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Futures: How to make a killing in Chinese seaweed..

I just met with several students from area colleges at my apartment. They are all volunteers at some level for various causes in China. They are an amazing group: smart, kind and honest, as my mother would have said, to a fault. They accept China on China’s terms and do their best to ethically orient themselves toward success in a society where the rules are not always as clear as we in the west would want them to be…

Today, one student innocently shared information about university sanctioned illegal video and audio downloads and another showed me study materials stolen from America’s Educational Testing Service (ETS) that were reprinted, and repackaged without identifying marks and then sold to him by New Oriental (NYSE: EDU) staff. Let me digress a bit before I explain more to you of what I learned during one of my most enlightening lessons on IP theft, Chinese Education and academic cheating….

ETS in China

Before I could become an instructor at the US Army’s Academy of Health Sciences, then one of the most modern teaching facilities in the US, I had to take a series of courses designed to make me a better educator. I was required to pass six graduate hours of training in lesson plan preparation, test item construction and item analysis. These courses were meant to insure that all classes taught by me would be measured against overt behavioral objectives. It’s intent was that students would be fairly graded and measurably educated. And for the record: there was still great creative latitude available to instructors about how to present a course, but the structure imposed on us guaranteed each student a fair chance at a good score. We also had teams of graphic artists, an enviable TV production station with closed circuit capability and virtually unlimited other resources to assist us and our personal classroom styles–one of the few positive benefits of the Vietnam draft was a wildly diverse and talented military whose skills the Army sometimes put to good use….

All of this was incredibly costly. I remember helping preparing the Army’s Behavioral Science Study Guide by authoring the Learning Theory and Behavior Modification chapters. It took thirty faculty members several months to create a comprehensive guide to social work/psychology theory and procedures that was used for years around the world as a promotions test preparation tool. I know the expense of creating quality tests and their power and validity when used correctly.

Tests are everything in China. Literally. The annual college boards here are similar to our GRE, SAT, ACT, GMAT, LSAT and numerous standardized tests. But, the main difference is: in China your future generally rests on your academic acumen as measured by one test taken on one day of your life– It is not unlike the last year’s Olympics in some ways. Socially and financially the waiting time between re-tests in China, easier in the US, can be devastating here: A single point can mean you that IF you get admitted to a Chinese “Ivy League” school,you might still be relegated to a less prestigious major that the administration will order you to study–and no, you cannot transfer easily to any other department. Can you imagine a student at Harvard being told they MUST take linguistics as a course of study?

So, many students head for cram schools to get a leg up on the competition. New Oriental, which went public 2 years ago for 100 million USD, was sued by ETS a few years ago, but continues to flaunt copyright laws in most of its centers. In 2001, Xu Xiaoping, vice-president of New Oriental, acknowledged their “mistake” in connection with the ETS copyright issue and went on to say said that his school had contacted ETS several times to buy the publishing rights for authorized GRE materials, but that they had been repeatedly rejected–Imagine that. Xu noted that New Oriental would have become the largest buyer of ETS materials in China if ETS had made authorized GRE materials available to them. So, since N.O. can’t get materials–on N.O’s terms–from ETS, they just steal them.

One student told me about professional test thieves who make a great deal of money by signing up for ETS and IELTS exams and either memorize questions (long a practice of law and insurance board schools in the US) or just replace paper tests with pre-fab fakes and then sell the originals to New Oriental’s publishing consorts. The books have no author, publisher or copyright listed, but they are sold by staff at N.O. schools. N.O. then packs 200-250 students in a cram class, hires cheap and marginally qualified teachers or $150 a month interns to preside over classes so they can pockets millions of RMB a week in profit. I am occasionally glancing at stolen test prep materials as I write. I have given it a lot of thought and ask myself: What student of any nationality, anxious to further a career, could resist getting actual exam questions and study hints for any U.S. or Commonwealth test for only $3.50 USD?

Students from middle class families live in dorms with enforced curfews and those that are lucky enough to have TV may have to share one with up to 150 classmates. Libraries are not current and most school intranets prevent access to thousands of western sites. For many students, even those in International Business, their only view of the west, prior to graduation, comes courtesy of a heavily censored CCTV or those shows and books filched from bit torrent locations. I blame part of China’s student suicide epidemic on the dearth of stimulation at many campuses and the singular dominance of exam dedicated teaching. Even during the most grueling courses at the Army’s Academy of Health Sciences we taught “toward” the test, but promoted social activities and encouraged “real life” interactions and learning beyond classroom walls.

Then, there is N.O., a multimillion dollar, “publicly held” corporation openly preying on the desperation of students hoping to break ranks and better themselves despite China’s lock-step educational boot camps and profiteering cadres. Test prep is a several billion dollar a year industry here and there is no excuse for N.O. not paying its dues to the overseas organizations that are investing huge amounts of money in research, development and ongoing statistical analysis to level the academic playing field for foreigners and native learners alike. Cram schools are cheating ETS and others of profits and displacing deserving students who have studied according to the rules.

Research has long borne out the fact that such a model of learning: a punitive and obsessive approach to winning at any cost, creates only aberrant behavior. When we unnaturally force youth to adopt our national or political aspirations we should count the loss of their ability to enjoy normal developmental stages, once known as childhood, as a death and one as as final and unnatural as the corporeal loss of a son or daughter.

I was leaving a lecture last year when I heard what I thought was a rehearsal for a drama contest: a native English speaking teacher, one of the retinue of a British educational group preparing students for study abroad, was shrieking at a student some 100 meters away. Through the dementia I heard the words, “Test”, “Late” and Stupid” several times; then a door slammed shut in a violent rebuke of all I have ever held dear in teaching.  A once reputable organization that recruited students for UK schools has lowered admission standards for high-paying International students and is a money making machine that pours cash from unprepared rich kids into British schools and leaves recruiters, students and weary teachers wealthier, albeit worse for the experience. And the teachers, worn frail by students feeling they are nothing more than a paycheck for schools/teachers keep a wheel of frustration turning.

Later in the same day one of my favorite students, a senior at one of China’s top schools, phoned me. After a long silence in which I am sure he was trying to properly conjugate his emotions he whispered that he had done poorly on his Graduate Record Exam and that everything he had trained for, all the lost days of adolescence spent in test preparation, had been incarcerated in a single test score. This is the same young man who told me about well-known teachers here in China who will sell a letter of recommendation and who showed me materials handed out by “tutors” at New Oriental the publicly held cram school that pays students to sign up for and then steal US and British standardized exams and republishes and sells the questions. Many of these “learners” are those being pushed by parents to spend graduate school abroad in, what is for the student, one of hell’s circles for the duration of a degree in a field they well may loathe.

The video below amused many, but now me and is a sad example of what teaching in the cram schools can devolve into when educational carpetbaggers from the US, UK and China prey on a one-child family’s aspirations by industrializing and monetizing their dreams:

Test-prep classes at the New Oriental School can drag on for a long, long time. To spice things up a bit, teachers were encouraged to do wake-up performances. Things started mildly enough—joke telling, maybe a rousing song—but now, we have this rather risqué dance routine, performed by a TOEFL teacher at one of New Oriental”s Beijing campuses.” (HT to Kaiser Kuo)

Yesterday, one of my students from the past, an ebullient, artistic and wonderfully complicated young woman, emailed me for a recommendation to college in America. She has been a dutiful student at a Chinese “Ivy League” school, in a major chosen for her by the administration, only to answer the callings of a typically demanding academic mother and father. There was an uncharacteristically uncombed sound to her words, clues I may not have been meant to follow, but I did anyway. One of the gentlest spirits I have ever know and really a favorite student leaped into an uncertain eternity last year because school authorities in Macau stifled her cries for help, so I am not about to let even the most obscure hints of trouble go unchallenged.

This year twice as many “sea turtles” or Chinese student/expat returnees will fold up their foreign aspirations and come back to China in search of work because plans in light of a the west’s scuttled economy. Those that wash ashore, having been socially or financially promoted to a degree abroad, are known to their peers as “sea weed.” And their paper-bound skills, might be mistaken as useful by businesses desperate for middle managers that can help them fight this financial tsunami with newly forged swords of knowledge.

Schools like Macau University of Science and Technology, degree mills, with 2+2 and 3+1 programs ( do 2 or 3 years in China/Macau and then finish in the US or UK) have arrangements with institutions like Seton Hall and Central and Eastern Michigan in the U.S. have nothing to lose save their reputations by pocketing the money ill-prepared students pay them for what should be an honorary, not earned diploma. Many 2+2 programs are reputable and provide students an incredible international experience, but Chinese students need to be guided by career counselors not paid by the schools. They should seek out those who charge operating fees that ensure the student gets in the best school-one that matches the student’s needs.

It is time for some real prep’ schools for authentic scholars who will benefit a world economy and not a few wealthy opportunists.

Addendum: The students mentioned above and others who came to me for guidance, which I gave freely, are now happily tudying abroad at schools they are happy about: Arizona, Columbia, Rutgers, University of Nebraska, CUHK, Carnegie Mellon, UCLA Berkeley and others….

Note: This is one of the reasons IELTS China was started. Read more about it here (in Chinese): IELTS GUANGZHOU

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You Must Go Home Again II

That I have withdrawn from the abuses of time means little or nothing. I am a place, a place where things come together, then fly apart. Look at the fields disappearing, look at the distant hills, look at the night, the velvety fragrant night, which has already come, though the sun continues to stand at my door.

Mark Strand

I have always thought suicide to be the ultimate act of violence: the explosion that results from a critical mass of shivers, splinters and agonizing open conflicts. And while psychologists assert that depression is anger turned inward, I view it as the long restrained blow in a battle won only by lashing out and retreating across waters into which enemies won’t ford. As I said in a post many months ago:

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/culturally mandated alexithymia that is pervasive in China. 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 recently 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 New York, had much in common: Students were asked to differentiate between the words job, vocation and calling and then apply them to issues in 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 when to listen to the sounds that return to us from across the cultural divide. Chinese students are noted for their silence in the classroom Much of what they reluctantly 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 were not the usual echoes of my own voice and I paid attention.

It is suicide season here and it makes it all the harder to hear student voice fears and lamentations about the future. They expect that their jobs upon graduation, if they are lucky enough to win any in an economy hit harder than than the government lets on, may well be menial and unrewarding. They expressed an awareness that because they are students who will graduate from a provincial college rather than a country funded key university the likelihood that they would join the ranks of millions of the educated unemployed in now greater than ever in recent years. 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 businessmen and women 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, I found that they had practiced for so long at giving an outward appearance of gratitude and acceptance that they could not 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.

I now know of ten student and Chinese teacher deaths in the last three years and all ended their lives by jumping from rooftops–an ending ripe for horrific metaphor.  Expats are far more creative in their self destruction as being an expat has its own set of invited and uninvited emotional contradictions: a feast of anxiety and mourning in he midst of the unfamiliar. I have watched expats lash out at their hosts for the very differences that compelled them to travel abroad. When our minds become cluttered with emotional matter we either reassemble and adapt, run toward more familiar surroundings, narcotize, lose our minds or lash out. Two of my friends have chosen, since since recently losing their businesses, to surrender to depression and deceit and I hope they come to some mental clearing where they can remove burdens of doubt, and rest and recover enough to negotiate a lasting truce with themselves…

In times of trouble I  stay up much too late to watch the box scores when Tiger Woods is playing, I watch endless hours of TV re-runs from the States, eat far too much toxic fast food, and worse…I have come close to wandering off the edge of the abyss, but have many good friends who know that sudden and prolonged silence from this outspoken teacher is a danger signal and I need to be called home if only via a message filled with a written or visual memory of the past…

My Chinese students are not always so lucky. Taught to wear discomfort fashionably they rarely give clues as to the depth of their despair or the strength of the opponents they are fighting. And even if they did, their polite contemporaries, also not eager to take on added responsibility, might ignore suffering in order to save their friend’s”face,” allowing them the illusion of strength.

It was a year ago last month that Chennie fought her last battle. She was an exceptional student who changed dozens of lives for the better. She was a favorite, she was gifted and not in retrospect: she earned the respect, love and admiration of students and classmates long before she died.  There was never a glister of sadness or anger in her eyes. I have stared for hours at the pictures that will keep her eternally young on Facebook and while I know some of the details preceding her death, I doubt I will ever arrive at an acceptable understanding of the hopelessness that drove her to take her own life.

I chose not to to give credence to the criticism of those who find my concern too saccharine or ignoble a task on which to to waste their conceit–like the administrators at Chennie’s school to whom she called out to in vain for help.

Chennie left me with a gift, of course, I wish I could return in person: I attend as best I can to those unable to sleep, I try to give voice to slight gestures of supplication I catch made in solitary anguish and I write in hopes you will do the same for the emotional or physical travelers in your life.

June 1988-March 2008

American Professor in China,Asia,Asian Women,Chinese Education,Counseling Services China,Education in China,Macau,Macau University of Science and Technology,Macau University of Science and Technology,Student Suicides China,Uncategorized

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Candy’s List

I was reminded of this post by a “tweet” on gratitude from one of my favorite people @Chinkerfly and then I managed to recover this from Blogger News archive. It is one of my favorite posts:

Blessings in China

Some foreigners are astonished at, and puzzled by, the myriad things that some Chinese, especially older ones, have never experienced. I am in awe of the Chinese who brave new experiences and immerse themselves in change with child-like abandon. My P.A. Jia Li is such a person and so is Ms Yue who recently rode on an airplane for only the second time in her life and kept her nose pressed to the window the entire time…

I remember going with her and another teacher three years ago to see King Kong in a big screen movie house. I learned later that it was her first time, at age 45, to see a film indoors. In her neighborhood, and many still, the whole community brings out chairs and a van plays the flicks against a canvas hung between poles or or on an apartment wall. She was mesmerized and would not take her eyes off the screen even to ask her most pressing question: “Is this real?”

Then there is Candy, a native Macanese working at the Venetian, who went on vacation to Canada and America for the first time. She was 24 Years old and had lived most of her life in Macau. I had wrongly assumed her to be more “westernized” and hence, was entranced by the diary she kept of first-time activities, foods and the places that particularly thrilled her on her journey.

Years ago there was a book entitled The One Minute Meditator” that gave you hints on how to celebrate and relax into events that we have become deadened to in our daily privileged routines. I have a renewed sense of life and good fortune courtesy of Jia Li, the fearless Ms Yue and Xiao Candy. Here are excerpts of “firsts” from her travel diary:

Foods:

Maple Syrup
Casserole
Root Beer
S’mores
Subway Sandwiches
Tap Water
Bratwurst

Things and Places:

An American Wedding
Sledding
A Snowball Fight
A Road Trip
Walking on a Frozen Lake
Taking a Sauna in a House
A Gas Station
Crazy Cars
Big Dogs
A Country Cabin
A Glow in the Dark Frisbee
A Big Sky
Ice Hockey
Carrying Wood for a Fireplace
Playing Old Maid
Seeing an Owl

Life is good, isn’t it?

Asia,Asian Humor,China Business,Intercultural Issues,Macau,Personal Notes,中国

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The nail that sticks up changes nationalities

seat turtles china

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have heard several Americans jokingly remark that while living in other countries they would rather people regarded them as Canadian.

Not unlike my days as a soldier during Vietnam, travelling with a blue passport generates discussion and often heated debate from non-Americans. Our approval rating Internationally may be lower than Bush’s at home, but I haven’t seen anyone hot-footing it to the consulate to denounce their citizenship–and who’d want Chinese students asking daily if you knew Dashan anyway?

Thinking about all of this I was dazed by an article in the Guardian last week that spoke of China’s enormous brain drain. The Sea Turtles (Chinese who have left China for study or temporary work and returned) do not seem to feel a biological or nationalistic imperative to head back to their motherland.

According to the Guardian, “China suffers the worst brain drain in the world…a new study that found seven out of every 10 students who enroll in an overseas university never return… ”

China is an economic eighteen wheeler without brakes and studies show that Despite business booming, government incentives to return,
and the odds of emerging from poverty being greater here than in the US, the the best and brightest are now staying away.

“The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences revealed 1.06 million Chinese had gone to study overseas since 1978, but only 275,000 had returned. The rest had taken postgraduate courses, found work, got married or changed citizenship.” The Guardian surmised it was a freedom issue. Imagine that. I regard it as symtomatic of a privatized educational system, exploding with students, and run amock with greedy carpetbaggers who care little about their charges.

David, the Dreamblogue’s Sancho Panza, asked me during a recent trip to Hong Kong, where the Internet is uncensored, the food and medicine quality less questionable and the burgers not likely to have come from animal that barked during their previous incarnation, “and we don’t live in Hong Kong, why?It seems a lot of Chinese kids are feeling the same way.

Last year the numbers of students from China headed to the UK to study increased 20% to 60,000 and China has just poured several million into programs to increase overseas opportunities hoping no doubt to increase western trained innovators. But how well that will pay off is questionable because in 2005, 118,500 took to study overseas. By 2010, some 200,000 will be in schools abroad. Like my friend in a very low margin wholesale business once said: “What we lack in profit we make up for in volume.”

There was a very telling student quote in the Guardian article: “I am slightly hesitant because China is developing very fast and by 2030, its GDP will probably surpass the USA. But I am concerned that I might not get a good job if I return. America may suit me more because they judge you according to your ability, whereas in China your background and connections are more important.” In China it is definitely not what you know, but who you know, who your parents are, and where you went to school. And while there are some tremendous schools here like Beijing University, Tsinghua, and other regional institutions of lesser, but honest repute, the fact is that lack of uncensored material, Internet capabilities and abundant antiquated facilities and poor teaching conditions make some, even great, schools a tough sell.

Then, Students who fail or perform poorly in mainland exams, are flooding to newly created degree mills like the profit-mad Macau University of Science and Technology. Some of the degrees are Macau accredited and others are not. If you have money the school will find a way for you to buy a diploma. It’s reputation is failing, but the enrollment numbers are increasing. Students with money will do a year or so at MUST and then attempt more credible pursuits in the US or at more authentic schools in Hong Kong or Macau. This year more than 15% of the MUST’s student body applied for transfer to western schools or other programs and the administration could care less as it continues to cash in on discontent—while creating its own branded version.

Yang Xiaojing, one of the authors of the brain drain report, was quoted as saying in the China Daily. “Against the backdrop of economic globalization, an excessive brain drain will inevitably threaten the human resources, security and eventually the national economic and social security of any country.” His fears are borne out in a survey this year which found that in Shanghai 30% of high school pupils and 50% of middle-school students wanted to change their nationality. THEIR NATIONALITY!

It is time for a Sea Turtle Preservation Society in China. A good start is to re-look at the corruption in newly industrialized mainland and Macau educational institutions, like MUST, who I see, through greed, declining standards, disdain for faculty, and lack of concern for a student’s ability to obtain work upon graduation, remove what should be an innate desire to return home.

American Professor in China,China Business,China Business Consultant,China Editorials,Chinese Education,Confucius Slept Here,Hong Kong,In the news,Intercultural Issues,Macau,Macau University of Science and Technology,Teaching in China,中国,中文

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Wishes, Lies and Schemes of Social Commitment in China, Part I

one-drop.gif

There is a school in America that maintains an “Office of Social Commitment.” Ostensibly, the office is charged with, in part, sending bright, globally aware scholars to regions that can develop and utilize their youthful enthusiasm. Ideally this fosters the “fellows” acquisition of information about local culture and accords them skill building opportunities that can be transferred back to America or generously subsumed into future professional choices.

Here is the rub: The four fellows who come from that particular school are sent to work in two institutions: One is in Macau and the and other is in Nanjing. The former is a third-tier private, for-profit school with most students coming from well-heeled families, and the latter is an elite prep’ school. The fellows in Macau are simply handed a teaching schedule and sent off, without any preparation, to face the Great Wall of Student Silence that is built into most Chinese classrooms. Attempting to scale the Great Wall can repel veteran teachers and injure novices and journeyman alike if they are not well equipped. Chinese administrations will not help teachers to adjust as they have little time and patience for new and, well, expendible teachers. I watched two “fellows” suffer emotional melt-downs (they are somewhat fine now) because they received little or no responsible assistance to problems from their “commitment” office or their Chinese work-site. It seems that social commitment is only an external consideration and does not apply to working field staff.

Dostoevsky wrote: “As a general rule people, even the wicked, are much more naive and simple hearted than we suppose. And we ourselves are too.” Sadly, that used to reflect my world view, but living in China among opportunistic and the ill-intentioned, posing as humanitarians, has altered my thinking. The head of the aforementioned social commitment office has in his website bio’ a telling metaphor: He ends his long list of organizational memberships and awards (Surely proof he is a good guy) with the announcement that he is adopting an Asian child. The child has no name, no history mentioned and upon close examination seems to be there only to add credence to the director’s bid for earthly sainthood–along with his being a “living kidney donor.”

In Nanjing the fellows are a bit better off, but are as essential to the fulfillment of ideologically meaningful goal as an i-Pod in the Gucci bag of an Orange County co-ed. This isn’t the community building your hippie dad knew in the Peace Corps of the seventies when he dug wells and irrigation ditches alongside poor farmers. The only holes that are dug in the examples mentioned are the emotional ones, like above, that once idealistic fellows will spend years extricating themselves from. The Chinese students at both of these schools, while lamenting environmental issues and social ills in the mainland, often come from families that work in government or head up companies that are part-and-parcel of troubling environmental issues and in financial charge of workers that increasingly need more attention than their designer clothed school children.

When I recommended possible educational agencies that might really benefit from the investment of a young foreign teacher, or schools where poor children may never have seen an outsider like those served by Volunteer English Teachers, I was told that it was just too much trouble to negotiate acceptable new contracts. Since when did social commitment get easy?

If you are headed here to help make sure you have the training and support you need to embark on your journey. And be sure you are not just part of your own or someone else’s need to uphold the appearance of humanitarian interests.

In the next installment I will be looking at NGOs, and Missionary Groups operating in Macau and the Mainland…

Coming:

Addicted to Mediocriy II and Dreams, Repression and Violence II….I lost many follow-ups in the server crash and am now reconstructing…

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Violent Protests Rock Macau

Macau protests

While literally hundreds of thousand of would-be gamblers stood for hours in line at Chinese customs stations Macanese locals used their May Day Holiday to scuffle with police. Well-armed Macau policemen fired warning shots into the air, but there were no reports of injuries resulting from the gunfire. According to one report: “Chaos broke out when a group of protesters tried to force their way through a police cordon, to access a busy avenue that leads to the Government headquarters. Over a hundred police, in full riot gear, struggled in vain to hold the crowd back.” Some three thousand people joined in the May Day rally to condemn corruption, rises in real estate prices and to call for tougher action against illegal workers. Dozens of protesters and police were hurt last year, when a similar protest turned violent. Some protesters used the occasion to carry placards in Chinese protesting various casinos and in particular the Sands whom some locals blamed for last week’s suicide jump inside the casino by a gambler from Hubei province.

Many official reports are putting the numbers of protesters in the hundreds, The taxi drivers, who took the circuitous route around the center of the ruckus near world famous Senado Square, say the figure was certainly in the thousands.

Asia,Human Rights,In the news,Macau,Violence,中国

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Dying to win in Macau….

macau gambling

Simon Montlake wrote recently in the Christian Science Monitor about Macau’s “exhilarating” growth of late. Imagine yourself in a town where the GDP rose 17 percent last year and the law mandated that the highest paying of the thousands of new jobs must go to you, a local resident. Desperate casinos are hiring college students before graduation and they are easy to spot as they doze off even in the midst of exams.

One the face of it Macau, with salaries 3-6 times higher on average than the mainland, has re-nationalized and re-located the American Dream Eastward. And land values have increased some 30% this year and restaurants and service sector shops are packed most days.

But, there is life in the darkness beneath the fresh sod of success: Thousands of illegal aliens, mostly Filipino domestic helpers, Chinese mainland construction workers and Russian showgirls and prostitutes, work for under- the-table pay while living in overcrowded apartments. For every undocumented worker deported there are dozens, from the over 200 million migrant workers creating China’s new skyline, waiting to take their place. And there is no shortage of employers desperate to fill critical shortages or other local needs who are willing to bend the rules for a profit.

Last week a man from Wuhan in Hubei province, reportedly despondent over gambling losses, jumped to his death from a terrace inside the Sands Casino. He landed amid players queueing up for a free million HK dollar pull on a house slot machine. The Sands, who made profits staggering enough to pay off all their debts in only a few months, is building a new 3,000-room Venetian Macau at a cost of $2.3 billion and will likely retire that debt in record time. Mainlanders lose the money that comprises more than 60% of the revenue that has already outstripped the take of Las Vegas. Changes in anti-gambling Beijing’s hands off policy could affect the country’s bottom line and leave a populous, vocationally training to need gaming demands, without a fall-back plan. (Like my Irish mom, who likely spoke Yiddish in a previous life, “You need something to fall back on,” but….

It is not the first time someone has taken their own life after yielding to gambling urges and the mainland authorities, this time, have taken some token measures to curb addiction: Visas issuance, according to an official source in Guangzhou, have been limited in number due to the recent suicide. While I am sure this will do little to stem the tide of players it may be a warning shot fired at the captains of greed steering Macau into waters dependent on the very people Macau scorns with governmental controls. It may well cut down on monetary traffic for the upcoming Golden Week holiday.

The increase in real estate prices has taken place despite a huge surplus of available rental space. Thousand of high-end dwellings are gather dust on their price tags as the asking price is far too steep even for most newly affluent Macanese. Affordable housing for newcomers and is hard to come by and the 9-10 Macanese and Hong Kong families that control the bulk of Macau’s property holdings. The rampant land speculation is making decent housing unaffordable.

In an effort to slow real estate speculation the Macau government abruptly stopped its program that allowed outsiders to invest in homes and then qualify for citizenship. Of course, only non-Chinese qualified anyway unless mainlanders bought a passport from an African, Carribean or South American country selling citizenship. Now, many mainlanders are out the cost of an apartment and a fresh nationality. And real estate developers selling space in dozens of new luxury high-rises are owed millions in unpaid commissions now that the lure is gone. What is most troubling is: the new policy does not look like it will lower prices as the moguls have plenty of cash to park in land holdings while betting on the come of outside cash.

Macau has already surpassed Hong Kong as the top tourist destination in the area, but a quick search for the number of people checking on line for lodging in the area shows Macau getting 2/3 less look-ups. Macau is a Gambling Disneyland and good for a day trip, but not a vacation destination.

The homey, cheap places to eat are giving way to gourmet fare at tourist prices as local restaurateurs cannot afford the rent or compete for service workers with the casinos. The Sands starts their toilet attendants at a salary twice that of a mainland college teacher. Area entertainment magazines, paid for by casino ads, laud the explosion of new chefs and high-dollar meals, but the young, and the low-budget, daytripping retired folks think otherwise.

Right now, Macau is a safe bet for locals. But, as always, for someone to win at the tables, someone else must lose.

China Business,China Cartoons,China Editorials,Chinese Festivals,Confucius Slept Here,Holidays,In the news,Macau,Personal Notes,Travel in China,中国

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El Encierro is for wimps: Try a Chinese buffet!

The running of the bulls has nothing on the serving line at a Chinese buffet. China is new to properity and the wonders of all-you-can-eat Vegas style grazing. I am sure that, as modernity grows, so will the social graces that accompany it in other parts of the world. But for now, “buffet” remains a contact sport on a par with the Hong Kong Sevens Rugby Tournament.

Here is a video that is virally making its way into the emails of Hong Kong and Macau natives. They don’t seem to think well of their neighbors to the north and this kind of video is all too common.

I was taken to a new buffet recently that made the above video look tame. Some sadist designed the serving line: The restaurant is only open for two hours, and it has only a single serving line placed in a narrow hall only about three feet wide with customers moving in both directions. It was a snooze and you lose situation: One blink and that whole tray of beef you had your eye on begins levitating toward a hungry family.

It was easily the best food I had had in ages, but I felt like I had won a challenge on Survivor Island to get it.

*****

A non-China aside: I am a huge golf fan who wishes my play could one day match my enthusiasm. So, of course, I have been reading Yahoo! sports news religiously this Easter to follow Tiger and company at the Masters.

I am also a great fan of good sports and travel writing: Bryson, Albom, Mayle….

Well, Dan Wetzel is getting close with hilarious stories like this one about the Masters. A fun piece on Augusta: Masters of None

China Editorials,China Humor,Humor,Intercultural Issues,Macau,Travel in China,Videos,Weird China,中国

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Overheard on China TV….

I have what is known as ‘artillery ears” from my days in the military. It means that I am not looking for particulate stuck in your teeth so much as I am trying to discern what the hell you are saying. I confess to turning on the English subtitles when I watch a show and I am often astonished that what I think I heard that is nowhere to be found in the printed text. So imagine my confusion as I tuned on CCTV News ( CCTV is to TV as Macau is to Vegas or as Hainan Island is to Hawaii or Stanley Ho is to monogamy) and thought I heard them talking about tycoon Stanley Ho’s bum. Sure enough they were calmly going on about the 84th richest guy in the world having been injured in Thailand while getting treatment for constipation. Jeez, there hasn’t been anything nearly as creepy on the news since Reagan had prostate surgery and they showed diagrams that should have been rated. It must have been one slow news day….

Anyway, poor Stanley has survived triads in Macau, four wives at the same time with seventeen kids (that would be a pain for most folks), Steve Wynn out of exile from Nevada and now he might have dodged the adult pampers scene with surgery. But he’s not rich or powerful enough to stop two of his wives from commenting about his posterior. They chatted up the Hong Kong Daily Apple (The Apple is to Journalism as George Bush is to elocution)

Stupid is a stupid signs

and the Ming Pao Daily. The Ming Pao Daily, was there on the scene to ascertain despite one wife’s denial at the hospital that there was not a problem that Stanley was indeed riding side-saddle. The paper claims they heard him speaking loudly (“Rectum Hell!”) in the background as they spoke to his wife. HE IS 84 AND HE CAN’T GO TO THE BATHROOM! OF COURSE HE SPEAKS LOUDLY!

To paraphrase the Anchor-What? Blog: Could there be anything worse than having various newspapers chronicle the internal and external happenings of your hind-parts in three languages?

I am headed home to watch DVDs now: I am on self-imposed news restriction until there is a real disaster somewhere.

Asian Humor,China Business,China Editorials,China Humor,Chinese Media,Hong Kong Stars,Humor,In the news,Macau,Weird China,中国

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The Handsomest Indonesian Boy in Guangzhou

Guest post by DD

On Saturday night I met the handsomest Indonesian boy in Guangzhou at the Mansion in Guangzhou, though in this picture he is happily cruising around Macau. I guess he knows how to light up all of south China.  He works at a small, high-quality bar in downtown Guangzhou as the event manager.

handsomest indonesian boy in guangzhou

Ladies and gentlemen, leave a note if you find this. And everone mention how handsome he is!

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Good Golly Miss Bolly!

There is a new blog in town.

Another friend has decided to turn her obsession into another obsession and blog about Bollywood–two addictions for the price of one. And is Good Golly Miss Bolly a great name or what? Some of the rejected titles were: Bombay is Reeling, Bollywood Boulevard, Macau’s Dehli….

Bollywood DancingBollywood Dancing

Bollwood is a hot item these days. It has become mainstream western fare Bollywood stars are popular poster picks for American teens.

I am a closet Bollywood fan (I guess this post effective outs me, huh Scott?) and pine for the days of big budget movies, orchestras and happy endings that only India and China can afford to produce now. Bollywood is dancing and singing and near smooching and dancing and near smooching and near smooching and singing and dancing….and all very sensual because lots is still left to the imagination, the mystery is intact…

Bollywood

Take a stroll down Bollywood Boulevard, and watch Bombay Reeling with Arizona native and Macau expat, Miss Bolly.

Bollywood

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Hong Kong’s Mickey Maose Outfit: It’s a Small Park After All

I have incredible timing: I was in Hong Kong just in time for the WTO riot, an hour ahead of the anti-Japanese protests and recently headed for the ferry station while foot traffic stalled for a post-new year’s parade on the way back from Disneyland. It was a good thing I wasn’t too tuckered out from my amusement adventure–It is hard, after all, to get too tired at HK disneyland as it is an incredibly small world.

LONG LIVE CHAIRMAN MOUSE

Last week government officials and park managers announced that profits were disappointing this year. Guangdong tourists are still behaving like, well, Guangdong tourists: They are cheap!

They are frugal because it is in their blood as well as a survival necessity: the whole world reveres the business acumen of the Cantonese: The “mainland” yearly income still averages only $875 U.S. Dollars. And Disney anticipates that 1/3 of its visitors come from outside Hong Kong.

They had hoped, and in fact expected, that most visitors would spend an extra couple of days in Hong Kong, but folks are still taking buses down and back on the same day. And get off of rides and, instead of buying expensive computer images, take a digital shot of the digital photos on display.

There are two things you virtually cannot do to a Guandong native: force one to get less than their money’s worth of fun or have them pay one Yuan more than they have to for anything! They now stay in the park (2% the size of Disney world in Florida) for an hour longer on average than an American does in Florida. They then ride the bus home in the evening to save on hotel fees. Rates were just lowered, but a hotel at Disney still costs an average of one to two month’s salary in the mainland.

The first words a Guangzhou woman learns are 多少钱 Doashaoqian “HOW MUCH?” If you give an American woman flowers on Valentine’s day she will coo and thank you because you have proven you are not the insensitive pig Cosmo’ says you are. In China she will IMMEDIATELY ask you what you paid. And if you parted with too much money, you are in BIG trouble.

The Hong Kong Government, betting like they were in Macau, plowed millions of dollars more into the park than did Disney. They expected, acording to some bogus study, that the mainlanders would spend about 2.3 days (2.3???) in Hong Kong for their visit. Nope! Most are hightailing it back to Shenzhen, and Guangzhou with a few Yuan still intact. Fact: The cost for 2.3 days in a Hong Kong hotel would pay for a half year of University education in mainland China.

The Federation of Hong Kong Hotel Owners’ executive director Michael Li said last year that the hotel occupancy rate hovers around 60 to 70 percent and that the opening of Disneyland has not affected the rate. What a shock. He said that the local government and the theme park should discuss related ways of getting the tourists to spend more time in Hong Kong. I think that unless you up their pay in the mainland there is a problem. And Hong Kong Disneyland may yet hemorrhage some serious money like France did/does.

Li said, “They should get them to visit more scenic attractions as this will be more economically beneficial to Hong Kong,” Ya, after having to apply, and pay for, a special visa just to GET to Hong Kong and nine hours dodging vendors at Disneyland, I am sure they will be up for a trip to the zoo.

Hong Kong Disneyland’s management has been blasted on the local radio for arrogance and arbitrary decision making (they made food inspectors take off their hats and badges going into the park and the fireworks are a few decibels above city allowed levels–like Hong Kong is a quiet place anyway), bad planning on high-volume days and they have challenged the management to appreciate and accept local culture. The park responded with the death-defying answer that their motives for things are “commercial secrets.” When did Mickey and the crew join the CIA?

It will be interesting to see how the whole thing pans out. Two percent of the space, longer park stays, impoverished/tight fisted poor tourists, a watered down fireworks display at 7 PM to pacifycranky neighbors, and a dearth of good attractions. Now, there is a formula for monetary success!

The up side? Lines are incredibly short for venues (10-20 minutes maximum), the whole park can be covered in about six hours, there is nothing much edible to spend money on and the place closes early enough that you can make it home for the evening news.

But, I am still a kid at heart:

Long Live Chaiman Mouse!!

FRANKENMOUSE

cartoons,China Business,China Cartoons,China Editorials,China Humor,Humor,Intercultural Issues,Macau,Personal Notes

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The Lusophonia Games

It is not for the lack of world class facilities, dedicated athletes and capital expenditures that have sunk the SS Lusofonia in Macau. It seems to be apathy about seeing who will prevail in the first (and maybe last) competition for players from Portuguese speaking countries: I noticed Angola, Brazil, Timor, Mozambique, Macau, Portugal and a few others. I acounted 12 flags, half of which were new to me….

Now I know how Bush must have felt prior to his election.

I went to the Taekwondo finals where there were more competitors than spectators (even the parents headed for the casinos), but was not deterred. I figured that Ping Pong, being a Chinese blood sport, would draw a better crowd, so I headed over to the mixed doubles finals. I was oddly encouraged by the sight of two ambulances and a fire truck: Was there the possibility of stampedes for autographs or perhaps a ball or two hit with enough backspin that they might burst into flame?

LUSOFONIA PING PONG

The men’s semi-finals were in full swing when I arrived.

LUSOFONIA

One of the world class bad boys did a Brandy Chastain and took off his shirt after a close game with a Portuguese team member.

LUSOFONE PING PONG

Whew, these guys must pump iron one or two times a month! The crowd went wild as he went on to beat his opponent…

Naked Ping Pong

I guess now I understand why the PR director never returned my calls or emails about a press pass. He had way too much to do…

by Lonnie Hodge

Asia,Asian Humor,China Editorials,China Humor,China Photos,China Sports,Humor,Macau

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