Friday, December 25, 2009

Xmas Past

My Christmas traditions didn't really change when I moved to China in 2005. It still included eating Chinese food and watching movies. The difference was that the Chinese food was better and I watched movies on pirated DVDs instead of in the theaters (I didn't even know where the movie theater was my first year).

The closest I came to a real Christmas celebration were J.'s first two years in Shenzhen. The first year we tried making as much non-Chinese food as possible, which wasn't much. But J. did make plenty of mulled wine and we had other drinks to keep us amused for the day. The next year was much better because we were both in Nanshan near Carrefour, which had a nice foreign food selection. I had to lend him my large toaster oven so he could prepare most of the food at home. And everyone brought other food to share--we even had a bucket of KFC.

What I miss most about Christmas in China is that everything is open. New Jersey is rather boring on Christmas. But this year we'll go out to Grand Sichuan for dinner. We just have to find another DVD to watch afterwards.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Magical Religion

What do magic and religion have in common? I'm not really sure. But I spotted this sign advertising magic lessons in a Buddhist temple in Malacca, Malaysia.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Thesis Market

It pains me to see students cheating. I warned my grad students about the dangers of plagiarism and cheating in my classes--I failed a large number of them because they copied articles from websites and used them as their own essays. I also know this is not a phenomenon relegated to Chinese universities (J. had more than a few similar stories from his time teaching freshman composition at an American university).

Now China is facing the problem of its own online thesis market. According to China Daily, thesis websites are worth up to $79 million a year, charging an average of $95 per paper. The greatest reason for the need for such websites is that promotions in business and education depend on writing and publishing a thesis (even if it's plagiarized or published in a journal that has no credibility). I would like to point out that the grad school for which I worked required its PhD candidates to publish at least three research articles in English in foreign journals, which meant plagiarism was not tolerated. The thesis was another story.

What bothered me most about the article was the response to this academic dishonesty. An associate professor at Wuhan University said, "We should stop regarding thesis as the only assessment to get a promotion, and cancel the dissertations of gradates who don't specialize in researching." Isn't the purpose of higher education to specialize in research? If university students aren't researching a subject, what are they doing?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dangers of Flaunting Wealth

Shenzhen is living up to its title as the most dangerous city in China. Recently, there have been reports of kidnappings around the city, some of which have ended with the victims murdered. The targets of the kidnappings are children of the wealthy.

In late October, a sixth grader was kidnapped and a ransom of half a million US dollars was paid. But the boy was killed and there's no word on if the kidnappers were arrested. There have been a few other kidnappings over the past few months, but the situation hasn't even come close to epidemic levels. However, the Public Security Bureau and parents are taking notice and trying to keep the children safe.

Unfortunately, the children of wealthy Shenzhen residents are easy targets. There are plenty of expensive private schools throughout the city and very little supervision between the school gates and home. It is generally the younger students whose parents or grandparents pick them up from school--this practice usually stops around fifth grade (the age of most of the kidnapping victims). These students are also at the age when they understand their parents' wealth and openly talk about it.

There's a great post over at China Hush with some translated reactions of the situation.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Freezing in Hell

It's definitely winter in New Jersey--it's about 22 degrees right now and my heaters aren't working. It's almost as bad as yesterday, which wasn't quite as cold.

I had to get my car inspected at the DMV. This meant that a few days ago I had to replace my windshield that was hit by a few rocks back in March. I thought the only thing that might prevent my car from passing inspection was the fact that I need a new muffler (and have needed it for a few months).

My car has failed inspection for some very questionable reasons over the years. The first time it failed was after I bought it (which was a month before I turned 17). That time it failed because my left turn signal blinked too fast. The following year it failed because my rear window was tinted over the third brake light (the tint came with the car and was such a light tint that I didn't even realize it was tinted).

This year, it looked like everything was going well as I stood in cold glass box until they got to the brake test. My car failed because the brake peddle was too loose--you had to press it almost to the floor. But they didn't say anything about my brakes. How does a car fail for a brake peddle but not the brakes? Turns out, I did need new brakes though. And that meant I got to sit in a cold mechanic's office for three hours because there was nothing nearby.

And all the mechanics I've seen agree that my car should run for another 100,000 miles, which should take another 10 years at my current driving pace.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Back to the Future in Chinese Computing

A hundred comedians at a hundred typewriters for a hundred years couldn't come up with a joke like this--and it's a true story.

According to The Telegraph, Microsoft is running into more legal troubles in China. A court ruled in favor of Zhongyi, a Chinese company that created a font for Windows but did not license the font for multiple versions of the operating software. I figure this is retribution for Microsoft's attack on pirated operating systems software about a year ago that outraged many users who knowingly purchased illegal copies of Windows.

The best perspective on the case comes from the Chinese company's lawyer, Ling XinYu: "By winning this case against an internationally well-known company like Microsoft, it shows that China, although still a developing country, is taking positive steps to protect intellectual property rights." You just have to love when lawyers throw in Party propaganda lines that state that a developing country has every right to infringe on intellectual property.

Until Microsoft wins an appeal on the matter, it is only allowed to sell version of Windows 95 in China, which should either cripple China technologically or force the country to run Linux. Or maybe this is Apple's chance to make some headway in the computer market.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Pop Culture MoMA

We visited the Museum of Modern Art in New York this afternoon for the sole purpose of seeing the "Tim Burton and the Lurid Beauty of Monsters" exhibit. I regret to inform you that photos are not allowed at the exhibit, so I don't have any to share. You have until April 26, 2010, to see the Burton's work for yourself.

This was definitely one of the best art exhibits I have ever seen (and I've seen some impressive ones of Dali and Miro). The exhibit contains a chronology of Tim Burton's work--some early cartoons that include an unpublished children's book about monsters, character sketches from his films, and original drawings from his published book The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories. Not all of the work is Burton's, some of it is costumes and storyboards from his movies that other people made.

Entering through the mouth of demonic circus monster, visitors see some of Burton's cartoons as they're led into a dark room of glowing paintings and an alien carousel of sorts. Then visitors can enter to the doors to the full exhibit.

I'm fairly certain we went through the exhibit backwards--to the left of the door is Tim Burton's earlier work. His paintings and drawings remind me of a twisted and colorful Charles Addams with a few more clowns and aliens. The color and ridiculous shapes of his monsters are what make the grotesque images humorous--exactly what Burton has made his living on through his films.

Though Jia didn't know who Tim Burton was prior to the exhibit, I did introduce her to some of his movies in China--Sleepy Hollow, Corpse Bride, Sweeney Todd, and Charlie and Chocolate Factory. Now I have to make her watch Mars Attacks (one of my favorites because I love sci-fi B-movies).

And for the movie buffs, MoMA will be showing some sci-fi and horror films until the exhibit closes. When else will you be able to see Plan 9 from Outer Space at an art museum?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Product Placement

Yesterday, @BeijingWithKids on Twitter reminded me of product placement in supermarkets in China. She mentioned that barbecue and pet supplies are next to each other at her local Walmart.

It got me thinking about the second Carrefour that opened in Bao'an district while I was living out there. My friends and I thought it amusing that the foreign food shared its half aisle with dog food--we figured it was Chinese commentary on the taste of foreign food.

I was given a slightly different perspective on this by Imagethief who said that it could be that the Chinese assume foreign pet owners are more likely to feed their pets name-brand pet food (many Chinese feed their dogs table scraps or packaged meats). This idea of product placement would make sense were it not for the fact that I only met one foreign family that owned a dog, and they didn't live near Bao'an.

When I moved to Nanshan, the nearest Carrefour had a much larger foreign food aisle that was surrounded by imported wine and liquor, and next to domestic beer and junk food. That made a lot more sense to me.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

More Truth About Shenzhen

This article from China Daily really doesn't come as much of a surprise to me. I'm more surprised that they actually reported on it.

According to the article, the number one emotional/mental health issue in Shenzhen is extramarital affairs. It seems that when people become successful in the city they go out and find a lover on the side. This is nothing new to anyone who lives in a major city in China. I even mentioned something about this at the beginning of 2008.

One point in the article that I wasn't aware of is that Shenzhen does have private detectives, whose businesses are booming with the rise of affairs. However, Jia informs me that private investigators are not quite legal in China--all evidence collected by them is inadmissible in court.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

China is Listening

The Chinese government wants to make the use of eavesdropping in corruption investigations legal, according to today's China Daily. Now, take a second to think about that sentence again.

You're probably thinking, but China already spies on its citizens, why would they need to make it legal? Law professor Zhu Wenqi says, "The current law does not specify whether it is legal and I think they are illegal measures as they are offences to people's privacy." I'm fairly certain that if the law doesn't specify it, it's legal as far as the Chinese government is concerned. And when was the last time the CCP cared about other people's privacy?

Apparently, the government wants to be able to use a variety of methods to catch corrupt politicians and businesspeople. "In addition to wiretaps and eavesdropping, modern methods such as lie-detector tests, hypnosis, mail checking and satellite locating are also included." Wait a second...since when is hypnosis a modern method of gathering evidence?

The lesson here is, if you're living in China you should watch out for Big Brother Hu listening in on your conversations. I'm sure the CCP enjoyed my mundane weekly conversations with my parents.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Stuffed

I finally recovered from my birthday food coma.

Friday, my wonderful wife cooked dinner for my friend, brother, and me before we went out to celebrate in Jersey City. We were all shocked when we saw the table completely full of food. She made 麻辣牛肉 (mala niurou), cumin lamb, Xinjiang beef stew, fish flavored eggplant, corn with pine nuts and peppers, and spring rolls (okay, those were frozen from the Asian market, but she still had to fry them). And she also made the traditional Chinese birthday noodle soup with a hard-boiled egg. We didn't come close to finishing the dinner--we got through about half the meal. And we never managed to get to dessert.

If my birthday dinner at home wasn't enough, my parents took me out Saturday. We went to Komegashi for sushi. It's a great Japanese restaurant on the waterfront with a nice view of New York City. We filled up on a few small appetizers of wasabi duck, gyoza (fried dumplings), and a few others. Then I went for the sashimi dinner, which has some pretty thick slices of fish. I don't think I've ever felt so full from sashimi in my life.

Now I get to prepare myself for Thanksgiving. I will enjoy my first Thanksgiving turkey in four years. I'm sure it'll be much better than roast duck from Carrefour in Shenzhen.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Birthday Memory

Tomorrow is my birthday--the first birthday I will celebrate in the US in four years (and first in New Jersey in six).

My first birthday in China was full of small surprises. I had been in China three weeks and the school hadn't fixed my phone, so my parents couldn't call me. All the school had to do was pay the China Telecom bill because the phone line had not been in use for almost a year. They didn't figure this out until I told my boss what I'd do with the phone if another repairman entered my apartment without actually fixing anything. My phone finally worked the week after my birthday.
Jia (before we were dating) surprised me with a decorative pu'er tea disc that had the character 羊 with a ram's head for the top of the character. It was a very thoughtful gift as it was specific for my Chinese zodiac. I later had to ask her mother's permission to allow her to come out on a Friday night to help celebrate my birthday, which was extremely difficult because her mother didn't speak any English and I had only learned about ten words of Chinese.

It turned out to be a very quiet but enjoyable birthday at our favorite local restaurant with some beer. The next day, a few of the teachers took me to Shekou (my first trip outside of Bao'an district) for dinner at the Indian restaurant that was destroyed in the flood of Sea World a few years ago. They then dragged me down Chicken Street to the one legitimate bar.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Revaluing the Yuan

Since Obama planned his trip to China there has been speculation as to whether or not he'd press China to revalue the Yuan. Rumors of revaluation pop up at least once a year, and occassionally the rumors are true (when I first moved to China at the end of 2005, the exchange rate was a little more than 8 to the dollar; when I left it was about 6.8 to the dollar--I should've saved more money). The value the US would like to see is probably along the lines of the standard of living, which would be around 2-3RMB to the dollar, but that is unlikely to happen for a long time.

Revaluing the Yuan is a touchy subject in China--many view it as pressure from Western powers to slow the Chinese economy or just a plot to destroy the economy (I had more than a few students write essays about this subject with little to no supporting details). Many Americans believe that a stronger Yuan will help the American economy, while many Chinese believe that a stronger Yuan will hurt the Chinese economy.

In the short term, a revalued Yuan won't do much of anything. It will improve the Chinese buying power of non-Chinese products, which are extremely expensive when considering the standard of living in China. But, it will also make Chinese products more expensive abroad, which could lead to people spending less on Chinese-made products. It is not likely to make Chinese products more expensive in China, which is the real fear of the working class there.

The fear that the Chinese government has is that a revalued Yuan will force foreign companies to move to cheaper countries. Some companies have already done so, but it was more about the rise of minimum wage in areas like Shenzhen (minimum wage is 1000RMB per month). Most companies can't move to countries with cheaper labor because those countries don't have the infrastructure or number of laborers that China has. Also, it costs money to build a factory and train new workers. The exodus of manufacturing jobs from China will not happen quickly--it's more likely that it may happen gradually over the next 10 or 20 years. This gives Chinese companies ample time to adapt to the changes.

The greatest fear should come from American businesses. With a stronger Yuan, Chinese businesses will have more money to spend abroad, which they would happily spend on acquiring foreign businesses and product lines (such as Hummer). Acquiring such companies and product lines will improve the image and quality of Chinese products abroad. And, Chinese businesses are not likely to keep manufacturing units in the US, thus costing more jobs in the American economy.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Work of (Iron) Art

This week's Friday photo is from Bangkok. I was reminded of this cool ironwork after meeting an ironwork artisan down the street--he makes a lot of functional art from scrap metal and wood (it's quite plentiful when they tear down some of the older buildings in Jersey City). I'll have to go back and show him this work of art from Thailand. I'll also have to go play mahjong with him since he claims to know how to play.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans' Day

As I mentioned in my previous post, Jia and I visited the USS New York on Monday. Today, the ship heads south. It is an impressive vessel that's hull was constructed with 17.5 tons of steel recovered from the World Trade Center.
Jia has seen plenty of memorials around New Jersey and New York for September 11 (she takes the PATH to the World Trade Center on her way to work), but she still doesn't quite understand the significance of those buildings or the USS New York. I must admit she has done a great job of finding information in an effort to understand it better.

As it is Veterans' Day, I would like to take this opportunity to thank our past and present men and women in uniform for serving our country. I'd especially like to thank my friends in the military--they are some of the best friends I could have. I am grateful for their service. I am also very happy to know that they are all safe at home on this Veterans' Day.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Strange Questions

Today, Jia and I took a short trip into Manhattan to visit the USS New York (more on that in another post). She's never seen a naval vessel up close and wanted to share some of the experience with her friends on her blog. She showed me one of the photos she took, which had the officers on board the ship, and asked me how to say it in Chinese.

I see a few things wrong with her question. The first being that she knows my abilities in Chinese. The second being that she is the native speaker who should know what she took a picture of and how to explain what it is in her own language.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Jumble

I've been a little busy lately--though not as busy as I'd like to be. I feel like I'm going in quite a few directions--sort of like this tree I came across in Penang (does anyone know what it's called?).
Not sure why I didn't mention this on here earlier, but I finished putting together Terracotta Typewriter #3. This issue is pretty heavy on prose and light on poetry--I hope to even that out for the future. So, now I have to begin working on issue #4 and get back to updating the blog on the site more regularly.

I also published an article on healthcare (a rather sore subject here in the US) at Freelance Writing Jobs. And it looks like I'll be doing a little travel writing in the near future. I hope all this writing gets me into a better groove to work more efficiently on my novels and stories.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Absurdity of the Job Hunt

I've seen my share of absurd requirements for jobs--five years experience for an entry-level position? But apparently the public security bureau (aka police department) in Fujian province takes the lead in absurdity. According to China Daily, the bureau had to apologize for their attempted hiring practices.

For some reason the bureau had to hire a food washer (I would guess that they have a cafeteria at the station) and posted a job ad. The requirements for this job were that the person must be female, good-looking, at least 1.58 meters tall, and hold a bachelor's degree in Chinese or journalism.

It's difficult to decide what the worst part of those requirements is. It's sexist for them to want a good-looking, tall woman for the position. But the candidates also need a bachelor's degree!? For a job that pays 800RMB per month!?

Then again, it does show how much respect the police have for journalists in China.

Rebellious Voting Activity

I have quite a few reasons why I will not vote for a major party candidate in tomorrow's gubernatorial election in New Jersey. I'm tired of hearing about people voting against one candidate or the other--this seems to be a long-running trend around here. We should be willing to vote for a candidate rather than against one.

To start with, I never liked Democrat Jon Corzine--I didn't vote for him for the Senate and didn't vote for him in his first run for governor (I wrote in a candidate for that one). The problem has been that the Republicans have never had a half-decent candidate to run against Corzine. The Republican candidate this year is Chris Christie--thus reaffirming my suspicions that the Republicans have no idea what they're doing. With these two despicable men do not deserve my vote, and I don't believe they deserve anyone else's vote.

I'm tired of voting for the lesser of two evils, especially when the lesser evil is only incrementally less evil. I may not like Corzine, but I know Christie will not do any better for the state of New Jersey. Choosing between these two is like choosing between the electric chair and a lethal injection. Therefore, I will throw my vote to Chris Daggett.

I don't really think Daggett will do any better than Corzine or Christie, but I want to send a message to the Republicans and Democrats that I am fed up. I could choose one of the other third-party candidates, but they stand even less of a chance of winning.

If you're fed up with the politics of New Jersey, I encourage you to vote for a third-party candidate. We need to fix this state instead of allowing the wealthy to serve their own needs in office.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A City with a View

Unfortunately, almost every cool destination in Hong Kong is crowded. But, I still enjoyed going up to Victoria Peak for the great view of the city. The first time I went with Jia and her mother--it was a very hazy late-October weekend. The view wasn't so good that day, but we made it up early in the morning when the air was significantly clearer (we couldn't see the peak from across Victoria Harbor in the afternoon). The second time was with my parents--the weather was perfect aside from the usual August heat and humidity. The two days in Hong Kong with my parents were the clearest I ever saw in that city.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Turning Leaves

More than just the leaves are turning in New Jersey. Jia and I have changed a bit--or rather our perceptions have.

In China I always seemed to be taking pointless photos and staring at the mundane, which were sometimes fascinating to me as an outsider. Now, it's Jia's turn.

It never occurred to me how beautiful autumn in the northeastern U.S. could be for someone who never experienced it. Sure, her hometown in Xinjiang had the changes in seasons, but the leaves didn't change to such colors (apparently, the leaves just change to brown and fall). For the last couple weeks, she has been in awe of the fall colors around Jersey City, which doesn't really have a lot of fall foliage. Today, I took her back to my parents' house, and she took almost a hundred photos from around the lake.

But it's more than just the changing colors of the season. We had dinner with some of her new friends (also Chinese immigrants). The dinner conversation came to an interesting point when they were discussing waiguoren. One of them commented that it took a while to realize that she couldn't call people waiguoren anymore because they were the residents and she is now the foreigner. So, she now has to refer to the non-Chinese she encounters at Meiguoren (Americans).

There were many other interesting conversations about living in the U.S., but I couldn't catch all of it in Chinese--though I did realize that my listening skills are pretty good, and I understood quite a bit of the conversations.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Maoist the White House

Since moving back to the US I've been amazed by the commercialization of President Obama--I've seen his face on a lot of cheap products. I guess it's a good marketing ploy in such a poor economy. In some ways it is reminiscent of all the kitschy Mao Zedong memorabilia (or Mao-morabilia) for sale in all the tourist traps in China (I recently read about Mao snowglobes and glow-in-the-dark Mao figures).

Now that America's love affair with President Obama is waning, other countries are still showing their support through new and questionable marketing campaigns featuring the commander-in-chief's image. We've already seen him advertising real estate and the non-copyright-infringing Blockberry in China.

Now, they're even putting his image in place of Chairman Mao. That's right folks, for a limited time you can purchase your own Oba Mao t-shirts in China (original link). Maybe you tell the vendors that he's your president they'll give you the very best international friend price.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Piracy in China?

If you didn't get the sarcasm in the title, you probably work for the media. This isn't the first time I've read an article about China that was old news to anyone who actually knows anything about China. Reuters makes it sound shocking that intellectual property thieves are selling illegal copies of Windows 7 only a week before its release. I've got news for Reuters, bootleggers have been selling illegal copies of Windows 7 for more than a year.

There is some logic in the article from analyst Matthew Cheung: "If you're trying to sell a program that costs 2,000 yuan to a student living on 400 yuan a month, that's simply not going to work out for most consumers." Really? Thank you, captain obvious.

It's not so much the individual users that software companies have a problem with--personal computers are still not as common as they are in the US. The major problem is Internet cafes and businesses that use pirated software--and the people who get the pirated software for these businesses don't usually buy it on the streets.

The media really needs to stop blowing these stories out of proportion. It might help if the people they hired to write these stories knew anything about China.

Celebrate a New Holiday

Well, the holiday isn't new, but it is something new for me. I was reminded that tomorrow is Diwali. As there is a significant Indian population in Jersey City, there will be some events. Supposedly there will be a lot going on in Little India (one block of Newark Ave. near Journal Square). I also came across an announcement for a Diwali celebration at an Irish pub--sounds like a fun cultural mix to me.

Unfortunately, the weather does not look promising. It seems that we have condensed autumn to a couple weeks and headed straight into winter. It's rather cold and raining. If I was still living in Shenzhen I'd be contemplating turning off my air conditioner for much of the day. Instead, I'm wondering how long it will take for the heater to get my apartment to a comfortable temperature.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Friday's Metaphor

On our tour through Bali, we took a trip to Turtle Island (it was part of the package--something for the four kids in the group to enjoy). I think this photo from the boat ride to the island sums up my feelings about the US economy.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Police Work Paradox

Police in Chongqing have been cracking down on organized crime for the past eight months. Supposedly they are making progress.

One has to wonder what the police would do if not explicitly ordered to take on organized crime after reading a quotation from an article in China Daily. One police officer in Chongqing says, "You feel like a real policeman when you arrest gangs and do something for the people."

I guess the Chinese on the police badges don't translate to "To Protect and Serve."

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Some Wedding Traditions

Chinese weddings can be a lot of fun. And some of the traditions seem unbelievably strange to foreigners. And others just should be avoided. (I was fortunate enough to only endure the fun traditions.)

According to a recent online post (in Chinese), a bride went a little too far.

Part of the wedding tradition is that family and friends of the bride are supposed to make it difficult for the groom to pick up the bride and take her to the reception--I've heard of playful beatings, bringing gifts for relatives, hiding the bride's shoes, and other shenanigans. This particular wedding was held up by the bride who would not allow the groom to enter her home until he purchased a new flat-screen TV for their home, which he apparently promised to buy beforehand.

After being held out of the home to take his bride to the wedding, the groom gave up. Not only did he call off the wedding, he went out and found another girl he went to school with and proposed to her. And she accepted.

I guess some people can only push the wedding traditions so far before it all goes horribly wrong. At least the groom found someone new quickly.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

No Holiday for You!

It sounded like an article from The Onion, but its writers would've added some amusing fake quotes. China Daily reported that some universities are postponing the October national holiday because of fears of H1N1 on campus. The universities, which were not named, will supposedly extend the already long Spring Festival holiday.

The logic behind this decision stems from students already contracting H1N1, and fears that if they go away for the week-long holiday more students will be infected. But, wouldn't more students become infected if they stay on campus? Wouldn't the universities be better off if they sent all the students home for a week and disinfected the dorms and classrooms?

I also wonder how many students already bought their train and bus tickets home only to have the university tell them that they can't go.

Friday, September 25, 2009

National Day Approaches

I was reminded by friends in China that the national holiday is approaching (most people get a week off). During my first national holiday, which happened to be during my second year because I arrived in China just after the holiday in 2005, Jia and I traveled to Zhaoqing--a three-hour bus ride from Shenzhen that felt a lot longer because the bus was in poor shape, there was a lot of traffic, and there was no toilet on the bus (something I expected because there's one on the shorter trip to Guangzhou, which meant I drank too much coffee prior to boarding the bus).

Other than the bus, Zhaoqing was an enjoyable trip. A large part of our time was spent at Dinghu Park, which was much less crowded than other tourist sites during the holidays. While not the most picturesque park in China, it is still quite beautiful (especially when there are fewer people). Unfortunately, it was also extremely hot and humid--it would be better to visit around December.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

If Palin Speaks...

...in Hong Kong and reporters are supposedly barred from the event, does anyone hear it? Apparently, people do hear it. Worse, the quotes might not be accurate because there's no transcript and no reporters were present. And poor Sarah still sounds naive and incompetent on an international stage.

I'm still wondering why she was chosen to speak at an international investors conference in Hong Kong. Does she have any real knowledge of investing or Asia?

There are quite a few stories online about her speech:

From Time: She "expressed a conviction that the U.S. could help steer Beijing toward democracy." And, "according to many delegates, Palin's home state of Alaska dominated the talk." The last paragraph of the article makes a point of how little the Hong Kong press cares about Palin.

Some excerpts from her speech can be found on the Wall Street Journal blog (mentions of China are toward the bottom).

Of course, as of today, there is no mention of this speech in China Daily. I think we should adopt a similar approach to Palin--just ignore her.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Autumn Welcome

It's officially autumn. Jia reminded me that the Mid-Autumn Festival is approaching and we should do something (my parents think we should go to Chinatown for a festival dinner). We mentioned this at dinner the other night and my brother mentioned he's never eaten a moon rock cake. The next day, Jia and I headed over to the Asian market for some supplies and found a large selection of moon cakes. I decided to be generous and buy a small box for the family.

I haven't kept it a secret that I don't like moon cakes--I think they're too sweet and feel like a brick in my stomach, but I'm willing to eat one every year. This box that we found was made in the US (I can't believe anything is made in the US anymore) and had three varieties: lotus, red bean, and date. Jia says that these moon cakes taste better than the ones we had in Shenzhen, and I have to agree (they don't feel like a brick in my stomach). I definitely think these are better because they're about half the size of the ones we usually got in China.

We still have a few left from the dinner and plan on saving them for the actually Mid-Autumn Festival.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Statistics

I was perusing Shenzhen Daily and came across a harsh reminder of the worst statistics of China--and it doesn't involve the environment. A sophomore at Shenzhen University committed suicide. Worse than just that single university student is the mention that two younger students committed suicide in Shenzhen in the past week--they were only 12 and 14 years old.

This subject has been discussed by colleagues and expats on forums for the last few years (that I've paid attention to). I've heard many stories of teachers who have taught students who committed suicide. I've been fortunate enough that all of my students were accounted for throughout the time I taught.

The statistics aren't good for China. According to the WHO the suicide rate in 2003 was 13 per 100,000 for men and 14.8 per 100,000 for women. This does not include Hong Kong, which also has a high suicide rate. Only Lithuania and Sri Lanka had a higher rate for women. An article on Asiaone from year ago claims that China has between 250,000 and 300,000 suicides per year.

I've heard a lot of talk about improving mental health services around the country, but I haven't seen any evidence. I hope stories like this force the government to put money into mental health services for everyone in China.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Southern Tastes

Last weekend was Jia's birthday--her first since moving to the US. Planning her birthday dinner was more difficult than I thought it would be as we're not familiar with the better restaurants in the area yet. I did manage to find online listings that were helpful. After some browsing, I decided we should check out Cucharamama in Hoboken.

This South American restaurant is off the main street through Hoboken, which makes it a bit quieter, but not necessarily less crowded. When we sat down around 6:30 there were only a few other patrons--it was nearly full when we left. The warm decor is inviting and adds to the soothing atmosphere. I was slightly worried after reading a few reviews that said the service was poor, but we found no evidence of this during our dining experience--the waitstaff was friendly and quick.

Rather than choose the main courses for each of us, we chose only two and ordered a variety of tapas to share. We ordered choritos (mussels) en salsa cuzquena, Argentinian chorizo, empanadas with onion and blue cheese, Chilean beef and chicken potpie, Bolivian-style braised beef, and Colombian rice with cheese. Everything was wonderful--and there was plenty more on the menu that we could've ordered.

The flavors of some of the dishes were difficult to describe as I've never had anything quite like it--the combinations didn't sound appealing, but worked beautifully together on the spoon. The raisins added a great sweet quality to the potpie. My least favorite of the dishes was the choritos, which had a great sauce (I'm just not that big a fan of mussels).

Cucharamama also has an interesting drink menu with South American liqueurs. I went with an Argentinian beer that didn't taste much different than Tsingtao. If I enjoyed mixed drinks more, I would've ordered something else.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Pagodas on a Lake

There were quite a few beautiful sights around Guilin and Yangshuo, most of which are natural. One of the few non-nature sights we were shown by our Red Army guide was the pagodas at Banyan Lake. Unfortunately, we did not have a chance to go into the pagodas--we had to settle for taking photos from a single location across the lake.

The only more impressive pagoda I've seen in China was the Big Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi'an, which was not as ornate as these in Guilin. I just realized I haven't posted any photos of the pagoda in Xi'an, so I will be sure to post a story or two soon. Until then, enjoy the pagodas at Banyan Lake in Guilin.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Moved in

Jia and I are fully moved into our new home. We even have a comfortable bed for the first time in four years.

As a follow up to the previous post about PSE&G, one of their employees did come to the apartment last Thursday. He didn't need to show up because the electricity and gas were on--the property management company even told us that PSE&G didn't know what they were talking about because they had been paying the bills while the apartment was empty. I didn't call to cancel the appointment because I didn't feel like waiting on hold for another hour. When the PSE&G employee showed up I told him what happened, and he wasn't at all surprised. He checked the meters anyway.

Somehow Comcast has improved its customer service--any problems I've had since getting set up were answered quickly. The only major problem is that they decided to change their sports package, which meant we couldn't watch the first Penn State game of the season at my brother's house--instead we had to go to the bar.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The New Leader

...in awful customer service is not a bank in China. Anyone who has dealt with anything more than a simple deposit or withdrawal at a bank in China knows that customer service is not even a thought. And yet, today I found something worse.

We need to have electricity and gas in our new apartment, which means we have to call PSE&G to open a new account and get everything turned on (though the lights are on in the apartment right now because they never turned them off). I've tried getting through to PSE&G, but it's not that easy to stay on the phone for 40 minutes while they tell you that they'll get to your call when they can.

While we would like to live in our new apartment tomorrow, I was told that they can't come to turn on the electricity or gas until next Thursday between 8am and 4pm. Even Comcast (also known as one of the worst companies for customer service in America) provides a smaller window for their service. Honestly, how difficult is it to turn on these services? I know it's not rocket science. Maybe PSE&G could take the money that everyone in the area HAS to pay them and hire some more staff to actually do some work.

To put this in perspective, when I lived in Colorado I had to go through Xcel Energy. The property management company told me to call and transfer all the bills to my name. I called, waited a short amount of time and set everything up in a few minutes. No one ever had to come to my apartment and I never had any disruption of service.

So, it appears that we can move our stuff into the apartment tomorrow; we just can't live there until sometime next week.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Moving On...

Jia and I are moving closer to New York City. This means we have to pack up our stuff. You never know how much stuff you have until you have to move. It's not that we have a lot of stuff, just a lot of little things that need to go in boxes or bags.

Someday I'll fix this problem by either buying a teleportation device or dumping all of my stuff in the middle of a field and building a house around it.

Anyway, I may not post much for next week as we get everything together (who knows when I'll have a home internet connection).

Friday, August 21, 2009

Moon Upon the Hill

One of the greatest sights in Yangshuo is Moon Hill. Unfortunately, the weather prevented us from going hiking and getting a closer look at this magnificent natural formation. Supposedly there aren't any times of year that the weather is fully cooperative for seeing such sights in Guangxi province--everyone I've met who has been there complained about the rain.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Improbable Tour (part II)


During our Red Army tour of Guilin, we were taken to Yangshuo via a five-hour cruise (our guide drove 45 minutes to meet us at the dock) that would have been much more enjoyable had the weather been more cooperative. (My post about the cruise.)

We were given the option of heading back to Guilin that night or spending the night in Yangshuo--not wanting to head back to our hotel in middle of nowhere in Guilin, we opted for the hotel overlooking the Li River in Yangshuo. (Technically, my room had no windows while Jia's room was twice the size with a balcony overlooking the river, which was very pleasant the next morning.)

After our cruise, our PLA guide drove us around the countryside for some sightseeing. As any traveler who has spent some time in Yangshuo will tell you, the countryside is not what it seems. Even the quaintest of villages in the area are prepared for tourists--they'll have souvenirs and food ready. Still, it's beautiful to see the mountains that jut out--it's typical of many Chinese paintings, including the hand-ink painting I bought at Chen's College in Guangzhou.
For dinner, our guide had a small surprise lined up for us--he found a local guide who spoke English. And they took us to a restaurant in Chinatown. Three years later and I'm still confused how there can be a Chinatown in a town in China, but that was what our English-speaking guide told us.
Part of why we wanted to spend the night in Yangshuo was to experience the nightlife. Also, by staying there our guide was without a superior officer present and, therefore, could drink with us. He spent the first few days of our tour talking about all the things former president Bill Clinton saw on his tour through the region, and he was eager to show this foreigner how much fun Guilin and Yanshuo could be.

The following day we were supposed to have a bike tour through the town with our English-speaking guide, but the rain make that idea a little less desirable. Instead we walked the streets with umbrellas in hand (I'm still thankful I brought my water-proof Campmor coat that was purchased for my stay in London years before). I enjoyed walking the narrow streets where very few cars were allowed--it was quite a contrast to the chaotic streets of Shenzhen. Every storefront was welcoming, though overly touristy. Still, I enjoyed some of the cheesy souvenirs being peddled in Yangshuo--this was my first big trip out of Shenzhen afterall.

This young man was making a ginger candy that you can only buy in Yangshuo (supposedly)--it was quite tasty.

Monday, August 17, 2009

American Lifestyle

...with Chinese characteristics.

Jia has grown accustomed to the American way of life. She still has trouble with driving, but she's learning. Recently she discovered the wonder that is the garage sale. She has become so enthusiastic about this part of America that she even checks out Craigslist for a list of places to go.

As we are collecting stuff for our new apartment, we're trying to find anything decent at the garage sales around town. Yesterday we got lucky with a microwave and new toaster oven for $5. This gets added to the 100-year-old dresser we found getting thrown out (it's heavy and only needed one drawer fixed) and numerous picture frames (because Jia loves hanging up photos). She is fascinated by what Americans get rid of--especially when they're selling new items.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Most Scenic...

I heard plenty of Chinese talk about Guilin as the most scenic destination in China. I have agree that it is quite scenic, but I did see much more appealing scenery in northern Sichuan and Xinjiang (I enjoy snowcapped mountains).

Here is one view of Guilin. Note: there was a constant light rain, that haze wasn't pollution-induced.
The mountains of Guangxi province are probably the most recognizable sights of China--they've been painted uncountable times throughout the centuries. Before visiting Guilin and Yangshuo, I had never seen mountains like these--I found them fascinating. Unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate and we were limited in our hiking efforts to the main tourist attractions that had stairs and railings.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Improbable Tour (part I)

My first big holiday journey in China was Spring Festival (Year of the Dog) 2006. Jia and I had been dating for almost two months, but weren't telling anyone about our relationship. She contacted some relatives who hooked us up with a People's Liberation Army tour of Guilin and Yangshuo. By the end of our stay, word had gotten back to Jia's mother that we were dating (but that's not the fun part of the story).

We landed late in Guilin and were greeted by an official in a suit and PLA soldier who would be our driver and guide. I hadn't been informed that I would meet anyone from the Chinese military, and they weren't informed that Jia would be traveling with a waiguoren. It certainly made for a nice surprise upon our arrival.

We were taken to a greasy spoon with only three walls to sample the Guilin's specialty noodles. I was exhausted and didn't care what we ate--no food would have been memorable at that time. I was much more excited about seeing our hotel rooms. I was certainly a little disappointed to see that my room was simple, yet clean while Jia was given a suite. The next day I realized how far out of the way our accomodations were--there was nothing nearby except for a very dirty Internet bar which we used a few times (it was a dark, smoke-filled concrete room with old computers that hadn't been cleaned in years). Every day we had private meals at the hotel--just Jia, myself, and our PLA guide.

On our last night we met the official who organized our tour of the area. He asked what I'd like to drink, and, being the naive foreigner at the time, I said I'd drink whatever he'd like. He got a bottle of some local baijiu (although it was not clear, but rather a slightly yellow hue) that tasted a bit like a smooth scotch. This was the only time in nearly four years that I can say I enjoyed drinking baijiu. Throughout the meal, we drank casually and my host and others toasted me. I remember dinner being very good, but not much afterwards. Jia says I was speaking Chinese the whole way back to the hotel.

The next day was painful. Even though it tasted better than other baijiu, it still produced that horrible day after result. To complicate matters, we were treated to dinner before our flight to Shanghai, at which time the official brought out a bottle of Moutai baijiu--which I still consider the worst tasting baijiu I have ever had despite it's great reputation in China.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

American Grads in China

The New York Times ran an article about recent graduates looking to China for careers because they can't find anything at home. Since I have repatriated, I know how difficult the job search can be--I've had to look for freelance writing and editing gigs more than I ever intended because there aren't many full-time jobs around, and there is a lot of competition for those jobs.

The article can be misleading--it claims that many recent graduates are finding high-level positions at international companies. The fact is, the companies are hiring recent grads while repatriating the older employees so that they can cut costs. The reason that these jobs exist is because there aren't enough local Chinese qualified in these fields. But, there are plenty of Chinese studying these fields, and they will work for far less money than a recent American grad. As more educated Chinese break into the market, there will be fewer jobs for those expats.

The standard of living is mentioned in The New York Times as a driving factor for the migration, but it doesn't mention what the living situation is for these expats. Many new expats in such positions see the standard of living and become obsessed with the fact that they can afford anything and everything in China. This is an attitude that can be detrimental to expats living on much lower salaries (i.e. EFL teachers). I saw the way some expats lived in Shenzhen, and it was uncomfortable to me--it was as if they weren't living in China at all. These tend to be the people who don't learn much Chinese and don't bargain at markets, thus making things more difficult for those who don't live the same lifestyle.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Greener Pastures

I really do wish I was moving to greener pastures...

I finally got around to hooking up and using my old scanner. While I had it out, I decided I should scan some writing samples. Most importantly, I had to scan my short hotel reviews from Guangzhou. A few years ago I was commissioned to write about the three best hotels in Guangzhou (China Hotel, Garden Hotel, and the White Swan) for Insight Guides' Asia's Best Hotels & Resorts.

My copy of the book was sent to my parents' house while I was still living in China, so I never really had the opportunity to look through it until now. I'm amazed by some of the hotels listed in this book--I doubt I would be able to afford to stay in most of them (I'd rather not spend $400+ a night on room). But reading some of the information about the destinations reminds me of what I'm missing by no longer living in China--the ease of international travel. Now that I'm home, I have to make a lot more money in order to save enough to take a decent vacation.

Reading about these opulent hotels has at least provided me with a little more motivation to get writing in the hopes of making enough money to stay just one night in any of them. (Actually, I did get to stay at one of the hotels listed for Hong Kong because I stayed in my uncle's room.)

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Heroes' Welcome

Euna Lee and Laura Ling returned to the US today after being detained in North Korea for the past several months. The news coverage of this story is astounding. I listened to them speaking at a news conference this morning along with former Vice President Al Gore. It sounded like these two journalists were being treated as heroes for enduring their imprisionment.

Why is America so concerned about these two journalists? Sure, they were convicted of trumped-up charges of espionage, which was ridiculous. But, they did enter North Korean territory without a visa. Entering a country illegally is always a criminal offense. Some countries just handle the legal proceedings in a different manner. The logical reaction from the North Koreans should have been to confiscate their cameras and notes and have them fined and deported. But, that's not the way that country operates.

Now, Euna Lee and Laura Ling will probably get a book deal and go on the talk show circuit. All this for knowingly crossing an international border illegally. Granted, some of the blame for their actions fall on Al Gore's news channel--and he should take some personal responsibility, but he probably won't. I won't deny that they endured hardships in a North Korean prison, but they don't deserve any sympathy.

Journalists also have to follow international laws. Journalistic integrity does not give anyone the right to flout the law.

Monday, August 03, 2009

More Scam Jobs

I got an email today from what appeared to be a recruiter via Monster.com. Only problem is that Monster always says that it's sent through their system--this email did not. But the subject line said, "Respectful company seeks new staff."

I began reading the recruiter's sales pitch--I could work at home for a few hours a day and make $2000 a month. The title of the job sounded promising: Money Manager Assistant. So, what would I need to do for a few hours a day to obtain such a pipe dream?

It seems I would have to process money. "You will receive payments (Direct Bank Deposits and wire transfers) from client within United States and send it by instant payment sistem such as Western Union."

So, this "job" would require me to provide my bank information so that I could receive "money" from "clients," and I would then send this "money" to someone else via Western Union. (I also like the misspelling of system.) Odd how this "job" sounds like money laundering. But it can't be illegal because they also say, "We do not ask any personal information and we run business according to laws of the United States of America."

Of course the company email addresses are on different servers. The one I got was through live.com and the one I'm supposed to respond to is on gmail.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

In Healthcare Hell

Jia and I have started looking at healthcare options through her new job. It ain't cheap. Even with the company paying part of the bill, it would still cost about $470 per month to cover both of us. This is a ridiculous amount of money when one considers that we're not making a lot. I actually think we might spend less if we went to doctors without insurance.

But Obama and Congress are sluggishly working on a plan that is supposed to save us all from this excessively expensive necessity. No, what I meant to say is that they are working on a way to just screw us some more.

Everything I've read about this healthcare plan is just not what America needs. I don't really care about the higher taxes for the rich--they have enough to go around anyway. But those tax dollars will go to help the uninsured--it won't help people like Jia and me who get health insurance through work. None of the plans I've read about will help those who actually have to pay the excessive fees through work.

There is a simple solution that every politician seems to have overlooked. Reform the legal system to cut down on costs to healthcare providers. Here's how it works now: there are numerous malpractice lawsuits brought against insurers, hospitals, and doctors every year, but only a few of the cases are successful. Still, the insurers, hospitals, and doctors have to pay the legal fees for cases in which they are found to not be at fault. Quite a few of these cases are also frivolous. But healthcare providers still have to pay for the defense. If the legal system were reformed to so that if a lawsuit is unsuccessful the plaintiff would have to pay the defense's legal fees, it would reduce the cost of malpractice insurance, and the savings would then be passed on to the people paying for health insurance. This would also relieve the burden of frivolous lawsuits clogging the court system.

This is by no means the solution to all the healthcare problems in America--there are plenty of other problems that need to be addressed (i.e. greedy CEOs at insurance companies jacking up the premiums to fill their bloated wallets). However, this is an important first step toward improving the quality of life in America.

I'm confident that politicians will never listen to such a sensible argument. They'd rather listen to lobbyists and screw up our future.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Where Buildings Are Born

There's a great post over at EastSouthWestNorth about the bricks for constructing buildings in Shenzhen. The photos are amazing. On pier near the neighborhood in which I lived for the first two years in Shenzhen, people manually move bricks in the sweltering heat. The line about how much these laborers sweat should be more like, "they sweat more in a day than most people do in a month."

For those who are unfamiliar with Shenzhen, it is divided into two main parts: the Special Economic Zone and the rest. Bao'an is not part of the SEZ and it shows--it definitely doesn't look as affluent as any part of the SEZ. Bao'an is home to the ever-expanding airport and factories that stretch all the way up the highway to Dongguan. There is also an enormous e-dump (and other toxic dumps). This is where the iPod and iPhone are assembled.

Friday, July 24, 2009

My River Town

Searching through my thousands of photos, I realized just how much I haven't written about my first year in China. During the first Spring Festival vacation, Jia and I traveled from Guilin and Yangshuo to Shanghai. On her suggestion, we took a day tour of Zhouzhuang--a short bus ride west of Shanghai.

I'll write more about Zhouzhuang another time, this photo is just a teaser for the future (and reminder to myself to write about it).

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Scamming Immigrants

Jia had her first run-in with online scammers this week. She applied for a vague job for Chinese speakers. Her email was responded to politely with a list of basic employment questions (availability, knowledge of subjects, etc.). We were a little confused by the email address not being a company address--and the signed name didn't match the email name. We looked up the company, and it was legitimate.

Then they asked for Jia's social security number. Fortunately, she didn't reply--I explained how important that number is when it was issued. She called up the company to find that the person attached to the email address doesn't exist at the company.

Desperate economic times lead us to apply for any available positions that are posted. And it seems that there are more scams out there catering to the desire to work. I guess the scammer's hope is that Chinese immigrants don't know enough to not give out such information when it isn't absolutely necessary.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Electoral Blues

I got reminder of my patriotic duty in the mail today. We have an election coming up here in New Jersey.

No one really cares about the local elections--most of the candidates run unopposed. And seeing as there's very little campaigning, no one really knows anything about the candidates anyway.

The big election is for governor. We have our choice between two egotistical, wealthy scumbags. It looks like the same election we had four years ago. I just can't bring myself to vote for either of these two candidates. I've always thought Jon Corzine was a dirty politician who is corrupt, but hasn't been caught yet. And Chris Christie looks like the same candidate, except he refuses to provide any details to his plans, no matter how vague.

The joys of democracy continue here. I think I'll go vomit instead of vote.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Water Safety


This was from our day-trip to Ayutthaya--from the train station it was a short walk to pier to catch a river taxi across into the ancient city. Aside from standing a long time on the train from Bangkok, and not renting a bike upon entering the city thus forcing us to walk in the heat and humidity all day, it was one of the best days we had in Thailand.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Lost Art of Translation

A couple weeks ago I finished up the second issue of Terracotta Typewriter. This means that I'm now in the process of soliciting new submissions, which involves posting ads on writers' Web sites and the like. In response to one of these simple posts, I received the following e-mail:
Hi, are you looking for Chinese translator? I can help...
There are a few things that bother me about this short message. The first is that a translator that supposedly specializes in English to Chinese doesn't quite comprehend written English. The second is that their sales pitch is severely lacking--it certainly doesn't make me want to learn more about the company because they neglect to provide any information other than their Web address and e-mail. And third, they use a free Web-hosting service, weebly, for their "professional" company (and their site has plenty of mistakes on it to go with its boring design).

My guess is that this company just uses Google translation tools to get its work done.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Far From Xinjiang

I returned from my short trip to western Pennsylvania to find Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang province, was in flames--a riot had broken out after what allegedly began as a peaceful protest/vigil by the Uyghur population turned violent because the police had to suppress any form of protest.

My wife began calling her friends and family in her hometown just two hours from Urumqi. She found that all landlines were inaccessible and only a few cell phones could be reached. Later, there was no phone service or internet access in the region. We have to hope that Jia's family and friends will be safe during this time.

While I do not condone violence, I do understand why the Uyghurs are angry, and would support any attempts at peaceful protest. From my limited experience in Xinjiang and around China, I have witnessed a lot of racism toward these people. There were plenty of rumors around--such as they were spreading AIDS through cheap barbecued food. I've also seen plenty of Shenzhen locals mistreat waitstaff at Xinjiang restaurants (though that happens often in most restaurants, it was usually worse in Xinjiang restaurants). It can be difficult when such a group of people is treated so poorly by the majority that is seen as representative of the government.

Now comes news that mobs of Han youth are going around Urumqi for revenge in what they consider defending the country. They're also spreading more fear and rumors by claiming that the Uyghurs will poison the water (a tactic that would be rather stupid considering the Uyghurs would need to drink water in the desert as well).

The greatest challenge to stability in China is not that it needs to pacify the minority population, but it now needs to fix its image in the Muslim world. While US media is paying little attention to the unrest, Al Jazeera seems to be giving it a bit more air time (it is the lead story on its English website). China has been rapidly making deals with Muslim countries, mostly for natural resources needed to continue development. Though other nations have kept quiet about the situation in Xinjiang, it may only be a matter of time before attitudes change, thus altering current and future deals.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

I Am Legend

I saw the movie I Am Legend a few months ago and enjoyed it. However, I have to say that I enjoyed the 1954 book by Richard Matheson much more.

I really thought Will Smith did a very nice job playing the part of Robert Neville, and the writers, Mark Protosevich and Akiva Goldsman, developed the character quite well (I didn't like the ending though). The greatest difference with the movie character and Matheson's Neville is that the movie portrays him as a military doctor/scientist while the book has him as a factory worker. To me, it's more interesting to read about a layman investigating a disease that's wiped out humanity.

What really sets Matheson's I Am Legend apart from its movie counterpart is the development of the vampires. For one, the movie has them as just monsters of the dark that don't seem too intelligent. The book gives the vampires an identity, and makes them slightly sympathetic.

The movie is still worth watching, but I Am Legend is much better when read.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Review: Managing the Dragon

One of the greatest challenges of doing business in China is that the country and its laws are constantly changing. The greatest challenge to anyone who writes about doing business with China is that once the book is written, the country and its laws have changed. However, Jack Perkowski does a very nice job of balancing his experience and advice with the ever-changing business landscape of China in Managing the Dragon. Even some of the laws he mentions have already changed in the year since this book was published. Fortunately, he spent enough years in China to see the changes for himself, and he's willing to share his experience with readers.

It's difficult for me to comment on specific business advice that Perkowski provides in his book because I'm not a businessman and I don't know all the laws in China. But, much of his advice can be applied to those who intend to spend an extended time in China. He mentions that the first time he saw a Chinese factory he thought, "[W]hat we need here is some good old-fashioned U.S. management to get these places organized and cleaned up!" Unfortunately, many people have this thought when living and working in China. Perkowski makes it a point that one can't change China or impose American-style management so easily.

Perkowski provides specific examples of the processes he and his partners went through in creating a successful company. He describes the business end of every step of the process as well as the cultural. As with creating any business, he makes clear that it's not easy and requires careful planning. While there is plenty of advice that should be obvious, he also includes his plan to create a high-caliber local management team--another tremendous challenge considering the lack of managerial talent in China compared to the much larger need.

One of the highlights of Managing the Dragon is that Perkowski doesn't focus on the negative or the positive--he balances all of his anecdotes. He admits to some serious problems, and discusses how he and his company fixed them. He also shares experiences that were amazingly positive even though he didn't have that much to do with the outcome. He shows readers the extremes that one might encounter--personalities of the managers and workers, landscapes and accomodations, and anything else he's experienced in more than 15 years in China.

Managing the Dragon is a great guide for anyone who wants to do business in China. But, it's also useful for anyone who plans to work there. I would even recommend this book to English teachers who will work in China, because it helps explain a lot of the attitudes and managerial techniques that one may encounter.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Adjustments

Jia has now been in the states for a little more than three months. Everyone has been asking how she's adjusting to life here (of course, they asked similar questions when she visited for the first time last year).

I'll admit that it hasn't been easy, but my wife is adjusting to the differences of life in the US. Of course, the process would be easier if we had full-time jobs and our own place to live--with any luck that'll change soon. Fortunately, we have the support of my family.

One of the biggest adjustments for Jia has been that she's learning to drive. She took a few weeks to review the New Jersey driver's guide (I made her read it in English instead of getting the Chinese edition), and she passed the written test easily. Practicing driving is another story--just because you know the rules doesn't mean you know how to operate a vehicle. I signed her up for lessons, but those weren't quite enough. She admitted that she expects things to jump out from the side of the road, and she's surprised when other drivers follow the laws and actually understand the right of way. Traffic doesn't run the same as it does in Shenzhen.

What she enjoys most about living here is the amount of green she sees. My hometown is fairly small and there are some wealthy neighborhoods nearby--and plenty of small parks. And she certainly liked our short hike through the Delaware Water Gap last week. Though she is frightened by the number of black bears we've encountered--one was a little more interested in eat garbage when she went out for a walk on her own.

She's also enjoying the food here. We have a great Asian market where she can get the ingredients she needs to cook (and she's learning to cook quite well). Plus, I've been introducing her to foods that were extremely difficult to find in Shenzhen. Jia keeps wondering why these foods don't exist in China. For some reason she now wants me to introduce her to American junk food (like Drake's cakes). And yet, we've both lost weight since moving here--part of that is due to our regular visits to the gym.

I just hope she continues to enjoy her time in the states. And I hope we can move somewhere that will make it easy for us to go without driving much--I think we'd do pretty well with just biking around a place like Jersey City.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Facades

I miss my day trips to Macau. It was easy to get there from where we lived in Shenzhen--a twenty-minute bus ride to the ferry terminal and a little more than an hour to Macau (or we could've stopped in Zhuhai and walked across the border). I'm not big on gambling, but it was fun to walk around the casinos and see the difference in culture to that of Atlantic City (no one was getting drunk at the tables in Macau). I enjoyed wandering the colonial streets and parks. I always seemed to have good weather when I made those trips.
Of course, the first trip to Macau required me to take in all the tourist sites. One of the first stops was the ruins of St. Paul's. It is a rather impressive facade that remains, and the view from the steps is really nice.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Felt Like a Holiday


The sun came out yesterday. It was a pleasant surprise considering the forecast has been calling for rain almost everyday for the last two months. It was supposed to rain yesterday too. Thinking that it wouldn't last, we took advantage of the first sign of summer and headed out to my favorite place in New Jersey--the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

Unfortunately, we got a late start and didn't get to spend too much time hiking around. But it got us out of the house for half a day, and that's what we really needed.

I forgot the information center was the opposite way off of I-80, so we didn't have a map of the park or a trail map. We stopped to pick up both on our way back home for the next time we head a little westward, which I hope will be soon.

It's definitely more pleasant to head out to the Delaware Water Gap during the week when very few people are around. However, more people serves the purpose of scaring the black bears away from the trails.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Love That Food

I just can't get enough of foods I couldn't eat in China (either because they were prohibitively expensive or impossible to find).

As an early Father's Day dinner, we headed out to Clifton, NJ. Because my brother has had to visit Clifton on business, he was introduced to Toros by his customers. If I thought last month's adventure in Turkish cuisine was good, this was exponentially better.

The place was packed when we got in--I think I was the last car allowed in their small parking lot. They had live music (one guy playing some traditional Turkish music), which was unfortunately right next to our table, making it difficult to have any conversation.

We ordered some Turkish beer and appetizers (some yogurt and herb dip, stuffed mussels, and red bean). I can't quite remember what everyone ordered for dinner--it was difficult to choose because everything sounded good...and everything was great. The tenderness of the meat, the flavors and spices, everything was better than I've had at other Turkish restaurants. Although we were stuffed, we had some dessert that was extremely sweet. And we ended with some great Turkish coffee that wasn't overly sweet like the last time we had it (though I should've asked for a little less sugar in mine).

My biggest complaint about Toros is that it's too far from home--they need to open another one closer to me. Restaurants like this make me want to travel to Turkey and do nothing but eat.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Heavenly Sight


The Temple of Heaven is my favorite tourist site in Beijing--probably because it's the only place I didn't get excessively harassed by hawkers selling all sorts of cheap souvenirs at inflated prices that I could buy just about anywhere in China. It also helps that the two times I visited the Temple of Heaven the weather was great, albeit extremely hot (the sky was even blue the second time around). And the massive park surrounding the main structures never felt crowded, though I'm sure there were plenty of people spread out around the place.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Review: Waylaid

The title has a dual meaning that can make you laugh and cringe at the same time.

Ed Lin's Waylaid focuses on the life of a vulgar, yet intelligent adolescent who is forced to live and work at a sleazy motel at the Jersey Shore, because his parents own it. The unnamed narrator has an obsession with sex and getting laid at an early age. He's exposed to these thoughts by the Bennys (city dwellers from the North Jersey/New York area) and the johns that frequently rent the hourly rooms at the motel.

Fortunately, Waylaid goes deeper into the narrator's life (as Samuel R. Delany once told a class, "Hell is having to read other people's pornography."). Lin deals with the concept of being "other"--the narrator is the American-born son of Chinese immigrants. While his parents still embrace their Chinese heritage while assimilating into society, their son is very Americanized (he doesn't even eat Chinese food). One of the challenges they face is that they are the only Chinese family in the town. To complicate matters, the narrator has to cope with being the kid whose parents own the sleazy motel. All of this means that he has next to no social life outside of school.

The narrator, like many adolescents, resents his parents for controlling his life. He also brushes aside almost any adult who shows him kindness--he tolerates talking with them, but hates to listen to what they have to say.

Lin writes about racism toward Asians, but he doesn't include a serious tone when writing about it. Most it comes off as being comedic--it sounds so unbelievably ignorant that some might laugh at the characters' stupidity.

This novella (it's only 168 pages) lives up to Lin's description of it being his "dirty book." If it wasn't for his humor and bizarre situations (it is the Jersey Shore after all), this would be trash. If you can get past the profanity of the adolescent narrator, this is an amusing read.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Spontaneous Combustion

China Digital Times reports that a bus in Shenzhen spontaneously combusted. Fortunately, no one was injured, which is much better than what happened in Chengdu.

The bus that caught fire was number 320--a route that I don't recall ever taking. However, bus routes (that I am aware of) that are 3xx run from Bao'an district to other parts of the city that are in the Special Economic Zone. Such buses usually get beat up pretty quickly because of the long routes. One's I've been on are 331, 305, 355, 301, 311, 319, and 361.

From the photos of the charred remains of the bus, it appears that it is one of the more recent models (though not the newest buses).

While I was fortunate enough to have never encountered such disasters on a bus in Shenzhen, I did have some close calls. On more than one occasion passengers were worried about the amount of smoke coming from the bus, even though the driver assured everyone that it was OK. I've also been on a few that broke down, forcing everyone to cram on another bus.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Translated Advertisment

My wife pointed out an amusing little ad while she checked her gmail account (makes you wonder what Google accepts as advertising).

美国生子=美国公民 一人公民=全家移民
一万美元=百万美元 多子多女=心想事成
Translation:
Give birth in the US = American citizenship. One person as a citizen = the whole family can immigrate.
Ten thousand dollars (cost of giving birth in US) = $1 million (American citizenship). Have lots of sons and daughters = your wish will become true.

Hate to burst the company's bubble of claims, but this is no longer true because the US altered its immigration laws.

Is It Spring Yet?

New Jersey has been experiencing some rather mild weather for June. We had some hot days last month, but lately it's been in the low 70s--though I'd rather have this weather than consistent 95 degrees plus 1000% humidity days in Shenzhen this time of year (OK, I exaggerated the humidity a little, it's only about 250%).

This time of year reminds me of my usual time for a weekend visit to Hong Kong. My uncle is there at the moment, about the same time as every year (though last year was later to coincide with my parents' visit).
Walking through the streets of Central provided relief from the summer heat--the air conditioning was blasting winter temperatures out the doors of every shop. I'm convinced that when passing through the border at Luohu, the Hong Kong side is a few degrees cooler.
Fortunately, this time of year can be really good for some photos. The summer rains that never seem to let up, combined with typhoon winds, blow a lot of the smog away. It's definitely the right time of year to head up to Victoria Peak for a great view of the city.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Dear Prospective Employers

Why do you insist that I use your online application forms that don't work properly? Perhaps you should hire programmers that can create quality online forms.

The first problem with your forms is that I have to provide you with my resume three times. Is that really necessary? I have to copy and paste a plain text version in so your program can incorrectly parse it into the required fields that I have to retype anyway. Then I have to upload the document. Then I have to enter all the information into the fields that you require while I click through fifteen pages online.

That last part is the second problem. Why do you need my former employers' phone numbers? I know you want to check to make sure I'm not lying about my employment history, but isn't that why I have former bosses and co-workers as my references? And why must I use the American standard format of (xxx) xxx-xxxx? That doesn't work when trying to enter a phone number in China. I can't just give you a fake number, because that would disqualify me from employment if/when you decide to call.

If you really want to hire quality candidates, you might want to consider the old fashioned way of accepting cover letters and resumes via the US Postal Service--I'm sure they'd be very happy that you forced applicants to spend a dollar on postage. Or you could turn back the clock a few years and just accept applications via e-mail.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Humming a Chinese Tune

It seems that the all-American gas guzzler is soon to be made in China. Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Co. is expected to purchase the Hummer brand from GM because GM has followed one of the worst business models over the last twenty years or so.

This is not a done deal and I won't speculate on if the US and Chinese governments approve this sale. Although, US military contracts come to mind for reasons to veto the sale on this end. But, what would it mean if Hummer were made in China? It would probably be cheaper for Tengzhong to produce the behemoth in China and ship it to the US, therefore I'll go with such a scenario.

The majority of Hummer owners in the US are conservatives. How will they feel if they walk into a dealership to purchase another Hummer that is no longer made in the US? Will they trust a car made in China? That last question depends on the person--there are plenty of Americans who are becoming more protective about products that are made at home, and there is a lot of skepticism as to the quality of Chinese-made products.

So far, no Chinese car companies have broken into the US market. If we look at Japanese and Korean car makers, it took them some years before the American public bought large numbers of their vehicles. There are also fewer people buying gas guzzlers because of high fuel prices, not to mention the SUV price tag. How long is Tengzhong willing to wait before the American public begins buying its Hummers?

Tengzhong can probably depend on high demand for the Hummer in China. There are relatively few around Asia now. The Chinese are beginning to lean toward the mentality that bigger is better when it comes to cars (wonder where they got that idea?). So, it seems that there won't be a shortage of buyers on the mainland. But how many of these enormous vehicles can the roads in China hold? Traffic is bad enough right now; a few thousand Hummers will just make it worse.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Up the Yangtze

It's not often one finds an insightful documentary about China that isn't overtly political (Wild China comes to mind), but director Yung Chang achieves just that Up the Yangtze.

Chang opens his film reminiscing about his grandfather's stories of life in Sichuan province. He wants to see the China that his grandfather lived in. He embarks on a luxury cruise up the Yangtze before the Three Gorges Dam is complete--he encounters plenty of Western tourists on the cruise who "are here to see an ancient version of China that doesn't exist anymore."

Chang shifts his focus from the travels of the tourists to two employees on the ship--one is a 19-year-old boy from the city, the other is a 16-year-old girl who lives in a shack on the river. The aspirations of each is different--the boy, Chen, wants a high-paying job rather than going to college, while the girl, Cindy, is forced to work because her parents can't afford to send her to high school.

There are also scenes mixed in about the cities and towns along the Yangtze being affected by the flooding. He speaks with a shopkeeper who is trying to sell everything before he is forced to move--he breaks down talking about how he's not being compensated or treated fairly. Outside the store, residents complain about harassment by thugs and not receiving the proper amount of compensation. As the shopkeeper says, "China is too hard for common people."

However, Cindy's family is optimistic about the future because they have food and a roof over their heads. Cindy begins her career on the cruise with slouched shoulders and a constant frown. But, as she is helped along by co-workers, she opens up and begins to smile and enjoy her work.

Up the Yangtze shows the complexity and contradictions of China. It doesn't mention anything about the environmental impact of the Three Gorges Dam, but rather focuses on the human cost--in some cases improving lives while ruining others. It also portrays views of tourism--from the poor English phrases the ship's crew is taught, to the propaganda tours, to manufactured traditional shows.