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.