Monday, June 30, 2008

Not Quite the Jeffersons

But, we are moving on up to the 16th another building...about two blocks south.

We signed the lease to the new apartment on Saturday and handed over our deposit. We're definitely happy to be moving out of this poorly built complex and into a slightly better one with a lot more space (I'll have my own office). Overall, it's almost twice the size of our current apartment for just 200 kuai more per month.

It took some time to get the whole situation sorted out with the landlord. First, he decided he didn't want to pay the real estate agency, so he lied to them about not wanting to rent to us. We didn't mind because it saves us 1700 kuai. Jia then had to thoroughly check his ID and such to make sure he does indeed own the apartment. I didn't understand everything that was being said during the conversation, but didn't sound like he really wanted to show her all the necessary documents.

Most amusing part of the conversation was the landlord assuming that I made 50,000 kuai a month and that Jia owned a company. We laughed and told him we wouldn't rent an apartment if we had that much money. Jia explained our work situations and low-balled our earnings a bit. Still, it goes to show that the stereotype of the wealthy foreigner still exists, even among the wealthy Chinese.

Friday, June 27, 2008

For a Day in the Park

The typhoon-turned-tropical storm has passed through Shenzhen, leaving behind plenty of rain and flooding. According the Shenzhen Daily, we received 176mm of rain on Wednesday. Yesterday, the school bus was extremely late again, and I had to reschedule my first class. Today, I was on time, even though the rain was heavy by the time we arrived on campus. I'm fortunate to not live in Shekou. My boss has been having some serious problems with her house since the last round of storms rolled through, and they've been complicated this time around. With everything that continuously breaks in my apartment, I'm lucky to not have any of those troubles.
For this Friday's photo, I'd like to present a decent day without rain--from a nearby park here in Nanshan (just next to Book City). Don't ask me what that hollow egg-shaped scultpure is supposed to be. There are a few of them around the park.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Thanks to the remnants of Typhoon Fengshen, I didn't have work today...sort of. I walked out to the bus stop at 7:55 as usual, and got soaked because an umbrella doesn't do much when it's raining sideways (I also found that my umbrella leaks under heavy rain). At 8:15 a car pulled up and the driver motioned for me to get in. I didn't recognize the driver or passenger and couldn't get them to identify themselves so waved them off. Even if they were just being polite, I didn't want to take any chances.

At about 8:25 I was soaked up to my knees and slightly wet everywhere else, and I decided to go home. I called my office and was told that the school bus was only then at the second stop in Shekou (I think I'm the fifth stop on the route). Problem as I saw it was that there was no possible way to get a taxi in a tropical storm and it was also impossible to arrive at school in time for my class at 8:40 (the bus takes about 30 minutes to get to campus). We decided to cancel class and reschedule for Friday morning. I just hope the weather clears up a bit tomorrow.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bonerific Olympics

It's probably better that George Carlin isn't around to hear the news. It seems that the Olympics doesn't need to worry so much about steroids anymore--there's a new human growth hormone (excuse the pun) to improve performance--Viagra. That's right, the blue pill does more than help men have sex.

It seems Viagra can increase blood flow to the lungs, which may aid athletes in competition. However, there is no evidence yet as to whether it really does improve athletic prowess. Therefore, it will be legal for use during the Beijing games. I'm not sure how many competitors will really want more blood flow to the lungs while breathing the Beijing air. Anyway, while the Olympic committee will not be testing for Viagra this summer, rest assured that it will be obvious which athletes are using the new doping technique.

I'm starting to wish for the old days of steroid use.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Fueling Change

Thursday, Beijing announced a 17% rise in fuel costs for private cars (12 cents per liter), 18% increase for diesel, and 25% increase for jet fuel. There will also be an increase in electricity prices. Most people were expecting that the cheap gas (approx. $2.50/gallon) would last until after the Olympics. Beijing decided that the price increase would take effect midnight Friday, which caused long lines at gas stations across the country of drivers trying to save money. The government will also offer subsidies to some industries affected by the new policy (i.e. taxis, buses, grain producers).

This is certainly a good move by the Chinese government. Gas prices are extremely cheap here. The people who own cars tend to be the wealthy elite of the country who could afford an increase in costs. With any luck, this price hike will change some driving habits. If those habits change, the air quality in and around Beijing may improve slightly prior to the opening of the Olympics. This will also help ease the strain on supply here in Shenzhen as many Hong Kong drivers have been crossing the border to the Mainland to fill up on cheap gas.

This move comes on the heels of the plastic bag ban from June 1. If these policies hold, China will be making great strides toward improving the environment. The international community will have to wait and see what further moves Beijing makes for benefit of everyone.

However, not everyone is pleased with this decision. Many Chinese citizens believe that this move by the government will seriously harm many industries, thus destroying the national economy. Personally, I have seen a lot of waste in business (i.e. opening windows and doors with air conditioning running on high) , and believe that this should change many habits that will improve business in China.


Blue River

This Friday's photo comes from my first big journey in China, during the first Spring Festival. Jia and I traveled to Shanghai to see the sights and visit her friends and family. I've wanted to move to Shanghai since I visited, but I've decided that it's just too expensive and I'm better off in a smaller city.

I've always liked this photo--and today it really makes me think of what I'd like out of a vacation. This summer, I've decided that I must convince Jia to take a week-long trip somewhere to just relax and do absolutely nothing (except maybe stare at nature, go hiking, go fishing). I'll see if I can talk her into a short trip to Mongolia.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Xinjiang Art

Last summer, when Jia and I got married in Xinjiang province, I met a lot of people in her hometown. One of those people was the artist Dong Zhentang (董振堂), who is a friend of my mother-in-law. We were amazed by his work--he uses a traditional Chinese painting style, but his work portrays the minority population of Xinjiang. They are beautiful and inspiring scenes.

My wife returned from her bureaucratic journey home to retrieve some documents with a lot of gifts (mostly food). But she did bring a gift from Dong Zhentang--a large painting of an old Uyghur man and mules, titled "Going to the Bazaar."
Xinjiang_paintingI found a Web site with pictures of Dong Zhentang's other work (the site is in Chinese, the links are at the bottom).

Monday, June 16, 2008

In Bloom

I have been reminded that today is Bloomsday. I have also been informed by Danwei that James Joyce's Ulysses was translated into Chinese in 1994. Amazingly, it was a bestseller.

I read Ulysses in English during the second half of my Modernism class in grad school. It was rather difficult to understand then--and most of the class had an annotated version to help along. I don't think even if my Chinese was up to par that I would ever attempt this epic. I never really planned on reading it again in English.

I am curious as to how accurate the translation of Ulysses might be. How did they handle the absinthe trip through the brothel? I'm reminded of walking through Book City with Jia and coming across some books I didn't expect to be translated (original post). The translation of Kerouac's Desolation Angels may have been well done, but it still doesn't mean that people can understand it.

For anyone interested, Peking University has the Chinese version online.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Get the Ark Ready

The rain in South China has been extreme lately. It's not as bad as the Midwest US, fortunately. We've had mostly sunny days during the past week, with heavy downpours all night--and Friday was a full day of steady, heavy rain. The previous week also had a significant amount of rain every day. Chinese media are reporting at least four deaths in Shenzhen related to the storms. The forecast is still saying more rain is coming. On the bright side of things, the rain has cleared up the air--I can see into the distance and the colors of the city are quite nice at times.

My area has been fairly good with drainage of the rain. Although there seemed to be a problem Friday night along Houhai Dadao. My complex, however, seems to have some problems. The pool is filled to the brim, the stairs outside turn into waterfalls, and pools form on the large balconies below us due to blocked drains. So, while the streets may survive, my building may not.

I'd also like to wish my readers (and, of course, my father) a happy Fathers' Day. Hope it isn't too wet.


Friday, June 13, 2008

Head in the Trees

Blogger is working properly again, so I decided to post a photo for Friday. This is a Buddha head that is being housed in a banyan tree. When Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand, was destroyed, so were the numerous Buddha statues. This banyan grew around the head, creating a spiritual image for Buddhist visitors. With the a small fence surrounding it, taking a good picture of this can be a little complicated.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Squat at Your Own Risk

You better watch where you squat when you visit Beijing for the Olympics. According to "Tiger Temple" blogger (in Chinese, translated on Global Voices), there was a fire in a portable toilet near the Bird's Nest in Beijing. Cause of the fire are yet unknown and probably being withheld to avoid embarrassment.

If my personal adventures in Chinese toilets are any indication, my conspiracy theory on the cause of the fire would involve poor ventilation, plenty of methane gas, and an improperly discarded cigarette.

My advice is to avoid public toilets. But, if you must attend to the call of nature, be sure there is enough ventilation and that no one is smoking.

Monday, June 09, 2008

All About Shenzhen

I came across an amazing article in Esquire by Colby Buzzell about Shenzhen (thanks to Laowaijohn at Twitter). This is quite possibly the best portrayal of the city since Peter Hessler's Oracle Bones (except that this one doesn't focus as much on history). It's a bit lengthy and almost a year old, but well worth reading.

Reading through "Digging a Hole All the Way to America" I noticed the reactions of people who arrive in Shenzhen for the first time--it's all very much the same. Having lived here for almost three years, much of what is written is fairly common knowledge. However, there are moments of amusement when depicting everyday scenes on the street. There's also a reminder of why I don't like bars in Shekou--the foreigners the writer meets are not exactly the desirable acquaintances of the city.

Some of my favorite parts:
The Americans have complained that so many of their products are being hijacked by bootleggers, and the Chinese say they're cracking down, but somebody forgot to tell the bootleggers of Shenzhen. In fact, a fun game to play is the find-something-that's-not-a-fake game.

The heavy metal music of construction is all around you as you walk the streets down there, and you can't help but feel, see, and hear the city expand with every step you take.
He tells me that the Chinese soul is being lost thanks to the fast economic development and modernization, and that it is happening way too fast.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Soaked and Fake

It's been raining for the better part of the last week. Yesterday and today have been the worst with constant downpours. We're getting more rain than we did when the tail-end of the typhoon past through a while back. Fortunately, my area and university campus have decent drainage and there hasn't been any flooding. But, it does ruin plans for the three-day weekend with flooded roads to potential destinations. It looks like we get to spend the days inside watching TV and reading.

I was struck a little bit ago with a common gripe--finding a fake 1 Yuan coin. Identifying a fake coin is quite difficult. Generally, the fakes are slightly thinner than the real thing. Also, most fakes don't have any printing on the edge. For some reason, the one I had today actually had that printing.

I asked my students Thursday why people would bother making these. They responded with: "You can make a lot of money." This argument doesn't make sense seeing as it takes too much effort to make a lot of money 1 Yuan at a time (not to mention the cost of actual production). Is it really worth counterfeiting such small sums?

Friday, June 06, 2008

All The Muck That's Fit To Rake

Photo Friday is canceled this week due to a problem with the hamsters powering the Internet. For some reason I'm not getting the full features of Blogger at the moment. Therefore, I present some news and commentary.

Today, China Daily released a story about 16 Tibetan monks who were arrested for three separate bombings and plots. This news is a little late, as these incidents occurred in April--shortly after the March 14 riot in Lhasa. Very few details were mentioned in the article. The question now is why does the government feel that it is an appropriate time to publish this information in the newspaper? Could it be that most of the Chinese citizens have forgotten what happened a few short months ago? Or is it that foreign media have been more sympathetic to China in recent weeks due to the situation in Sichuan? With any reason, it was buried within the paper.

In earthquake news, China Vanke Co., the largest publicly-traded real estate company in China, has vowed to donate 100 million Yuan to help rebuild homes in Sichuan province. Apparently, the company is doing this to make amends for its paltry original donation of 2 million Yuan, which received excessive amounts of disdain from Chinese netizens. As part of its public humiliation, Vanke chairman Wang Shi resigned. On this news, the stock rose 4.7%. However, that still doesn't erase its 29% plummet for this year.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Baggin' the Environment

China has officially entered the world of forceful environmental protection. As of June 1, the government mandated that all stores must charge customers for the use of plastic bags and that said plastic bags must adhere to strict quality requirements. Supposedly, there will be checks on shops to ensure that they are charging a minimal fee (anywhere from 1 to 5 jiao, depending on size).

This is the first effort China has made to curb its use of an estimated 3 billion plastic bags a day--that number is taken from the Chinese news, not Western news sources. This is certainly music to the ears of environmentalists and tree-huggers worldwide.

There are, however, some minor negative effects to this plan. The first being the cost to the poor. Reusable bags at the major stores range in price from 3 RMB to 30 RMB (Jusco is far too expensive sometimes). Still, the cost isn't a huge burden to the poor of the country who will probably find some way to cope. The second problem is that many plastic bag manufacturers have had to adapt to new regulations or close their doors, costing jobs (usually a side effect of any environmental legislation). Finally, there's the loss of free garbage bags. Most people here reuse the larger plastic bags for use as trash bags. Now, we'll have to go out and purchase trash bags when the supply at home runs out.

Next, I'd like to see China tackle the abundant use of styrofoam and excessive packaging of products in multiple wrappers.


Sunday, June 01, 2008

Review: Iron Man

Marvel found a winner in turning Iron Man into a movie. Unlike the comic flops of recent memory, the writers realized that an action movie is always better when it focuses on the story rather than the action and special effects. Aside from the ending action sequence, most of the special effects scenes are rather brief.

I was never a fan of the Iron Man comic books--I may have read one or two in the past, but I don't remember it that well. The movie is obviously updated, with a storyline involving terrorists in what appears to be Afghanistan. It opens with the life-altering situation for weapons developer Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.). He realizes that his weapons aren't just used to protect his country, but also to attack it. There's significant opposition to Stark's plans of running a responsible corporation. His partner, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), marginalizes Stark's influence and continues some shady dealings all in the name of profits (doesn't sound so far fetched).

Iron Man is certainly an enjoyable movie. The performances from Downey, Bridges, and Gwyneth Paltrow were very good (I haven't watch a film with any of them in quite some time). There were some parts near the beginning that could probably have been cut to speed up the action without much effect on the story. The man who helps Stark in Afghanistan, Yinsen (Shaun Toub), is a great character, but is completely forgotten half way through the movie. The film runs 126 minutes, which is a little lengthy for an action movie.