Saturday, April 26, 2008

Rough Expat Times

Today I was reminded of the most difficult part of being an expat. My grandfather passed away. Coping with death is the worst part of living abroad. Nothing can wait for you while you live on the other side of the earth.

This is the second time I've had a death in the family since I arrived in China. The last time was at the end of my first month here and I received the news via e-mail. At least today my parents were able to call and wake me up.

I'll have to hold my own memorial with my wife here. She was fortunate enough to meet my grandfather during our vacation. Now she's trying to anything she can to make me feel better--and that's not an easy task. I just wish it was easier to travel.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Farce Continues...

Really now, is this necessary? Please tell me it's not true. Did I read this article correctly? Does it really say that China is suing CNN and Cafferty for $1.3 billion ($1 for each person)? Yesterday it was 1400RMB for a lawsuit in Beijing. This one is apparently being brought to court in New York.

I wonder why the lawsuit only seeks money for Chinese citizens. What about the overseas Chinese who had their feelings hurt? I think these people should sue the original lawyers for discrimination.

I understand that people are upset because of Cafferty's choice of words. I don't agree with what he said, but this is seriously overreacting.

This will only lead China down a dangerous path of litigation. If it is this easy to sue someone for stupidity, then there are plenty of others who have the right to seek damages for comments made by Chinese people. Does this mean foreigners can sue every time they have to pay a higher price for goods in China? Does this mean I can sue the idiots who call my wife a "traitor" for marrying a foreigner?

China needs to be ready for the equally idiotic response to the already stupid actions in this situation.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

China Gets Litigious

More stupidity to add to that previous post: According to China Daily some lawyers in Beijing have filed a frivolous lawsuit against CNN and Jack Cafferty. The 14 lawyers are seeking an apology and 100 RMB each for "mental distress." Apparently you can suffer mentally when a blow-hard calls you a goon or thug.

100 RMB?? Is that all their time is worth? These must be the cheapest lawyers in the world. If this lawsuit is successful, I'll have to consider filing my own for all the nasty things I've been called for standing around being foreign.

I suggest Cafferty pay the minimal sum requested before the exchange rate gets worse for the dollar. Of course, Cafferty could always come up with his own frivolous counter-suit--I'm sure there are plenty of American attorney dying to get involved in this circus.

I also read an earlier commentary about the same Cafferty situation--the problem is that the first paragraph (second sentence, actually) doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I'm tired from correcting my students' work, so would any kind editors like to take a stab at this one?
The American Cable News Network (CNN) is making news with China, again. Last time, editors chopped a picture with more than 10 stone-throwing Tibetan mobs chasing a Chinese riot police wagon nowhere to see, causing wrath of millions for photo doctoring. This time, an amateur anchor blasted out Chinese people as "goons and thugs" and Chinese-made goods as "junk".

Boycott the Boycotts

I think I need a scorecard to keep track of all the boycotts and pissing matches. First, Chinese netizens decided to boycott Louis Vuitton, Carrefour, and anything else French because of the Olympic torch relay debacle. Then the French decided they had nothing to lose, so they gave honorary citizenship to Dalai Lama and Hu Jia.

Then there was the case of the American volunteer who was allegedly harassed for going to Carrefour and accused of being French (Shanghaiist story). After the initial report, it seems that it wasn't too bad and the man wasn't hurt. If incidents like this are repeated or involve violence, there is sure to be more backlash to follow. Of course, Shenzhen has yet to see such a protest--Carrefour is only slightly less crowded than usual.

Speaking of other boycotts, apparently there are people boycotting the Olympic sponsors (i.e. McDonald's and Coke). These people feel that sponsorship of this year's Olympics makes these companies evil in some way, despite the fact that they've sponsored the games for as long as I can recall.

I've also heard a rumor that some Chinese are boycotting KFC. I don't know the reasons, but I'm sure it's petty and confusing.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Perfect Game

Welcome to the Waiguoren's 300th post.

My goal today is start to make a difference. I'm asking my readers to consider their lives and the lives of others. I'm also asking that anyone who has a worthwhile cause (i.e. non-profit organizations, NGOs) to please send me information. I'm offering free space for any and all worthwhile causes--I'll even offer my time to help in any way I can.

One of the difficulties of living in China is the inability to do the right thing at times. I've been told many times not to help people because it will only bring trouble to me. I've had a hard time with this. My wife and I have even tried to help at an orphanage here in Shenzhen, but we were denied because we're individuals, not a corporation (I'm still confused by that one).

On Passover, Jews around the world are supposed to retell the story of Exodus and rejoice in their freedom from slavery. But, this is also a time to reflect on the meaning in the modern world--to see the suffering of others and do what we can to help. Most people will watch horrific images on TV and say, "That's terrible," as they return to their meals and live their comfortable lives. Others will see the problem and try to donate money in the hopes of solving the problem. This just isn't enough.

It shouldn't take a holiday for us to consider the suffering of others throughout the world. We should always be grateful for what we have and consider the impact that our lives can have. There are plenty of people who are in dire need to assistance from those of us fortunate enough to have the basic necessities of life.

So, now I'm taking this opportunity to do the right thing and serve humanity. I hope you'll all help as well.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Views on a Friday

I'd like to share a story from my trip to Jiuzhaigou in the Tibetan region of Sichuan province. On our first day through the park, we spoke with college student who was home for the holiday. She was very honest with us about the villages in the area. She said that since 1986, the park opened, the village became increasingly wealthy. Most of the people were happy to use the money to send their children to the cities to get a better education. The only downside that she saw from the changes was that the government banned livestock (sheep and yak) in order to protect the area, thus completely shifting their means of living. She didn't see all of this as being government repression, but she did see some of the traditions of her people fading.

Today, one of my students asked about the whole problem between Western media and China. He's not the best spoken student I have (I'd probably place him in the middle of my 300), but he managed to get his point across. Unlike the nationalist comments I've read online or heard about from friends, this question was rather simple yet thoughtful.

He, more or less, asked, "Why do the newspapers in France and Germany hate China and the Olympics?" At first I responded that it was too complicated to answer it in a short time. After class I tried giving a small answer. "I think part of it is a cultural miscommunication on both sides," I said. He agreed. I then explained that part of the problem was that the Chinese government restricts journalists from doing their job the way they should. Therefore, many journalists will write negative stories and ignore the positive as a way of responding to the restrictions.

I'm not entirely sure if he understood that mentality, but he listened for the point of view and passed no judgment on the answer. I'm sure if I gave this answer to some students that they'd be upset and get defensive in some way. Having students like this one makes me feel much better about my job.

After this short exchange he asked if I was going to Beijing for the Olympics. I answered, "Hell, no." He thought it was because of the crowds, but I gave him other reasons why I don't like the city that much. He agreed with me. "I don't think Beijing people are friendly," he said, "I like western China much more." I told him I thought the places I've been in the west were also friendlier than Beijing--Sichuan and Xinjiang have had some of the nicest people I've met in China.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

More Backlash

In an editorial from China Daily today (read the comments too), the government and people are upset about an outburst from Jack Cafferty on CNN. I am not defending what he said--I honestly believe his remarks were stupid. I also have never watched him (I don't particularly like watching 24-hour news channels). But the response from China is a bit over the top.

CNN has been at the center of the "Western media bias" controversy--they are the scapegoat because they're the big, bad American news organization even though plenty of other news outlets around the world have written/said similar things. CNN is also not easily accessible in China--it is only available through satellite providers (a rarity) and in government-approved hotels via its Asia feed.

One of the points that China is upset about is that Cafferty called Chinese products "junk". I'd like to point out that many Chinese think that the products they buy in China are junk. I'd like to point out that my apartment complex is "junk," and many residents here agree. I will also say that there are some products in China that are not junk--I've bought some decent things here (my travel mug, mp3 player, and air purifier are all Chinese brands).

If China wants to improve its image, maybe it should start acting in a more diplomatic manner. Take the high road. Stop whining that everyone is against you.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Off the Vine

Saturday was a free wine tasting at Carrefour by our apartment. It's probably not a great idea to advertise free, alcohol, and cheese to foreigners. It was quite a bit of fun. I'd write a review of the wines, but I'm no connoisseur. Also, after the first twenty or so, they all start to taste alike.

The highlights of the evening included the entertainment. They had cheerleaders. I'm still wondering how that mixes in with fine wine. On top of that, the evening concluded with bagpipes. I know I always think of great wine when I think of Scotland. By the end of it all, it turned into a self-serve party. We met some nice people who kept going to the wine tables and grabbing the open bottles that were no longer guarded by staff.

Sunday I decided that free drinks are not good for me.

On another note, I ran into my co-worker at the event. I found out that her husband is having some serious problems with renewing his visa. Because China decided to tighten visa rules ahead of the Olympics, many foreigners are having a more difficult time. But this one is truly baffling. They have been in China for six years, have a business, and own an apartment. But that's not enough to renew a visa. Usually a spouse can be included in a residence permit (which my co-worker had), but the police said their marriage certificate isn't valid because they didn't get it approved by the Chinese embassy in their home country. Today, she also told me that the police have dropped by their home 10 times in the last couple months to check on their visas and other paperwork. We're really hoping that a miracle happens--his current visa expires tomorrow.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Return of the King

No, not Elvis. I'm pretty sure he's living at the Grand Lisboa in Macau. I'm talking about the Monkey King. Jia found the best pen ever--it's a boxing Monkey King.

What else can I say? Its eyes glow when it punches and it's perfect for any and all business meetings around China. Nothing tells the Chinese that you mean business like a red-eyed fighting monkey.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Other Protests

In the midst of articles surrounding the anticipated protests in San Francisco is another group that doesn't seem to care about China at all. While the focus is on human rights and support of certain governments by China, there's one mention of a more interesting campaign. A group is apparently going nude in an effort to return to the ancient Greek ways of the Olympics. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any organization claiming responsibility for this (why don't the articles give names for these things?).

I'm not sure if I agree with these protesters. I must admit, it will give me a reason to watch women's volleyball. But what about the winter Olympics? I don't think that'll go over too well.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Can you set the oven to cold?

It's just a bunch of little things going on lately. We bought the air purifier last night to help us fight the pollution and mold. It's a Yadu (Chinese brand that's supposedly good). We got a real warranty to go along with it just in case. The service at Suning was pretty good--probably because it's been open for quite a while and never has anyone buying anything because the building is still under construction. We could've bought the same thing from Jusco a day earlier, but we didn't like the fact their employees couldn't answer a single question.

Unlike last week, it's starting to get really hot...and my school won't turn on the air conditioning until May. Even the Chinese staff thinks this is a little ridiculous. I'll have to suffer through teaching in a hot room for a few more weeks.

On another Jusco note, I'm still mourning the loss of my beer. It's been at least six weeks since they last carried that sweet dark beer by Asahi. We wrote a complaint and they claimed there was a problem with Asahi not being able to supply enough. Supposedly they'll get it again. This being China, I won't hold my breath.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Moldy? Old? I need a beer

For the second year in a row, my apartment has mold. This is the problem with living in an extremely humid climate with poorly constructed buildings. I've been looking around online for some good advice as to how to clean up the disgusting and possibly unhealthy green splotches that are appearing all over the walls. I managed to find a site that recommends using vinegar to clean up mold (as well as cleaning just about everything else in the house). I suppose I'll give it a try.

What I find amazing about the mold is the fact that our apartment is always spotless. While Jia and I are working, my mother-in-law cleans this place everyday. I've wondered why, and now I realize that she's convinced if it's not cleaned daily mold and dust will accumulate everywhere. The next thing I plan to buy after the mold clean up is an air purifier. I just wish they didn't cost 900 kuai.

On another note for today, I guess we can finally take away Charlton Heston's gun. The man did some great things in his lifetime--it's unfortunate that he'll probably be best remembered for being a gun nut.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Ain't Life Grand

Grand palaceI've been thinking a lot about Thailand recently. I don't know why--maybe it has something to do with planning our summer vacation (currently looking like a trip to Japan or Australia).

It was a little more than a year ago--just after Jia and I were engaged--that we embarked on our journey to Thailand. We didn't have much of a plan when we got there, but we managed to see almost everything we wanted. On our first day, we took a long walking tour through Wat Pho, The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo, and Wat Arun. Out of the entire trip, I took more pictures at Wat Phra Kaeo than anywhere else (almost half of my album is filled with scenes from there).

interior grand palace
It was a fair walk from our hotel near Phra Arthit Road, and the tourist map only gave us a general idea of our direction. Fortunately, the Thai people kept pointing us in the right direction, even if we didn't ask for help. After lunch, we reached the Grand Palace--on our way a shady tuk-tuk driver tried to convince us that it was closed for a holiday. I had some choice words for him, as I knew the truth.

grand palace guardInside the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo, Jia and I were amazed by the architecture. The sculptures were beautiful as they stood guard at the gates of different halls. I was mesmerized by the gold and mirrored tiles covering almost even inch of the structures. I knew nothing of what to expect when I entered, so the surprise of everything left me in awe.

There were crowds of tourists in every corner, making it difficult to get a decent picture at times. Everyone was being respectful of the temple, taking off their shoes to enter. We walked through the hall with paintings of Thai history and mythology. They were being restored at the time.

We spent hours wandering the grounds. We had a small map of the area, but we seemed to forget it. We were rather lost. There were a few buildings that were inaccessible because they were in use (I think there were some foreign dignitaries in town). When we finally decided to leave on our way to Wat Arun, we came to an unusable exit. And the guards couldn't seem to give us directions. It must've been at least 4:00 when we reached a proper exit.

It was late afternoon by the time we left. We had to hurry to ensure that we arrived at Wat Arun while there was still daylight. We finished our day with sore feet as searched for dinner on the street.
grand palace painting


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Did Someone Turn Off the Heat?

Mother Nature is playing an April Fool's joke on us. It's the beginning of April and it's a bit cold for Shenzhen. The Last two weeks I was wearing short-sleeved shirts to work. Now I'm back to long sleeves and feeling a bit chilly in the office.

Well, as long as it keeps the unbearable heat away for a few more days, I'll live with it.