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.