Saturday, September 27, 2008

Another Holiday

It's time for the annual October holiday known as National Day. As everyone who works in China knows, we generally have to work the weekend before the seven-day holiday to make up for the time lost to time off of work. If you're confused by this explanation, you're not alone.

A couple years ago, I remember doing the math on the New Year's holiday. We had three days off in the middle of the week, but to make up for those three days off we had to work the prior weekend. So, really, we gave them time--we worked the two days we should usually have off in exchange for one extra day. I guess they were using the new math.

This year for National Day, Jia and I have decided to take a few days to tour around Fujian Province. We have a private guide and we'll get to stay in a Hakka village. I've been interested in seeing these Hakka Tulou homes for quite some time. This wasn't our original plan, but flights to Bali were a bit expensive for this week. I think Fujian will be a great substitute.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Oh, the Irony

Jia has told me some stories about her education here in China. Usually, it comes up when she asks questions about America. Recalling the days of China's schools teaching the evils of the capitalist pigs on the other side of the world, she has mentioned some fairly amusing stories. One came up last year about how dairy farmers would pour fresh milk into the streets because they couldn't get enough money and the government would pay them to waste rather than have them sell at a loss. This was the story students were told upon seeing a protest photo from years ago.

A few days ago, I was watching the Chinese news and saw dairy farmers pouring out fresh milk. Jia said they were doing this because no one trusts the milk in China since the melamine scandal started. It didn't matter that this milk was supposedly melamine-free. She forgot about the history lesson from last year. I guess the irony is lost on China.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Rainforest Rendezvous

Penang National ForestDuring our time in Penang, we took a day to walk through Penang National Forest, known locally as Tolek Bahang Forest. This is a small rainforest on the edge of the island with trails that go around. The signs at the entrance to the park do not accurately indicate distance or time it will take to walk through--we chose to walk to Monkey Beach, which is supposedly 45 minutes (but everyone else said an hour and a half).

We took our time to wander along--the first part of the trail is fairly easy, it got more difficult a bit before we reached a beach with a university that was a little more than midway to Monkey Beach. From there is was difficult to find the trail again, but we managed.

Until arriving at Monkey Beach, we only met one couple that was returning from the interior of the forest. Quite a few tourists take a boat to and from the beach and spend the day on jet skis.

The only downside to the hike was that we were not adequately prepared. It was, of course, hot and humid, without any rain to cool us off. We also should've brought something other than water--something with a little sugar in it to keep us going. But we did make it.

Rather than return the way we came, we paid 70 Ringgits to take the boat back to the park entrance and our ride to Georgetown. Ramli, the boat driver, immediately knew that we weren't walking back after seeing us soaked in sweat and downing whatever cold drinks were on offer on the beach.
Penang boat driver
I still think the highlight of the trip was watching the monkeys steal all the food from a scooter left on the trail, not far from the entrance. They did manage to break open the plastic containers to eat what was not meant for them.monkeys scooter

Monday, September 22, 2008

Buying the Nation

While the US is in the grips of a financial crisis and the government is busy with a poorly-thought-out bail-out plan, one has to wonder where the money is coming from. Of course, most of the money is coming from the taxpayers who are defaulting on their mortgages. The rest of the country, it seems, it owned by part of Asia.

According to China Daily, China is the second largest holder of US government bonds with a total of $518.7 billion, just a few billion behind Japan. Maybe the government should consider coaxing more of the American public into purchasing some of the debt it's creating to balance out what it owes foreign countries.

I'm just waiting to see who will buy the Brooklyn Bridge. Maybe I'll print up some deeds and try to sell it around Shenzhen.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Wish I Had a Golden Parachute

I am thoroughly disgusted by the financial crisis in the US. The financial institutions screwed up beyond belief. How can such companies be so stupid with money? I didn't study finance, accounting, or economics in college, but even I know what they did was inappropriate for any business that wants to stay afloat.

I am even more disgusted by my own government for bailing out these failed companies. I've read a few articles about this from liberal and conservative analysts, and they all think this is a bad idea. I concur. Why should the government reward a failure with billions of taxpayer dollars? An even better question is why would the government reward the failure of a CEO with a multi-million dollar golden parachute? In theory, if you fail, you get nothing. If I opened up a small business and failed, the government wouldn't help me. Why is it different for a CEO of a major corporation?

With an estimated cost of more than half a trillion dollars, Americans are left wondering what happens to them. How will the average American benefit from this buy out? They will be rewarded with a bill. And higher cost of living. And inflation. And...and...and...nothing. Now, if the government was a little more intelligent (please hold your laughter, I know it's wishful thinking), it could've used that money to repay all the poor Americans who are losing out. If that money was divided among every man, woman, and child in the country, we would all receive approximately $1600. That would be a nice gift to help pay mortgages, grocery bills, education costs, etc.

Who is the government really helping? Is this really a government for the people?

And no, I will not endorse either Barack Obama or John McCain. I doubt either will really fix the problem. In the words of Kang, "It doesn't matter which candidate you choose, either way your country is doomed, doomed, doomed!"

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Lost Suggestions

Jia showed me a short Chinese music video today because it had some beautiful scenes from Inner Mongolia. My wife's comment was that she thought we should visit the northern countryside because she liked the plains and mountains.

I agreed with Jia's suggestion--I do want to visit Inner Mongolia (or even the country, Mongolia). In fact, I mentioned traveling there when we were contemplating our options for the summer holiday. Her opinion of the region at that time was that there was nothing there and it would be boring.

Funny how my ideas don't mean anything until my wife expresses the very same without any recognition of my previous mention.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Mid-Autumn Follow-up

We're back to work following the three-day weekend for Mid-Autumn Festival. I was given a moon cake in class today--it's sitting in my office, where it will probably stay until next Mid-Autumn Festival.

For great commentary on the moon cakes and their brick-like resemblance, you can check out this post at GwaiLoDown. Very amusing site.

Moon Cake Break

It's Mid-Autumn/Full Moon Festival in China. Last year the government implemented a public holiday change to give workers the day off for OCTEastTeasuch traditional holidays. Of course, it fell on a Sunday, but I still get today off from work. I have only eaten one moon cake this year, which my office gave me--it was small and didn't feel like a brick when it hit my stomach, so it was pretty good.

Yesterday, we went to OCT East in Yantian district, near Dameisha, with Shenzhen Daily and a group of foreigners (and a few Chinese). We even got our picture in the paper today. The event was meant to bring some interest in the park, and we were given a tour of mostly the tea village--in part because it's hosting a tea festival.

OCT East is definitely not as cheesy as Splendid China, but it does have its moments. It contains a reproduction of the town of Interlacken, Switzerland, with Chinese characteristics (in other words, with Chinese writing and restaurants). There's also a wetland park, a bamboo forest, spa, and tea gardens. I think there's also a golf course.The grounds at OCT East are quite beautiful, providing a pleasant and peaceful day for visitors to walk around. Unfortunately for us, it was unbearably hot and humid, which made it difficult to walk around for extended periods.

OCTEastInterlakenThe Shenzhen Daily tour gave us a really nice lunch in the park, a little tea production demonstration that wasn't all that interesting, and a tea performance. Parts of the performance were really nice. Other parts included tea pots performing Riverdance and some aliens. I'm not sure what aliens have to do with Chinese tea culture and history.

It was still nice to get out of the house and see something different in Shenzhen.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Antiques Are Quite Modern

We were very confused at the sight of a few shops across from our hotel in Malacca. Unfortunately, we passed by when the shops were closed so we couldn't find out exactly what they sold. How exactly is an antique modern?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Long-overdue Review

I have finally finished reading the 1981 Booker Prize-winning novel by Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children. In the time I've read this novel, I've read at least five others. That's not to say that this isn't a good book, it's just that I constantly got sidetracked. I have previously read Rushdie's Fury, which was also enjoyable.

The novel is a narrative memoir of Saleem Sinai, a child born on the stroke of midnight at the time of India's independence from England--an event that binds him to history and to the other children born during that same midnight hour. The event of his birth not only binds Saleem to the history of India in a magical sense, but it also provides him with powers to pursue what he claims is his destiny.

The novel begins in a conversational tone, with Saleem almost unwilling to reveal the truth of his existence. He continues into the past generations of his family in Kashmir that affected his life's course prior to birth. He progresses into tales of childhood, including the discovery of midnight's power and the other children to whom Saleem is connected.

Rushdie writes a terrific novel that is culturally enlightening and entertaining. He incorporates a bit of dark humor to lighten the serious tone of much of the narrative.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Shaking in Shenzhen

According to today's Shenzhen Daily, Longgang has experienced 10 earthquakes in the past 19 days. The epicenter of these quakes is about a two-hour bus ride from my apartment, but I haven't felt anything unusual. Fortunately, all of these quakes have been less than 5.0 on the Richter scale. Does seem strange that I haven't felt anything like I did during the minor quakes a few years ago. The last one disrupted the Internet connection throughout China.

The hope is that none of these earthquakes become major ones like the one Sichuan (or even close to that magnitude) because I highly doubt many buildings in Shenzhen are built to code.

Monday, September 08, 2008

No Soup for You

I arrived home Friday afternoon to my mother-in-law introducing me to two turtles that were inhabiting my bathroom floor. I was definitely a bit surprised. Later, my wife translated the reasoning--my mother-in-law was told by a monk* on the street that he would take the turtles to a pond at a Buddhist temple if she bought them. I was quite relieved to hear she wasn't planning on cooking them (though I doubted that when I first saw the turtles).

As of Monday, we have a little fish tank for the two reptiles sitting on the balcony. I'm not sure if my mother-in-law is still looking for that monk. Jia says she found a local Buddhist organization that would take care of the turtles, but I haven't heard anything about that since Friday.
I just hope that they end up in a pond that's clean and not overcrowded like the one in Guangxiao Temple in Guangzhou. It looks like the monks are practicing turtle stacking there.

*There are quite a few fake monks in Shenzhen that go around asking people for money for their temples. Usually these "monks" are seen talking on cell phones and wearing sneakers. We've even seen a few eating meat.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Pimp My Royal Ride, Thailand

While in Bangkok this August, we stopped off at the Royal Carriages Museum near Vinanmek Palace. Most of the carriages were not all that impressive or fancy, which seems odd considering the King Rama IX of Thailand is the wealthiest monarch in the world. However, this one vehicle caught my eye--it's the royal tuk-tuk. Riding in a tuk-tuk is a very Thai experience, but it just doesn't have that royal appeal.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Dream of Blue Mansions

CheongFattTzePenangIn Penang, we stayed across the street from Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, an old Chinese-style mansion that has been converted into a hotel. We intended to stay at the mansion during our trip, but there were no rooms available due to the filming of a Singaporean movie.

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion has been renovated in the last decade or so after years of neglect. It is a World Heritage Site, as is much of Georgetown. Since it's renovation and conversion into a hotel, tours are offered to visitors for a small fee.
Unfortunately, the owners of Cheong Fatt Tze do not allow photos inside (mostly so they can sell postcards and books at inflated prices). The tour itself was worthwhile because it traced the family history of the house as well as quite a bit of Chinese culture. It was the best explanation of Chinese culture that I received since arriving in China (it's too bad I had to travel to Malaysia to get it).
We also were told that there is still another Cheong Fatt Tze mansion in Taipu, Guangdong--not too far from Shenzhen. Jia and I have planned to take a weekend trip at some point to find it.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Review: A Million Little Pieces

I did not have high expectations when I picked up the copy of A Million Little Pieces by James Frey that my friend gave me a couple years ago. Those expectations were exceeded only slightly.

James Frey's A Million Little Pieces follows the author's recovery from severe drug addiction while in a rehabilitation center.

It's not that I have a problem with claims of lying in a memoir--I looked at this as a piece of entertainment rather than a true story. The problem I have is with the actual writing. Frey's work reads like a repetitive grocery list. And the format (lacking indentation and quotation marks) makes an editor want to throw a style manual at the author.

Style and format aside, A Million Little Pieces isn't all bad. There is an interesting story in the mess with characters that are slightly sympathetic for recovering drug addicts. However, readers don't necessarily need every single detail about the author's time in rehab. I really didn't care what he had to eat at every meal.

The book could easily be cut down by about 150 pages without losing any significant points of the story. Of course, seeing as it is a quick read, losing those pages would also save readers about two hours.