guess is a knock-off of the stuff Coke introduced to France a couple of years ago. That was devilish, aye? The only think the French like as much as cheese and wine is COFFEE! Who has time for women when you are flying around Carrefour like a fart in a skillet?

I am sure this stuff has been souped up a bit and is already available in the prescription section of supermarket pharmacies in Japan.

I am a little disturbed that they engineered it to froth when you put it into a glass. It looks horribly like recycled Guinness (Again, NO! what’s wrong with you people?) with its flat head of foam.

My bottle, It’s Empty! It’s Empty! I want another one! Now!, was made in Beijing and probably flew down here on its own accord. Maybe they will start brewing it with Pearl River water. It will probably taste the same only chunkier.

It terrifies me that Chinese Taxi Drivers might drink and drive on this stuff….Those guys already have a variant hybrid of St. Vitus’ Dance and Turretts-like Syndrome; all they need now is this new artificial symptom inducer and WHOOOOOOO!!!!

Give it a try, but have paramedics on speed (ha, ha,, ha ha) dial….I am of….really way off………………

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