Friday, November 28, 2008

In Between

In between the protests that have been going on for some time, I traveled with my parents to Bangkok for the second time in August. We were there just in time for Queen Sirikit's birthday.

It was interesting to see the Thai public's reverence for the royal family--though I already encountered some of that during my first trip to Thailand.

On a day I took to myself to sleep in while my parents toured the Grand Palace and some other sights I already enjoyed, I found myself in the midst of the celebration. On the way to Dusit Park there was a street fair with food, souvenir vendors, a band, and some minor political activity. Unfortunately, I got caught in the rain without an umbrella on the walk back to the hotel.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Brother, Can You Spare a Kuai?

China has been getting hit hard by the US financial crisis and the outlook continues to look grim. Jobs, particularly in southern China, are being lost rapidly. Economic growth estimates have been revised numerous times over the past couple months--the prediction has gone from about 10% to 7%, and could decline further. And, amidst it all, the government is taking action.

Beijing's economic stimulus plan as well as its rhetoric has raised the level of optimism among the some of the public. But, is the plan enough to keep the population employed and complacent? A little over a month ago, a major toy manufacturer closed its doors without warning, owing back wages and causing a furor throughout the country. Another in Dongguan has now closed, sparking a riot of infuriated ex-employees. I have read estimates that millions will be out of work in a year in the Pearl River Delta.

I have heard plenty of predictions as to China's future and economic downfall since arriving here. There were also pessimistic predictions concerning the Summer Olympics. So far, China has proved the naysayers wrong. And it may continue to do so.

This economic crisis poses an incredible challenge to China that it may not recover from in the near future. However, this same crisis may be just what the country needs to take the next step in its development.

Beijing is pushing ahead with infrastructure projects to improve the quality of life and to maintain employment among the growing migrant population. The central bank has also slashed interest rates in an effort to increase investment (though that is more of a short-term fix). Most surprisingly, the government is pumping 350 billion Yuan (more than $50 billion) into environmental protection--though no word yet on what this will include.

The hope is that the difficult times ahead will change businesses. The manufacturers are the ones will get hit hardest unless they adapt. I've heard a lot of preaching from the government about the need for technological advancements, but not much has been developed thus far. This could bring the innovation that is seriously lacking to the businesses on the mainland.

The entire 4 trillion Yuan economic package could change the Chinese economy for the better. Or, it may simply help the manufacturers stay in business long enough to ride out the recession and continue with business as usual in a few years, which won't bring about any long-term benefits for the public.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Menacing Copyright

Last week, Mr. W. gave us some delicious dried yak he brought back from his trip to Tibet. I was enjoying eating it when I took a closer look at the package. Was that Dennis the Menace in the top left corner? Were they using an American icon as their logo?

Yes, it appears that a little dried yak company from Tibet is infringing on the copyright of our dear friend Dennis the Menace, who is not in the public domain yet. Does Dennis really help sell dried yak in China? Does anyone in China know who he is or is he just another foreign kid to them?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Out for Thai

We celebrated my birthday with friends on Friday night. After our experience at Focaccino the previous night, Jia and I decided we should give the nearby Thai Kitchen a go. Their sign offered 50% off on almost everything on the menu (except beer, of course).

Just like at Focaccino, there were a few people in the restaurant when we arrived, but no one else came in besides our table of 10. Half of us had been to Thailand and were prepared for the Chinese version of Thai food, which meant we weren't expecting anything spectacular. We ordered some typical Thai dishes in the hopes that it would satisfy our dining desire.

We were impressed by the quality of the meal--it was very close to authentic Thai cuisine. The green curry chicken and red curry duck were excellent--though not too spicy. In fact, most of the food wasn't all that spicy (I might not be the best judge of this because I love really spicy food). There wasn't anything that we ordered that anyone didn't enjoy--we chose our dishes quite successfully.

Most impressive was the price for the evening. With five beers costing a total 60 RMB, our total bill was only 380 RMB. We were satisfied and had no desire to order more, but we were shocked that it was only 38 per person.

To put that price in perspective, we headed downstairs to 3D Bar on bar street. Their best deal is buy two half-liter Tiger Beers, get one free (each costs 30RMB, which is also the cheapest beer they have). And the bars on that street are wondering why business sucks.

I say skip the over-priced bars, but don't miss out on some quality Thai food in Nanshan on the 3rd floor of the Poly Center (AKA World Food Street).

Saturday, November 22, 2008


For the third time since I moved to China, some schmuck has been mauled by a panda at the zoo. Unlike the previous occasions, this was not the same panda at the Beijing zoo--this time it was in Guilin.

Let's review our vicious panda moments: in 2006 a drunk wanted to get closer and hopped the fence. The following year a 15-year-old migrant (presumably sober) wanted to pet the same panda--guess he didn't read the newspaper the year before. This year it was a 20-year-old university student--he was supposed to be one of the educated people in this country. The student claimed that he "just wanted to cuddle [the panda]." I think this kid needs a girlfriend.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Going Italian in Nanshan

Last night Jia and I went out to Coastal City and the surrounding area for dinner. We walked around the World Food Street behind the Poly Theater. This area is mostly inhabited by Bar Street--a group of empty bars that have mostly closed. The whole area is relatively deserted--it's still under construction and has been poorly advertised to the public.

The restaurants on the third floor seem to have the right idea to attract customers--special deals and lower prices. This is something the bars have yet to figure out (they like to charge 50RMB for a beer and offer few, if any, specials).

We chose to eat at Focaccino Ristorante, which has another location in Coco Park in Futian. Their current special is 152RMB (service charge included) for two glasses of wine, two soups, a large salad, two entrees, dessert, and coffee. It's a limited selection, but it is well worth the price.

Jia and I were the only patrons (one couple left as we sat down) and were given great service (which is why I didn't mind paying the service charge) to go along with our quiet dining experience. The wine was quite good for house wine--although it's not often I get to drink non-Chinese wine, so I might be biased. The caeser salad was wonderful considering I haven't had one in at least three years.

For the main course, we had spaghetti with chicken and herbs and a pepperoni, green pepper, and mushroom pizza. Both were great (and the pizza made a good cold breakfast this morning). And the freshly-ground coffee was a relaxing way to end our evening. The dessert was the only disappointed part of the meal--but I'm not much on desserts and we were both full by the time it arrived.

We'll more than likely return to Focaccino for a meal or coffee. The regular prices are reasonable and the specials make it even better. I'm tempted to try their lunches--there's a little more variety in the specials then.

A Little Birthday Ditty

I'm another year older and none the wiser.

My birthday began as usual with work and such. The only problem was that I was told I would have to take part in the recording of a video for the university--on the one day in more than a year that I decided to wear jeans to work. They rewrote the lyrics from the Olympic song "北京欢迎你" (Beijing Welcomes You) to fit with the school. And they expected me to sing.

There's are two problems with the situation: I don't sing and I can't read all the characters for the Chinese they want me to sing. My office never got the memo that I sing worse than a dying cat on morphine. Fortunately, they let me be part of the inaudible background. But I did get to lip-sync like a star in the opening ceremony of the Olympics for the video.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Review: The Last Castle

I don't recall ever hearing about The Last Castle, which was apparently released in 2001, but I couldn't pass up the chance to watch James Gandolfini and Robert Redford in a movie.

From director Rob Lurie and writer David Scarpa, The Last Castle depicts a military prison run by Col. Winter (Gandolfini). Three-star General Irwin (Redford) is sentenced to the prison for failure to follow an executive order that led to the death of his soldiers. Irwin unintentionally humiliates Winter, who looks up to the general, by pointing out that the colonel has never been to war. He then takes his time to evaluate the conditions of the prison.

From watching the other inmates, Irwin discovers that Winter is responsible for the mistreatment of the men. He gradually finds ways to irritate Col. Winter and disobey the rules of the prison. His actions culminate in Irwin's organization of the court-martialed soldiers in an uprising to take over the prison.

The Last Castle is an entertaining movie with a great pace to the story. The action isn't over the top like in most movies coming out of Hollywood. However, it still could've been better. There was an attempt to develop the characters, but it didn't go far enough. There was very little back story revealed about the characters, creating a lack of interest in many of them. The progression of the story was also a bit predictable.

Still, it's not a bad way to spend a few hours. It has enough talented actors to make it worthwhile.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The End Is Near

I told my boss I resigned. Though it won't actually be until March that I leave--I gave some reassurances.

As some of my readers know, Jia was given an immigrant visa for the US last month. The visa is only valid for six months, so she has to travel to my hometown before mid-April. This was a bit of a surprise as we just began the application process at the end of July (the consulate Web site said to expect the process to take up to a year). I signed a new contract with the university last summer because I didn't expect my wife to get her visa until next summer, when my contract would end.

Fortunately, my boss is taking it well and understands the situation. I've even offered to help as much as I can in finding a replacement. I find it slightly depressing that I'll leave a job that has treated me so well--I doubt I'll have such luck finding another boss as nice as this one.

After three years in China, I can finally say that I know when I'm going home--and it feels awkward. Aside from my hometown, this is the longest I've stayed in one place. I may not like Shenzhen, but it is still my home of the past three years and there is a strange connection that I have made with it.

Now I have to face the difficulty of moving to the US and finding work in the midst of a recession, while helping my wife cope with a new life (though I think she's better prepared than I am). I have confidence that Jia can find work as a teacher; I'm still busy finding the best city to improve my chances of gainful employment.

I'm looking forward to seeing my friends and family again, but I will miss the friends and pseudo-family I have here. Until I leave, I'll have to seek out some new adventures in the city I will leave behind.
Farewell my private office.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Spilled Milk

What would you do with tons of Melamine-tainted milk? Guangzhou is purportedly looking into using the "milk" to make bricks. Details are not given as to how this would work, or even if the bricks would be of adequate quality. However, this does provide an alternative to dumping the milk into the rivers and giving the fish kidney stones.

Who says there's a lack of innovation in China?

I'm still looking for The Simpsons reference to Chinese having the same word for crisis as they do for opportunity. Until I find it, I'll stick with how Homer put it, "Crisitunity."

Monday, November 10, 2008

In a Blur

There is a serious vision problem in China. I thought I wouldn't have to deal with it after I was finished teaching children.

Apparently, many parents won't buy glasses for children because they think the kids' eyesight will deteriorate more. This created a problem in the classroom as I had students running up to the board to squint at what was written, then scurry back to their seats to write it on their paper. At least I was told about this prior to my first class.

Now I have the problem at the graduate level. Last year I had students who refused to answer questions, and when pressed to answer would reply that they forgot their glasses. This year, I have students who say they can't see the board or projection screen clearly and, therefore, cannot answer the question.

The irony of this situation now is that I write in large letters on the board and use 18-20 point font for my lectures. I can see everything clearly from the back wall, which is ten feet behind the last seat. Not only that, but there are usually three rows of tables that can sit three students each at the front of the room.

It pains me to think that I might have to fail a student or three simply because he or she isn't responsible enough to get new glasses or sit closer to the front of the class.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Dragons on the Wall

Two years ago, Jia and I spent part of our October holiday in Zhaoqing, not far from Guangzhou. This photo is from one of the few sights in the city, Dinghu Park.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

View from the People

With the election officially over and having watched the re-broadcast of the Daily Show's election coverage, I headed out to Carrefour for food (a necessity for most people).

On my way home, I stopped to buy corn from the sidewalk vendor across the street from the supermarket. His first question as I poked through the corn to find the best ears was, "What country are you from?" When I responded that I'm from the US, he congratulated me on the election of Obama. I was rather surprised that the common, unlicensed street vendor in China knew the election result only a few hours after it was officially announced (there aren't any TVs near this street corner).

The vendor then asked if I liked Obama. My response was he was OK and I liked him more than McCain. I wanted to say more, but I have no idea what the Chinese word is for "politician." My intended phrase would've been, "I don't like any politicians."

This should be a note to Obama that China is watching. For now, they actually like him. Who knows how long that will last.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Wake Me When It's Over

Tomorrow after work, I will return home and follow the US Presidential election until there is a clear winner. At such time, I will be sure to go drink a few beers to forget that this election ever happened. It's not that I'm disappointed in the candidates (I hate all politicians equally), I just don't like long, drawn-out elections. This thing should've been over months ago.

Looking at the economy and the price tag for this election year (how many years has it been going on?). While poverty levels and foreclosures are rising, our elected officials are spending billions of dollars on campaigns aimed at people who have mostly made their decisions months ago. It's still hard to believe that two people can spend more than $300 billion on a single election. To put this in perspective, the federal government is spending about $100 billion this year on education.

I urge everyone who is eligible to vote--I don't care who you vote for. But, I do encourage everyone to support election reform for the future because the current process has gotten out of hand. My proposal is simple: shorten the allotted time for campaigning to two months and eliminate all TV and radio ads from the political parties and independent organizations. There should also be weekly debates in the two months prior to the election. This plan will save billions of dollars, cut down on the headaches from stupid advertising, and force politicians to actually work instead of taking a year off for campaigning.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Halloween News

On Halloween, Shenzhen Daily picked up a few of my blog posts about my trip to Fujian. They also had some kind introductory words about me. Now I just need to start selling more articles for publication.

After that nice piece of news, Jia and I met up with some friends at Focaccino at Coco Park for a Halloween party. It was a nice deal: 100RMB for men, 50RMB for women, all-you-can-eat snack (including pizza) and plenty of Tsingtao. Not sure if we ate and drank our money's worth, but it was fun. My T-shirt was a hit, but since the beer was free, I didn't make any money. The best costume of the evening belonged to a foreigner dressed as Santa with an AIG undershirt--guess even Santa is having trouble with insurance now.