Sunday, February 28, 2010

End of the Festival

Today is Lantern Festival, the end of Spring Festival and the lunar new year celebration.

We had a nice small dinner at home after making a trip out to the Asian market--it was quite crowded, but I'm not sure if it was because of Lantern Festival or just a normal Saturday as we usually go on weeknights. I was told that I had to eat the traditional 元宵 (yuan xiao), glutinous rice balls filled with sesame paste (though this year I only had to eat two). These little balls of goo are not high on my list of enjoyable Chinese delicacies--they're a little more pleasant than mooncakes.

The rest of my Lantern Festival was spent doing laundry and watching the US-Canada gold medal hockey game. I predicted yesterday that it would be a 3-2 overtime game, but I got the winner wrong. It was still a great game to watch.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Snowed In

It looks hell has frozen over, which means the government must have compromised on healthcare reform (yes, I know it would take more than hell freezing for the government to compromise on anything).

In the last two weeks, I think Jersey City has had more snow than the Winter Olympics--it's certainly been colder than Vancouver. And it is still snowing with no end in sight. The back yard attached to the art gallery next door is filling fast and the snow is almost up to our window.

Once again, I am trying to think warm thoughts and planning to move to warmer climates. This photo is from a new park in Bali, Garuda Wisnu Kencana--the plan is to produce a cultural history of the island through enormous sculptures. What we saw was the progress on the largest statue of Vishnu (Wisnu) riding Garuda. Judging from the parts that weren't yet combined or finished, this statue will be a few hundred feet tall.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Eye of the Beholder

I was a bit misled by the title of an article that proclaimed "Shanghai World's 2nd Most Attractive City." I thought it was article about aesthetics, but it was really about attractiveness to businesspeople--the ratings were based on political stability, economic situation, and security. But, it got me thinking about aesthetics and city rankings (of course, it's all subjective).

I do think Shanghai is a beautiful city--I spent a week there during my first Spring Festival holiday. However, it's difficult to judge the city's beauty based on my experience as I only saw a fraction of it. The sprawling city would be impossible to see in just a week (especially considering how quickly buildings are demolished and constructed).
I'll admit that I'm a sucker for older styles of architecture in cities, but I do enjoy some of the modern designs that fit in among the older buildings. It's why I like walking around New York--though I still think the Westin at Times Square is ugly. It's also why I like the view from the Bund in Shanghai--the beautiful colonial-style buildings across the river from the modern towers of Pudong.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Confusing the Advertisers

I think the tracking of activities online has become confusing to advertisers. Or perhaps they need to refine the process.

I noticed the banner ad at the top of my email was for the 2010 US Census. I'm not surprised my government is wasting money on such advertising, but I am surprised that the ad is in Chinese. And I'm almost certain that I haven't sent any emails with Chinese characters through that account. Maybe they're just tracking the sites I visit and decided that I must read Chinese because 1% of the sites I visit are in Chinese.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Revaluing the Yuan (Again)

A post at China Law Blog and an article in China Daily reminded me that I wrote about the possibility of China revaluing its currency and the effects that it may have on the Chinese and American economies.

The China Daily article quotes IMF economist, Olivier Blanchard as saying that a revalued Yuan will improve the US economy, but will not solve the severe economic problems of the country. However, Blanchard also said that China should appreciate the currency by about 20 percent.

Looking back on what I previously wrote, Blanchard's statement makes sense. I still believe that if China allows its currency to appreciate it will help businesses in the US as they will be able to sell more products at lower prices in China. But, it will not create jobs in the US. In the long term, it won't help enough.

It is possible that China will act soon on the Yuan. The country is in a strong position to do what it pleases with currency. The reason I believe the Chinese government may act soon is because it sold off $34 billion in US Treasury debt. It may look like it is economic retaliation for arms sales to Taiwan, but it may also be that China wants more profit. If the Yuan appreciates 20 percent, the Chinese government will lose money on the US Treasuries it purchased. It's smart financial planning to cash in those holdings early.

Even with signs that the Yuan will be revalued, it's anyone's guess if it will happen. I doubt it will appreciate 20 percent in the near future as China prefers to slowly adjust the exchange rate.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Happy Tiger

春节快乐!(chūnjiékuàilè) Happy Year of the Tiger!

It really doesn't feel like Spring Festival without fireworks. But at least we'll have a nice feast at home tonight.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Trains vs. Planes

China's two largest airlines claim that they are losing business because of the emergence of the high-speed rail network. It seems that short flights are being replaced by the train service because it doesn't take any longer to travel by train in such instances. This argument makes a lot of sense when considering that airports in China are in the outskirts of cities and require more time to check in and go through security. The trains are usually more centrally located and don't require as much time at security checks. Also, the trains cost less than plane tickets.

In contrast, the US train network still sucks. We have one high-speed rail line between Boston and Washington, D.C. And it's not a cheap ride. We've been promised more high-speed rail lines across the nation, but progress is painfully slow. Even the other train lines aren't worth using. Back in July, I wanted to take the train from northern New Jersey to Pittsburgh (or towns nearby). The train ride would have taken almost twice as long and cost three times as much as driving. It would have cost about the same to fly to Pittsburgh.

If the US ever builds a decent high-speed rail network, we may finally stop hearing about United's horrible customer service because they'll go out of business instead of filing for bankruptcy again.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snow Day

The Mid-Atlantic states are still digging themselves out of the huge snow storm from late last week that somehow completely missed us here in the New York City area (we got a dusting at most). And we got hit with another storm that was predicted to be another 20 inches of snow. We didn't escape this one, though it looks like there's only about an inch or so on the ground (it's still coming down though). Yet, plenty of schools and businesses are closed for the snow day.

A college friend reminded me that our university never closed for numerous snow and ice storms during our tenure. We all grumbled about the policy, but attended class nonetheless. I even had a professor who broke an ankle in an icy parking lot--but the university never cancelled classes for any reason.

Our time at the university reminded me of working at the graduate school in Shenzhen and how classes were never cancelled. During my last year and a half we were hit by a few typhoons. Each of those storms closed nearly everything in Hong Kong, but absolutely nothing in Shenzhen. I did have to reschedule a class because of one of those typhoons, but that was because the school bus got stuck on a flooded street and didn't arrive at campus until well after the class ended.

Friday, February 05, 2010

A Game of Chicken

It's time for another round of tit for tat.

After my first year in China, the government imposed new restrictions on visas for Americans (among others). Americans were charged more than other nationalities for visas, and the multiple-entry and long-term tourist visas were eliminated. The reasoning was that Chinese citizens had difficulty obtaining US visas and the price was higher than for other nationalities. Of course, that didn't bother me much because I didn't have to pay for my visas through work (though obtaining Jia's US visas were difficult).

Now, because the US imposed dumping tariffs on Chinese-made tires, China is now doing the same for US chicken parts. I already knew that the US exported large quantities of frozen chicken feet to China, but I didn't realize chicken wings were also included (I thought Americans ate enough Buffalo wings to keep those parts at home).

The article claims that the feet and wings are "virtually worthless" in the US. As I've never seen chicken feet for sale at the major grocery stores, I would agree with that statement. However, wings are usually sold in packages for about 99 cents a pound, which is cheaper than other parts of the chicken, but more expensive than chicken leg quarters.

The article also states that individual companies can appeal the tariff, thus significantly reducing it for that particular company. Therefore, larger companies like Tyson will have lower tariffs on their chicken parts. I'm not sure if this is standard practice in such situations, but what would happen if every chicken part importer appealed the government's ruling?