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Beijing’s Olympic Oracle Bones

Tim Johnson over at China Rises is busy rifling through the 172* page Confucian journalists guide for the Beijing Olympic Games, but found time time to share some insights on the new pictographs selected for the venues:

beijing olympic

These are much more imaginative than those from previous games and are meant to look like ancient Chinese characters of old used on oracle bones and modern day seals or “chops” as some call them. They are named “the beauty of seal characters” which should have been reviewed by the counter-chinglish squad, but I agree with Tim that they look great.

It is a marked improvement over the Fuwa that started out embroiled in controversy because of their similarity to the Japanese Kero Kero (ケロケロちゃいむ, Kero Kero Chime) from a manga written by Maguro Fujita. The characters from the 30-episode anime series on Japanese TV were supposed to be mascots at the Moscow Olympic games of 1980 before the boycott and subsequent employment of Misha the bear. I caught a look at an obscure, but useful, Chinese language learning website called Chinese Tools and saw a post comparing the Friendlies (Now Fuwa) to the Kero Kero…. The Fuwa (Chinese: 福娃; pinyin: Fúwá; literally “Good-luck dolls”) are the mascots of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. They were announced by the National Society of Chinese Classic Literature Studies on November 11, 2005, a thousand days before the opening of the games, but 25 years after the Moscow games.

Fuwa kero kero

I panned the Fuwa a few months back when government changed the name of the Beijing Mascots from Friendlies to Fuwa (gesundheit!) bringing good news to folks who bought commemorative coins with the old name inscribed. Why the name change was made so late and why the original announcement was kept so low key is still somewhat of a mystery. China Radio International (CRI) originally revealed the switch and listed the reasons why the name should be changed:

“Firstly, Friendly is somewhat an ambiguous name, which could refer both to friendly people and friendly matches,”(and everyone knows that none of that nonsense is consistent with the goals of the Olympic Games!) a Dr. Li from Lanzhou University was quoted as saying on the site. “Secondly, the term Friendlies has a similar pronunciation to ‘friendless’ and thirdly, the spelling of Friendlies could be spelt as ‘friend lies’.” Dr. Li also thinks Grape Nuts is a venereal disease.

Laura Fitch, a Canadian who works in China as news editor, welcomed the change, saying the name Friendlies sounded “a little bit childish” and “doesn’t really have a meaning.” Laura didn’t get out much in Ottawa, but am I still glad that this was an expat approved switch and that the whole world will now get to say the more sensibly adult Fuwa which sounds similar to the sound made by my Chinese roommate expectorating. Laura, who should have talked to fellow Canuck DaShan first, is working on changing the goofy little term for coach back to “agonistarch” which means “a person who trains combatants for games.” and Dr. Li is lobbying for the Chester in Chester Drawers to be changed to a Chinese given name and he also thinks that Car Pool Tunnel Syndrome could be more easily understood by city dwellers if we talked about taxis and underpasses. But, I digress….

* Everyone esle got a post-it-note.  Johnson was given the Olympic tome after his trip to Tibet….

Asia,Asian Humor,Blogroll Diving,cartoons,China Editorials,China Humor,China Olympics,China Sports,Chinese Media,Chinglish,Humor,In the news,Intercultural Issues,Just Plain Strange,Weird China,中国,中文

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Ghost Whispers

death catcher

I learned today that my sister passed away. I learned over the Internet that she died in November of last year. She was much older than me and never in great health, so I had wrongfully assumed she had “crossed over” years ago. Tonight in the still heat of a stifling Guangzhou I smelled the sour scent of some hard traveled memories and heard her whisper to me….

No, we were not close. Marriage came early for her, when I was 5, and before I was developmentally mature enough to crave or mourn losses. My military family was turning corners in or out of countries every three years or so and making the word “home” an abstraction. My sister was never in our family pictures. I saw her only a few times through the years and her face in my mind’s eye is blurred. I can remember her often speaking of pain and that remains palpable.

Until tonight I had almost forgotten I had a sister. She had been adopted by my unmarried mother at birth. She saw herself later in life as a stubborn vine that connected all of us to my mother’s alcoholic ex-husband and his mistress: She was the offspring of an affair, so her past was kept secret by my simple and well-meaning parents until she was a teenager. My mother and father, emotionally unsophisticated and afraid, asked a Catholic priest to substitute for them and tell her that she was adopted. It did not go well.

I have been watching DVDs this week “expat style.” We often buy two or three seasons of a show at a time, ones we cannot watch on regular TV and then air them from beginning to end in only a few days. It is a way to keep current with our abandoned culture and remain bonded to the lexicon, fashions and familiar emotions of our birth home. This week I have been storming through two seasons of Ghost Whisperer. And I have come to love the show for its generally positive outcomes, its promotion of health through acceptance and forgiveness and its desensitization of our collective fear of the unknown.* The protagonist of the show, who can see troubled spirits, helps earthbound souls unpack the heavy emotional baggage that holds them here. She helps them release after-longing and pain from the past so they can peacefully migrate into their future. It is not a story about religion, or eschatology (life after death), but about how to live well and without regret.

My mother developed Alzheimer’s disease and never was able to finally confront the trauma of being abandoned by her impoverished mother during the Great Depression. Too, she rarely spoke about the man who had deepened her emotional wounds later in life. She did so to protect herself and to maintain some illusion of normalcy for my sister and me. There was no malice in her deception, though my sister never forgave her or my father and never found emotional nourishment that would sate the pain. Where my mother insulated herself with delusions ( and maybe her disease), my sister did so with anger and distrust. After my mother died, I read in another Internet article that my sister had embarked on a public journey to discover more about her origins. I hope to learn one day that she was successful.

I wonder if other expats learn about their vacated lives past and present as I do? I view time compressed, via boxed sets of information that arrive in emails, letters, DVD’s and Internet entries. It was almost five years ago to the day that I leaned my sister’s husband had died an improbable death: an avid outdoorsman, he had contracted Bubonic plague from an insect bite while hunting. He was the first man in America known to have succumbed to the disease in decades. He was the most gifted craftsman I have ever known, but held back from his dream of being a woodcarver and gunsmith by the needy gravity of my sister’s suffering. So, I grieved my loss and his because his short fame was only in the peculiarity of his demise. We wandering expats may seem not to care about what happens to you, but we do. I do. And I, like others, frequent the few paths we can find along time’s rivers looking for signs of you. But can be a lonely and overwhelming journey when information flows so fast from so far away.

I laugh, mourn, celebrate and educate in absentia. Memory also presents to me as a frightened bird that requires patience to keep it nearby long enough that I can study, appreciate and accept both its beauty and its flaws.

I pray that both my sister and my mother are finally at peace. I long ago forgave them for simply being human. I hope they forgave this homeless child for the manifestations of his confusion .

I am the earthbound spirit now: I am on the banks of the river, coaxing the birds and vigilantly listening for whispers….

————————————————

* In another coincidence, I was surprised to see that the crystal ball mind reader on the GW website was created by my old friend and British doppelganger Andy Naughton .

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The Perils of Prosperity in China: New Grapes of Wrath

Poverty in China

The number of middle class and wealthy Chinese is growing in China, but the distribution of wealth is increasingly disproportionate. And the situation is worsening with the nouveau riche paying the government the fines required ( Fines range from under 5,000 yuan ($646) to 200,000 yuan ($25,800) depending on the violators location and income) to raise more than one child. Rural poor, in contrast, are increasingly worried more about basic health care and housing and cannot afford to consider a larger family. According to The Guardian, “…growing numbers of pregnant women are risking their own lives and those of their children by seeking back-alley deliveries to avoid fines for having more than one child, Xinhua quoted Deputy Minister of Health Jiang Zuojun as saying.” A Chinese news source stated that more than half of the maternal deaths in one province were due to illegal abortions.

Several papers reported this week that a new baby boom is likely on the way in China, but will be comprised of well-heeled children. Under current laws the offspring of one-child families can now raise two children of their own. In my last school, made up primarily of rural students, most of them had brothers and sisters. The school where I teach now is populated by the only-children (those born with a “golden” spoon in their mouths) of industry owners and government officials: the Little Emperors often spoken of in Industrialized China.

The consequences of the growing disparities in a country still defining the boundaries of a new social structure are vast and varied, some with devastating outcomes: China Digital Times recently reprinted a story about a farmer in China’s beautiful Yunnan Province. The land owner’s crop of sweet potatoes was destroyed as local leaders, empowered to make decisions about private land holdings, sought to force him to grow tobacco. Rather than yield, Yue Xiaobao detonated explosives strapped to his body as he approached officials from his village of Lishan. He killed himself and Lishan village leader Ren Xuecai. Nine others, mostly village cadre, were hospitalized and many were expected to lose their eyesight.

Increasing poverty, lack of health care, greed and the unchecked authority of local government officials has led to more violence and suicide countrywide. There are recurring reports of uninsured rural villagers killing themselves to save their families from the financial burden of a needed medical treatment or hospitalization. Like Liu Xiaobao many have injured or murdered government officials or health care professionals before taking their own lives.

The cultural divide is no longer an issue between western nations and China, but an internal and burgeoning one between classes in a country new to the perils of prosperity. I remember well the stories of civil and criminal disobedience my parents told of life during the Great Depression. It is now China’s turn to grapple with industrialization; there could well (I hope) a Chinese Steinbeck or citizen journalist that chronicles the changes brought on by the nearly twenty thousand concerted annual protests in China and the individual citizen voices now making themselves heard.

Asian Women,cartoons,China Cartoons,China Editorials,Human Rights,In the news,Intercultural Issues,Personal Notes,Uncategorized,中国

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Transcending Dental Medication in China

A few weeks ago I was in magical Guanxi province to visit with the the unbreakable Chun Li. During my visit I had, not one, but two fillings, put in during my time in the military, decide to abandon their posts–one on either side of my mouth. I went on a sudden food fast because it was impossible to eat. With several days left before I could leave Yangshuo for Guangzhou I headed straight to the local hospital. Everyone there was friendly enough. The dentist had her grandson assisting.

China Dentist

The Dental Clinic was on the second floor and all you had to do to find it was follow the smell of the bathroom, sans doors, next to my treatment room.

Dental Tools

The franken-lab tools and mixtures did not bother me nearly as much as having to rinse and then spit into a tiny trash can. I am not nearly as accurate at expectorating as the average Chinese, so I ended the session looking as though my sleeves had been been mauled by a St. Bernard.

So, the old joke goes:

Q: Why did the guru refuse Novacaine when he went to his dentist?

A: He wanted to transcend dental medication.

Sorry…

Well, I did not get the option of Novacaine. For the 70 Yuan ( $8.40) the visit cost me I had to make due with clove oil built into the filling material.

I still have horribly minty fresh breath and everything tastes like an Easter ham.

And no, I don’t know the onlooker here:

Chinese Dentist

And yes, I am feeling much better now:

Toothless Chinese man

Photos by Ms Bolly

Asia,China Expats,China Humor,China Photos,Chinese Medicine,Confucius Slept Here,Humor,Intercultural Issues,Personal Notes,Photos,Travel in China,Yangshuo China,中国

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I Love China and other finds…

Blogroll diving today I discovered I Love China written by a 8-year tenured British Expat in Shanghai. His is a diary from one of the faithful: He is as cyclothymic/manic-depressive as the rest of us, but he states that the norm for him is a genuine appreciation for the language, culture and heart of this country; hence, the blog’s name. He must be a good guy: he has Waiter Rant on his blogroll to balance out the Time Blog entry.

I found a wonderful picture on his site of a phenomenon so common here I forget how much of a novelty it might be for my western readers.

You see, In China one can own a 3,000,000 Yuan house in an “exclusive” complex that comes with all the amenities EXCEPT a clothes dryer. Every balcony in my neighborhood has skivvies to dress shirts hanging out to dry–damned tough some days when it is 97 degrees and 80 percent humidity.

Most “high-rent” locales like mine (a wallet-slamming $300 a month!) have a special porch area that is partially hidden from view so the neighbors don’t get to peek at your delicates. It is essential because locating a washer-dryer combination in a household appliances section of a mallin China is like finding chicken feet in the snack section of an American 7-11. I Love China snapped this shot in Shanghai:

Chinese Dryer

For the record: The web-footed one’s carcass and the adjacent slabs of meat are, thankfully, not real common in my neighborhood.

I am guessing that the drawback here wold be that in a steady wind the unmentionables could end up smelling like pork or duck. Then again that could be an aphrodisiac in Canton, but I digress….

Asia,Blogroll Diving,China Expat,China Expats,China Humor,China Photos,Confucius Slept Here,Humor,Intercultural Issues,Photos,Shanghai,The Internet,Top Blogs,中国,中文

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Interning the poor

China rural poor
One online dictionary defines interning as:

  1. The act of training someone for a job or vocation
  2. Restriction to a locale, country or prison

Recently a group of girls in Guilin who were training to be dancers were sent by school officials to intern in their craft. They lived in Guilin, a part of the exceedingly poor Guanxi autonomous region often in the news lately for civil disturbances related to government enforced birth control and abortion.

I don’t know about Guanxi, but in areas of Guangdong, arts schools and their charges are not held in high regard. Dancing, painting, contemporary music and poetry are often thought to be frivolous activities meant for those not expected to succeed in life. Business, marketing, engineering, medicine, and law are more socially acceptable here.

But most students in China, regardless of their vocational choice, are hungry for life experience in their chosen fields. They believe that transferable skills are learned in the workplace rather than the classroom and they trust teachers and authorities to guide those experiences. And most of the teachers there, a dear friend of mine among them, make about $100 USD a month for their efforts, but take their responsibilities seriously.

Xinhua news euphemistically reported this week that “The law was broken” when one school lost its moral compass and arranged for its students to work as bar girls: Guilin Intermediate Vocational Dance School’s cadre arranged “internships” for 22 teenagers in Hangzhou, China nightclubs.

The school officials told parents that their children would perform at “well-regulated places” and would each be paid 750 yuan (US$94) a month, a very hefty salary for an ethnic minority student in Guanxi, but the dark reality was they earned 100 yuan ($12.50 USD) and paid 50 yuan to an “agent,” 25 yuan to the dance school, leaving 25 yuan (a little more than $3 USD) for their them.

The most bizarre part of this story is the spin some educators and officials have put on the event: Yuan Bentao, a professor at Tsinghua University, said, “It is even more important that private schools like this maintain a respectable image so that they can survive in China’s competitive education marketplace.” Ya, that was the first thing that came into my mind.

Internet chat-rooms have called for jail time for the school officials. The school’s Chairman Guo Guisheng claims he believed he was “doing a good deed” for the impoverished girls and their families.

In all of the reporting on this issue I have seen no indication that anyone has done anything to dress the wounds that were surely opened for the girls involved. My mother and her sister were abandoned on the steps of an orphanage during America’s Great Depression because my grandparents could not afford to feed them. They never got over it emotionally and they were not morally degraded like these girls were: The students were often forced to share toasts with middle-aged businessmen then sent to bed to cry themselves into a drunken sleep.

A law firm director, Qiu Baochang, of the Beijing-based Huijia Law Firm added, “These schools have to improve their teaching if they hope to have good reputations; otherwise, they will easily fall into a vicious circle.” Alleged professionals like these make a case for the re-thinking of industrialized education in China.

It’s too late, counselor: The vicious cycle involves the haves and have-nots in your new China. The internships given to those underprivileged children better fit the definition of imprisonment. They are now socially and psychologically locked in to a wheel of poverty and trauma. The only thing these girls learned is that a lack of self-esteem for a poor child is not a self-induced psychological condition, but part of a realistic self-assessment. A prospering economy has driven off and left these dancers on the steps of bankrupt orphanage.

With big thank you to Virtual China /China.org

Asia,Asian Women,Charity in China,China Cartoons,China Editorials,China Law,Education in China,Human Rights,Human Rights China,In the news,Intercultural Issues,Teaching in China,Violence,中国,中文

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Cinderella Teaching in the Greatest Monkey Show on Earth

China economy

An open letter to my students:

Two men recently completed a controversial recreation of Mao’s Long March. At every point along the march, people stared at them and puzzled over their purpose. On one particular occasion, a rural farmer walked up to the travellers and asked, “are you here to do a monkey show?” The historian-marchers, having long ago tired of explaining their journey, wearily assented. “Oh,” the farmer replied. “So…where are the monkeys?”

One of my colleagues (your teacher) a year ago told me that there were two types of expatriate educators in China: performing and non-performing monkeys. It was his feeling that neither administration nor the student body understood any of the reasons he elected to remain in China as a teacher.

Any of you who have been my students in the past two years have seen the movie Cinderella Man. Many of you remember two of the questions I asked following the movie: who would you most like to be in the movie, and who do you think I would most like to be? A few of you knew immediately what my answer would be. It’s the same answer I would expect from anyone who has devoted their life to pedagogy. Some of you wanted to Jim Braddock, champion of the world, devoted parent, and courageous cum-victorious underdog. Others of you would be happy being the rich, yet hardly kind, fight promoter. And a small group of you were comfortable, as I was, picking Jimmy’s trainer as our role model.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have great successes in my life, but my greatest pleasure comes from seeing any one of my students succeed emotionally, personally, financially, or professionally.

Some doomsayers think that China’s spectacular growth is a fairy tale and doomed to a tragic end. If I believed that, I wouldn’t be here. But I believe that some of your notions about education, teachers, and Western culture must change or this will be a very short chapter in book 4,000 years in the making.

Many of you know that my expectations of you in class are different than some other foreign experts. I expect you, for the short time you are in my classroom, to behave as though you were a guest in a foreign country. I expect you to rehearse new patterns of behavior and to make a paradigm shift in your thinking about business and culture in order make to more effective global citizens and international businessmen.

I returned this week from a vacation of sorts, as I spent most of it reading and researching Chinese history and culture in order to better integrate myself into this society and to become a better teacher.

I can probably never expect to be more than a shengren, an outsider who one day you may come to know and trust as more than just an acquaintance. I know that I already view many of you as shuren, or as zijiren, special people for whom I will always have a place in my heart, and for whom I will always make time should you need me.

Here are some of the things I learned:

  • I learned that if your country’s explosive growth continues at its current rate for the next 28 years, your economy will be as large as that of the United States. While this sounds impressive, the reality is that you will still have only one quarter the spending power per capita at that time as your counterparts in America.
  • Your country, as estimated by UNESCO, will be 20 million college seats short of its needs by 2020.
  • In fields like engineering, only ten percent of your current college graduates, because of a lack of resources (including high-quality foreign teachers) and an advanced curriculum, will be able to compete with their global contemporaries.
  • China invests seven dollars of research and development money for a return of one dollar in new production output. Conversely, America’s ratio is one to one.
  • Your economy has doubled in size every six years, and 250 million people have been pulled up out of poverty. You have the second largest foreign reserves in the world. You made 25% of the world’s televisions, 60% of the world’s bicycles, and 50% of the world’s shoes and cameras.

Sun Zi’s 36 strategies have served you well to this point. You have used offensive, defensive, and deceptive strategies to create the most enviable economy in the world. But to sustain your growth, you will need better knowledge of your enemy. As you know, Sun Zi said,

“Know your enemy, know yourself, and you can fight 100 battles with no danger of defeat. When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, the chances of winning and losing are equal. If you know neither your enemy nor yourself, you are bound to perish in every battle.”

Business is war. Were I still a military man, I might be guilty of giving aid and comfort to the enemy. It is my bounden duty to prepare you for battles in negotiation, acculturation, and professional assimilation. To further drag out this metaphor, I am the training officer who will ultimately be responsible for your campaign successes and failures.

For me, statistical data like that above isn’t much more informative than astrology in that it instructs you in what you can and should avoid. You can change a timeline that hasn’t yet been drawn.
I’m neither a performing monkey nor do I have a troupe of them for your enjoyment. I’m a teacher and a foreign who spends nearly 24 hours, seven days a week learning about and adapting to a China I’ve come to love dearly. All that is asked of you is that you honor my commitment and the commitment of other foreign teachers who take their jobs and their place in this society seriously. On one hand, a few hours a week against the rest of your life is a small sacrifice if you learn nothing. On the other hand, if it creates in you a kind of mental muscle memory that secures your position in even one future negotiation, it was time well spent.

With congratulations to recent graduates. I will always try be your cornerman.

American Professor in China,China Business,China Business Consultant,China Cartoons,China Expat,China Expats,Chinese Education,Chinese Internet,Chinese Proverbs,Chinglish,Confucius Slept Here,Expats,Guangzhou,Guangzhou China,Heartsongs,Intercultural Issues,Internet marketing China,Macau University of Science and Technology,past posts,Personal Notes,Teaching in China,The Great Wall

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The Hong Kong Monkey Trials….

Devolution The original Scopes “Monkey Trial” was a test of a 1925 bill passed in Arkansas that forbade any doctrine from being taught that opposed divine creation as expressed in the Christian Bible. Scopes, a teacher, was accused of teaching evolution. At that time, and even today, many people like the just-departed Jerry Falwell, viewed the Bible as the literal word of God and inerrant in its view of the world. Others still follow closely with the belief that it is a “God-Breathed” and man written document that is the essence of what God intended us to know about creation. . The issues raised by the Scopes trial remain, to this day, hotly contested in communities and American courtrooms and it is not religion they are arguing. Lately, Hong Kong has seen a bit of the circus atmosphere that was part of the Scopes courtroom drama between famed atheist lawyer Clarence Darrow and Presidential candidate, and fiercely Christian, William Jennings Bryan. The players, although not as flamboyant, are acting with a fervor and commitment about Freedom of Speech issues and drawing a crowd on both sides of the debate. An “Obscene Articles Tribunal” recently ruled that a student newspaper at Chinese university (academically one of the highest rated in the World and once a bastion of free speech) broke the law by distributing a sex survey. The Tribunal has yet to issue a penalty, but I am guessing, regardless of its weight (there is possible prison time involved), that the punishment will have as profound a public impact as did the $100 fine given to Scopes who was found also guilty of teaching evolution. The chief editor Tsang Chiu-wai said that regardless of the ruling of the Tribunal the will continue to publish the paper. This morning things got a bit more interesting. The South China Morning Post had an article on the front page that asked in its lead-in: “Is the Bible decent?” An anonymous website (http://truthbible.net) has launched a campaign to have the Christian Bible censored. The website is reported to object to references to “rape, cannibalism and violence in both the Old and New Testament.” So far the number of complaints to the Television and Licensing Authority concerning the Bible to has almost tripled those that were aimed at the Chinese University publication. If the complaints are proved valid ,full texts of the Bible could only be read by adults and would have to be sold sealed and tagged with a warning label. The website has its own warning on its header that reads: “This website contains biblical material,which may be offensive and may not be distributed, circulated, sold hired, given, given, lent, shown, played or projected to a person under the age of 18 years”:
bible warning Still a few decades away from surrendering autonomy to the mainland, Hong Kong is still struggling with how to please Beijing, maintain some semblance of self-rule and yet answer to constituents and leaders on both sides of Freedom of Speech issues. On the same front page issue of today’s SCMP the chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, Ma Lik, said Hong Kong had an “unpatriotic view” of one issue in particular, “The government should teach what actually happened on June 4th….” and he went on to add that “Freedom of speech is not absolute; it should be based on facts. when facts are not clear, people can only have wild talk.” Mr. Ma has been an advocate of universal sufferage (the right of anyone to vote) in Hong Kong, but qualifies that by saying only after the Hong Kong government educates teachers about what “really” happened in history. It is Arkansas all over again. I am glad that in the west we have preserved the right to “wild talk” from the days of Moses right up to the Jerry Falwell and historical revisionist Ma. It is time for America to watch, as did Europe during the Scopes trial, to see who or what prevails. One hopes a win is not brought on by the “alchemy of ignorance” whereby hot air is transmuted into gold, but by a concern for civil liberties, in the Hong Kong Monkey Trials.

An update on the stats here: BIBLE

Censorship,China Editorials,Chinese Media,Hong Kong,In the news,Intercultural Issues,中国

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I will meet you for Coffee at the corner of Walk and Don’t Walk….

china starbucks

Adam writes on the Lehman Law Blawg [sic] that the new ordnance in Shanghai requiring foreign businesses to add Chinese characters to their name is “misguided.” He goes on to make his case: “The claim that a foreign-language-only name is a major impediment to Chinese-only speakers is dubious. Even if potential customers cannot say the name, they can refer to it in other ways, for example, ‘that pizza place on the corner of Taicang Lu and Huangpi Nan Lu.’ As for access by taxi, unless you are going to the Shanghai Museum or some other such well-known landmark, names are useless. Whether you say City Diner or a Chinese name, you’re going to have to tell the driver ‘intersection of Nanjing Xi Lu and Tongren Lu’ to get where you want to go.”

Adam, I kind of expect to be reading Chinese (authentic Traditional Chinese) in Guangzhou, and even Portuguese in Macau. Just a guess on my part, but there seems to be some ethnocentrically driven historical precedence for the annoying habit of the local governments insisting on being able to navigate streets and order in eateries using their native tongue….

In China, that country bordering the country with the man with strange hair that is building a nuke, people brought up during the cultural revolution who don’t read English or Pinyin, probably don’t know the Hard Rock Cafe from a day-old bread store, but they have heard of Xingbake (the Chinese name for Starbucks) the American coffee joint or Kendeji (pronounced cun-dutch-ee) the chicken emporium. And even the Cantonese taxi divers can take you to either one if asked…

Adam gives his jury summation thusly: “Finally, foreign-language-named businesses add to the cosmopolitan air of a city. As one strolls through the streets of New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, one will see many Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese or other foreign-language-named businesses without English translations. Because Shanghai is unique in Mainland China as an international and cosmopolitan city, this diversity should be celebrated, not hindered.” Adam might have had me here if he he hadn’t introduced reasonable doubt in his argument by saying “Shanghai” and “free market” in the same sentence…But then, I lived in Chicago and did see a few businesses in ethnic neighborhoods with signs exclusively in the area’s dominant language, but most ethnic businesses in most cities have romanized names as well….The businesses intentionally wanting to appeal to immigrants left out “ease of menu translation” in their business plan to-do lists. The places looking to be cosmopolitan were smart enough to add English characters.

And if 谷哥 (Google) and 肯德基 (KFC) haven’t filed any ethnic diversity lawsuits because people here now know them better by their Chinese monikers, I doubt 星巴克 (Starbucks) is headed to court either.

By the way: “Guido”and “Boris” (their English names) from Guangzhou’s Tourism Board want to pay you a visit to discuss ways to improve on internationalizing their hick towns Hong Kong and Guangzhou… And “Makudonorudo” (the Golden Arches) in Japan wants you to represent them as they are tired of their name sounding like a morning rooster in the ads that air in the backwater town of Tokyo….

Adam is held in contempt of culture unil further notice…

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Addicted to Mediocrity: Education in China II

Several years ago, there was an American dentist who was well known in alcohol recovery circles. He was frequently invited to speak about his circuitous and hard won arrival at sobriety because he was easily one of the most entertaining speakers ever heard on any subject. One story in particular remains with me: Having been told of the death of a colleague, and to preclude public contact while “paying his respects”, he visited the grave site where his friend would be laid to rest. As he leaned over the six-foot deep hole to bid a heartfelt, albeit inebriated goodbye, he fell into the hole. Unable to extricate himself he simply laid down for a brief nap.

When mourners arrived and gathered for the lowering of the casket there was a collective gasp of horror when a figure attempted to rise up from the grave. The dentist mused, “A normal man would have been embarrassed.” But, habit had been a great deadener and he was beyond shame. It would be many years later that he actually reached a “bottom,” deeper than the aforementioned six foot resting place, that acted as a catalyst for recovery. More on this in a bit….

Two weeks ago, amidst finals, I had to quickly return to my office to retrieve a forgotten document; en-route, I passed the classroom of one of the younger Chinese teachers. The brilliant and beautiful Ph.D graduate of one of the top schools in the world was asleep at her desk while her students chattered, used cell phones, applied make-up, read books, dozed, and smoked cigarettes. It looked more like a scene out of Chalkboard Jungle, Stand and Deliver or Freedom Writers, but without hope for a happy ending. In retropsect, the most astonishing part of the experiece was my lack of surprise and concomitant emotional indifference. I guess I have seen this too many times in too many Chinese and expat led classroom–while the teacher was awake.

Students in China, unlike students in Japan, are no longer adherents of Confucian principles. Since the days of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, where teachers were shamed, beaten, jailed and even killed (1966-1976), reverence for teachers is, at best, an arguable ideal. The average Chinese college student in many schools (there are exceptions), who thinks himself respectful, would still manage to incur the wrath of most American Professors because they have not had modeled for them the manners and etiquette expected of a western scholar.

Last week the Chinese media and the Internet were alive with rumors of this incident captured on film:

Stories abounded about the perpetrators, whose names and school were quickly made public on bulletin boards nationwide, and they had to be secreted away because a bounty had been placed on them. Allegedly 100,000 RMB (about 120,000 USD or 5 years of a school teacher’s gross salary) had been offered to the person or group that would literally beat them into respectfulness. The students, who finally apologized to the teacher, reportedly are back at school and neither the school or the teacher will further comment.

What is most disturbing to me, other than the physical attack and threat of harm to the teacher, is that the scene is all too typical of what many pedants are asked to endure in China. The industrialization of education has led the spoiled offspring of one-child families (Little Emperors), especially the newly prosperous, to believe that they have a right to lord their rich consumer status over low-paid, poorly prepared, and administratively unsupported educators. Teachers are expendable, and salvaging tuition is a higher calling.

Many of us who have been here for several years manage our classrooms with strict discipline and genuine concern for student well-being. Eventually, our sincerity is believed and that, in turn, generates a certain measure of respect. This allows for a reasonably manageable classroom where the handful of students serious about language acquisition and cultural gain can actually glean something useful.

In some rural schools, where teachers might be as paid as little as $50.00 USD per month, educators sometimes resort to brutality against students in a quest for control. There are laws against such behavior, but they are not often enforced. The students, I beieve, are rebelling against a system heavily reliant on memorization, humiliation and devaluation of self. I do not absolve abuse teachers of any negligence or liability by believing that their behavior is part-and-parcel of a dysunctional system. “Chinese education has a long history of corporal punishment,” says Thomas Gold, a University of California-Berkeley sociologist who studies China. Teachers’ “social status remains low, so they may be taking out their own frustrations on laggard kids.” I could not agree more.

My last school, the one where I just resigned, caters to wealthy, underachieving children from privileged families. The school virtually sells advanced (and unaccredited) degrees to business and government leaders from the mainland; accepts known plagiarized theses from students who may or may not have attended classes; admits almost any undergraduate (these programs are accredited) with a healthy bank balance; hires raw mainland talent, looking for a foothold in teaching, at a fraction of the wages paid by government established schools, and with only ten-month teaching contracts containing no provisions for retirement; they protect a registrar who holds American and Chinese Passports and the deanship over five departments who brags about hiding his income from the IRS via a Hong Kong bank; they pad their website faculty list with professors from famous universities who are not active teachers; have investors on their board with government ties who shower the school with land and facility donations; and have a turnover rate for staff that is higher than the local McDonalds. The teachers, though better paid, feel no more self worth than those in rural environs.

It is hard for students to command respect for an education entity, such as the one I left. It is blatantly greedy and inept. But, many, many other Chinese schools, especially privatized ones, have also abandoned functional educational models in the pursuit of profit. And with only 1/3 of graduating seniors assured of work this year many students cannot muster the motivation to respect a system that does little for their future, less for their net worth and still condemns their teachers to social contempt.

It is no wonder that 40% of my former school’s Freshman class applied for transfer. And 20% of the best, brightest and ethical at the school were accepted by other institutions and thankfully will leave. Others wish they would have followed suit because they will be left behind with an even further demoralized and unruly student and faculty population. Only 40% of those students educated abroad will return to China to share the skills they will acquire. My guess is they will avoid the teaching profession if possible.

Any normal system would be embarrassed. It is necessary to examine ways to curb profiteering, improve classroom conditions and teaching methodologies by educating educators and then rewarding them accordingly. It is time to foster respect for those entrusted with educating China’s new managers.

In a country now increasingly pressured to compete globally in business–via skills and quality and not price–while tariffs, environmental concerns and increasing production fees lower profits, one would think China would sober up and ask for a ladder to be lowered to rescue a system now forty years stranded nearly six-feet under.

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Dreams, Repression and Violence

weight of the world on asian shoulders

This week I taught two seemingly disparate classes: one obliquely encouraged students to dialogue about their inner-most dreams and the other, coincidentally and disturbingly scheduled on the day of the tragic shootings in Virginia, had much in common: Students were asked to differentiate between the words job, vocation and calling and apply it to their own lives. I was deeply moved and, as is often the case, I exchanged my role as teacher for that of student. Those of us who have taught ESL for a number of years know well to listen to the sounds that return to us from across the cultural divide. Chinese students are noted for their silence in the classroom and for their rapid adaptation to accepted or expected classroom behavior. Much of what they will express is meant to be superficial; hence, safe. But, occasionally, if you listen closely enough, you will hear the overflow of the heart become word. The sounds that I heard this week were not the usual echoes of my own voice and I listened carefully.

Most of my students lamented that their jobs upon graduation, if they were lucky enough in an economy hit harder than than the government lets on, were likely to be menial and unrewarding. They expressed an awareness that because they were students at a provincial college the likelihood that they would join the ranks of millions of unemployed graduates was greater than average. Many of them spoke of their vocational “choices” as inevitable: preparations foisted upon them by parents, poor entrance scores, or a lack of financial resources needed to pursue their true calling.

In my class of would-be lawyers, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners and those training to be businessmen there were actually singers, visual artists, humanitarian aid workers, writers, Olympic athletes and more….. My students spoke with passion about their dreams now being relegated to mere meditations on what could, or should, have been.

But when I asked them how they felt about giving up or belaying calls of the heart, but they have practiced for so long at giving an outward appearance of gratitude and acceptance that they cannot see the dissonance. For them, to grouse about their lot in life while spending their parents’ hard-earned money on tuition would be to completely dishonor their families. Few Asian students would ever defy the wishes of their parents in such matters. Instead, it is easier to dissociate or suffer in silence than to profess displeasure at one’s lot in life. It is at once admirable and heartbreaking to see students inexorably tied to the dreams of others while abandoning their own.

It is my guess that so many suicides on Chinese campuses are directly related to this sense of familial duty and the inability to express feelings of displeasure. I see student denial of feelings as type of socially induced alexithymia that is pervasive in Chinese culture. Alexithymia is a condition characterized by a disconnect between emotions and actions. Individuals who are alexithymic cannot accurately describe feelings they are having nor are they in touch with how the feelings are being manifested in other parts of their lives. Such disconnect breeds addiction, somatic disorders, difficulty in relationships, or violence.

I have long considered suicide as the ultimate and most devastating act of domestic violence. Suicide is more than anger turned inward: it is rage brought to fruition. And last year four students and two faculty members, unknown to each other, jumped to their deaths in Guangzhou in the same week. I believe that at least two of the deaths were acts of aggression.

Coming: Dreams….Part II


vt

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Secret Asian Man….

I love blogroll diving! Tak Toyoshima’s site is blocked in Guangzhou, so until United Media’s comics.com syndicated him last week I had not known of his work….

Reportedly the first Asian-American cartoon protagonist “Sam” grapples with an ethnic identity crises via membership in AA (“I’m Sam I’m an Asian American”) to excitement over the Americapalooza concert that will feature an Asian American band to a self-assured second generation defender of bi-cutural image:

secret asian man

The syndicated strip is great fun, but not nearly as edgy as the offerings on his website which are wonderfully politically incorrect:

secret asian man

Tak, an American born Japanese-American, grew up in New York City, attended Boston University and now lives outside of Boston where we hope the Japanese Prime Minister won’t find him.

Bonzai, Sam!!!

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Study in America: Study in US Guides

From The China Dreamblogue

Head over to BOD for recommendarions on where to study in the US, UK and Australia….

Study in America: University study in US

For anyone dreaming of university study in America: The China Dreamblogue has posted pdf guides on how to study in America, in both English and in Chinese…

Study in the US part 1

This is a guide to undergraduate study and educational opportunities in the US. You can find Arabic, French, Spanish, and Russian versions of the text: Study in America: American undergraduate Study.

Study in the US part 2

This guide explains the process of applying for and preparing for graduate study in the US. It includes information about admission, types of institutions, degrees, course loads, and grading systems. It will also discuss the different academic culture in the US and the US academic environment. It also covers specialized programs of study in the US: US nursing school, American law schools, US veterinary medicine, and American dentistry. You can find versions of the text in Arabic, French, Spanish, and Russian here: Study in the US: US Graduate Degree.

Study in the US Part 3

This guide provides thorough descriptions of short-term study options in the US, such as: high school exchange programs, work and professional exchange programs, vocational and technical programs, short-term university study, and professional study. You can find versions of the text in Arabic, French, Spanish, and Russian here: Study in America: Short-term US study.

Study in the US part 4

This guide provides important details on preparing for study in the US, such as obtaining a visa, predeparture information, housing in the us, and travel to the us. You can find versions of the text in Arabic, Chinese, English, and Russian here: Study in the US: US Visas, arriving in US, and travel to the US.

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Rats off a sinking ship: Yum!

The weather widget on my Mac says it is 97 degrees here in Guangzhou, but “feels like 107.” Who writes their copy? I think it would be a lot more descriptive, and accurate, to say: “97, but feels like you are clothed snorkeling in a sauna.” It has rained daily and the humidity is malleable. But, somehow I think we in Guangzhou have it better than the folks in Anhui and other areas experiencing torrential rains and home-destroying floods.

Guangdong residents have found a bizarre pot of gold at the end of the intermittent rainbows: Rats! They are being brought in by the truck-load especially from central China, where 2 billion of them (did someone really count?) were displaced when a lake flooded.

Rats!

The reason for jubilation?: “Rat Banquets!!” Rat vendors (I am in the market for one of their business cards) are making huge money on the fabled eating habits of the Cantonese. I have lived here long enough to attest that it is not a myth when they claim these folks will eat anything that does not eat them first, or objects that they have to fly in or sit on

The rats, reportedly NOT the bad bug-ridden rascals from Hunan where they are part of a crop-destroying plague, go for about 75 cents US for a kilogram to the buyers and fetch about $18 USD in the restaurants. The rat-catchers near the lake can haul in 150 KG a night and make about $10.00 USD. That is pretty good money in central China.

The oddest part–if there can be any quantifying– of the CNN story is that this new wave of furry fare is plentiful, not because of the lake, but due a lack of critter-chasing snakes and owls that the Cantonese love to include in their food and medicine.

Joyful Guangzhou netizens are now posting rat recipes on their blogs.

Yum.

P.S. Speaking of Guangzhou: Here is a site with some amazing 3-D maps of “home”…

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Elephant Hunting From Hong Kong….

elephant hunting

My laohua (“OLD eyes”) ache: I am several chapters over the safe reading line this week. I have been capitalizing on my delays waiting for China transport ( I want part of my ashes scattered at the Baiyun airport baggage claim area as YEARS of my life will have been spent there and in similar public transport areas) as an opportunity to catch up on a three year backlog of books on China.

After nodding through two history books I was desperate for an easy quick read, so I picked up a thin tome in Hong Kong entitled, Myths About Doing Business in Asia by Harold Chee. It turned out to be so laden with information that I was a full week, from Thailand to Shanghai, finishing it.

While in Shanghai one of the administrators at the Smith School of Business told me of a multi-national company that was setting up a new branch in town. They were flummoxed by the myriad answers they received to the same questions from a platoon of “China Experts.”

It reminded me of the old tale of the elephant and the blind men who sought to describe it by touching its parts: It was alternately a wall, a tree, a spear, a snake, a fan and a rope rather than a pachyderm. No meta-view of the beast was literally, or figuratively, possible.

Well, good news: Myths….gives us a clear picture of the China elephant in our economic living room. Is easily the most sensible and direct guide to doing business in China I have read. First published in 2004 (I told you I was behind) it tackles such myths as:

  • China is a market of 1.3 billion people
  • The market is easy
  • Chinese business people are not trustworthy, and a host of others…

In a review by The China-Britain Business Council Chee, and co-writer Chris West, are chided with: “there are handy pointers and suggestions, although the authors’ minds seem to be on other things when they recommend that, for meetings, “women should look smart but not too sexy.” They need to rinse the starch from those stiff upper lips as it is Chee’s straight-shooting style that makes this a worthy read. And before you think the book to be a literary set of patent leather shoes: it is rife with deft personal insights, but also well-researched data. I have already used information gleaned from the book to prepare two business plans for multi-nationals en route to China. Just an aside on the dress issue: If a woman wears anything remotely revealing or provocative in a business or educational setting her character will be judged, not by content, but by her appearance especially when dealing with older or rural Chinese people. “Nice girls” don’t do plunging necklines or visible bras, etc….. Cantonese have a love-hate relationship even with the “too sexy” stars of Hong Kong that they follow daily in the tabloids.

He writes without fear or favor for either side and makes it all too clear that it is essential for western managers to adapt to Chinese values and vica-versa. Our usual MBA-style, elitist approach to negotiations with Asians will only give the Chinese a strategic advantage. This is an essential read for newcomers, insiders and outsiders in the China. The book is best summed up by Beijing Management Institute’s Wang Xaoyu in a book jacket review: “An effective manual for all non-Chinese who plan to do business in China. The book digs out the essence of philosophy that Chinese people follow in their daily life.” Chee’s book should be a cultural course mandated into B-School programs of study.

Chee, a graduate in economics, “holds several masters degrees, and has studied at the London School of Economics, Essex, Kent Universities, and London University Institute of Education,” and teaches at the Ashridge School of Business in the U.K..

The seemingly simple lists in the Appendices alone are worth the buy: …key factors for dealing with the Chinese, and …key differences between China and the West are now tacked to my fridge door and will be staples in my future classes on Global Culture….

It is put out by Palgrave Press and costs about $275 dollars–Hong Kong dollars. I couldn’t resist….

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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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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)

American Professor in China,Asia,Asian Humor,Asian Women,China Cartoons,China Sports,Chinese Medicine,Chinglish,Confucius Slept Here,Guangzhou,Guangzhou China,Humor,Intercultural Issues,Just Plain Strange,Shanghai,Travel in China,Weird China,中国,中文

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