Sunday, January 31, 2010

Warm Thoughts

With yet another day in New Jersey below freezing I'm forced to think warm thoughts in the hopes that I won't freeze (coffee, tea, and strong Christmas beers that are now on sale help keep me warm too).

About this time last year, Jia and I were keeping warm in Bali. It was nice to be able to wear shorts and t-shirts in the middle of winter. If we could, we'd move there permanently. The weather was great, the scenery stunning, the food delicious, and the people friendly. Looking at this photo of Tanah Lot makes me feel warm inside...or maybe it's the radiation from my computer.

I hope everyone will send donations to the "Get me out of New Jersey before I freeze" fund.

Friday, January 29, 2010


I was talking with an American poet and professor in China, and he mentioned wanting to set up a writers' retreat in China. Of course, he made a reference to having the retreat above the clouds as a source of inspiration for the ancient poets. While I knew that was impossible, I figured I could suggest a location that would be close enough.

I do think Tian Chi in Xinjiang would make a great backdrop for a writers' retreat in China. I just hope Jia and I can save enough money to travel out there this summer (even if there are no other writers to meet).

Thursday, January 28, 2010

What I Learned from the State of the Union

Of course, I didn't learn much because I lost interest after the first half hour, but I did take a few things away from Obama's first attempt at rallying the nation around his policies and plans.

1. Obama made some good points, but most of the speech was BS and filler. He could've cut out an hour of it. He should hire me to edit his speeches.

2. There is way too much unnecessary applause from the audience, but it's only the President's own party. Just eliminate applause from the State of the Union and save some time.

3. Anecdotes and poor attempts at humor do not belong in important political speeches.

4. America needs to be more like China. Unfortunately, he forgot to mention in what way.

5. It's always important to blame the previous guy in charge for every problem.

6. Beer does not make long political speeches any more interesting.

7. Obama thinks there's too much petty partisan bickering. The only solution to this problem is reintroducing duels among politicians. This will also create job openings in Washington.

8. The Republican rebuttal was even more boring than the State of the Union. I can form my own opinions about the speech without being told what to think by a corrupt politician.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sporting Corruption

Over the last few years that I've been paying attention, China has taken on corruption in the government and corporate world. There have been a number of public trials, but citizens still see people in positions of power as corrupt (and you thought they were different from Americans).

Today, China Daily reports that the government is now targeting corruption in the domestic soccer leagues. Apparently gambling and match fixing has become a problem.

More interesting than the crackdown on corruption in sports, is that domestic sports leagues have become more popular and profitable since the Beijing Olympics (something that wouldn't happen in a country that already has popular and profitable sports leagues). Seeing this provides an argument for the International Olympic Committee to consider developing countries as hosts for future Olympic Games--this is a surprising long-term benefit that other cities and countries have not experienced.

Unfortunately, the article only mentions soccer. Does anyone know if other sports have become more popular?

The Rights of Animals

This was news I didn't expect to read in China Daily. The government has passed a law to protect animals by imprisoning and fining people who eat dog or cat. However, the law seems to be aimed at protecting animals from being inhumanly killed.

The article doesn't say anything about the enforcement of this legislation, but it does raise a few questions about animal rights. Why is China focusing on dogs and cats when the illegal trade of endangered animals is huge business (especially in Guangdong)?

I suppose this law means that Shenzhen will have to close down the hot pot restaurant I ate at, which seemed to have decent business. But it seems the other restaurant that advertised fried rat will be safe.

Friday, January 22, 2010

She's Not as Popular as Bill

Hillary Clinton hurt the feelings of the Chinese with her public speech about Internet freedom, which was seen as overt political support for Google in China. This comes only a day after the Chinese government claimed that Google's move had no political connection to the US government.

Ma Zhaoxu, an official government spokesman, refuted Clinton's argument by stating, "[Clinton] insinuated China restricts Internet freedom....We are firmly against the words and deeds contrary to the facts."

There you have it folks, more proof that the Chinese government does not restrict Internet freedom and the Great Firewall of China is just a myth created by imperialist Western powers. Just don't tell that to the residents of Xinjiang province who have been without an open Internet connection since July. But they can access four Chinese Web sites now (more detailed information can be found at Far West China).

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Cruising Flak

Royal Caribbean is facing a lot of criticism for its decision to dock its ships at a beach resort in northern Haiti. Some passengers and others don't think this is the time for vacationers to stop in a country that has been devastated by natural disaster.

Royal Caribbean is sending supplies with its ships to help people in the earthquake-affected area. The cruise line also is allowing passengers off the ship for the day to enjoy the beach and spend money, which it hopes will improve the local economy. The CEO wrote on the company's website: "[B]eing on the island and generating economic activity for the straw market vendors, the hair-braiders and our 230 employees helps with relief while being somewhere else does not help."

While critics are overly sensitive to the situation, the cruise line is embracing an approach that is more helpful than just sending money and supplies. Considering Haiti's economic situation before the earthquake, continuation of any business in the country is necessary for its recovery.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Places to See

The New York Times recently published its list of 31 places to go in 2010. Number 20 on that list was Shenzhen. I'm still trying to understand why anyone who doesn't work in Shenzhen would want to go there--there are a hundred other places in China I would recommend visiting before ever setting foot in Shenzhen. The article mentions the impressive rate of modern urbanization and witnessing the new China. But it sounds like the reporter only took the time to see the nicer areas of Luohu and Futian and neglected to visit the outskirts of the city that are outside the Special Economic Zone.

Sure, there are some great new luxury hotels and shopping malls, but there isn't much else. The art scene in Overseas Chinese Town isn't all that impressive and is nowhere near affordable. As for entertainment, visitors can always visit one of Shenzhen's many cheesy theme parks, like OCT East, Window of the World, and Splendid China. Even the Chinese call it a cultural desert. The most cultural destination in Shenzhen is the Hakka museum in Longgang district.

This seems to be the selling point of visiting Shenzhen in 2010:
Affordable luxuries extend to shopping and eating. The jumble of stalls at Dongmen are clogged with pirated DVDs and knock-off handbags, while there are new fashionable restaurants in Shekou, a leafy district with an expatriate flavor. Shenzhen is getting greener, too. The city recently welcomed the first LEED-certified building in southern China: the aptly named Horizontal Skyscraper, billed to be as long as the Empire State Building is tall.
Yes, you can buy a knock-off of anything in Shenzhen. In fact, it's more difficult to find the genuine article in the city. I bet the reporter didn't stop in the Starbucks or any bars when he visited Shekou, or he would've found enough expats who begin conversations with "You know what's wrong with China..." to want to get out of that neighborhood fast.

While unbreathable air days like the one above are less frequent than they used to be, the city still has a long way to go to become green.

My friend J., who still lives out in Nanshan district commented on this excerpt: " 'Dim sum joints and illicit massage parlors gave way to gleaming shopping malls and faceless skyscrapers.' Not in my neighborhood; illicit massage parlors stil outnumber gleaming shopping malls 20 to 1."

Thursday, January 14, 2010


I thought I was reading The Onion, but it turned out to be China Daily. Today's headline reads: China says its Web open, welcomes Int'l companies. This is China's response to Google's latest memo about the possibility of exiting its business on the mainland due to censorship and cyber attacks originating in China. This also comes after Zhou Xisheng, deputy chief of Xinhua News Agency, told the world, "Our country's Internet situation is unique. Compared to all kinds of restrictions in foreign countries, China has the most open Internet in the world."

Another article adds to China Daily's: "Web companies must abide by 'propaganda discipline,' the official, Wang Chen, was quoted as saying. 'Companies have to concretely increase the ability of Internet media to guide public opinion in order to uphold Internet safety.'" Interpretation: all Web content must express the Chinese government's pre-approved view of all subjects discussed to further brainwash the masses.

I'm still trying to figure out what China means by "open." With countless Web sites blocked in the country (YouTube, Twitter, imdb,, Facebook, Blogspot, Wordpress, and many more), just how open is that door to China's Internet?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hacks Come to China

Yesterday, a group calling itself the Iranian Cyber Army hacked (China's most popular search engine), shutting it down for three and a half hours. It is unclear what the reason behind the attack was or why Baidu was the target. The attack was on the domain name server that operates in the US (though I'm not sure why Baidu uses US servers).

China has been an ally of Iran--blocking most actions by the UN against Iran in recent years. However, China has also been silent on the political unrest in the country.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Running Dry

As I browsed some of my photos from China, I stopped on this one of Elephant Hill in Guilin.
On our trip down the Li River to Yangshuo, I remember seeing huge sections of the river dried up--a winter phenomenon that allowed the locals to dig up the rocks for other uses. This surprised me as it was constantly raining during our journey through Guilin and Yangshuo (I don't think we had a single dry day). Recently, the lower water level on the Li River has become more than just an annual phenomenon--there is a serious drought in most of China. While most of the news focuses on the effects of the drought in the northern part of China, Guangxi province has also be affected.

I've seen photos (I'm still searching for them so I can post links) that showed a similar angle of Elephant Hill with significantly lower water levels--the river has nearly disappeared during the drought.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Seaweed and Beer?

How can seaweed and beer coexist in a bottle? I've been staring at this bottle of Kelpie Seaweed Ale from Scotland for a while and finally decided to try it.

The idea of seaweed in my beer did sound strange to me, but then I read the bottle. "Prior to the 1850s...[in coastal areas of Scotland] ales were made from local malted barley which was grown on fields fertilised with seaweed." This beer doesn't follow the tradition of fertilizing the barley, but rather mixes the seaweed with the malted and roasted barley. Kelpie also describes itself as a "rich chocolate ale."

Kelpie is a dark beer that tastes more like a porter than an ale, and there's no trace of seaweed flavor that I detected. I didn't notice what they call "an aroma of fresh seabreeze," but it could be that I didn't smell anything because of the frigid temperatures. This was a very nice beer for a winter night, but I don't think I'll be willing to spend $3 for a bottle too often.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Security Breach

Yesterday's story about the security breach at Newark Airport reminded me of a flight to Bangkok. On my second trip to Thailand with my parents, we flew on Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur. Someone made a mistake when we arrived, however. Everyone got off the plan and started walking toward the luggage claim, but it looked different than the last time I was there--I thought it was just because the airport was new on my first trip and they changed some things around. Just before we reached the luggage claim, we began wondering where customs was--we never saw a sign for it. As we looked around for our flight's baggage claim, which didn't exist in this area, someone from the airline came up to us and asked what flight we were on. We were then led back to the plane.

It turns out that the plane pulled up to a domestic gate. We had to get back on the plane and taxi around the airport to the international gates so we could pass through customs. Security in Bangkok didn't seem to care, and I can only assume that everyone got back on the plane.