Archive for May, 2008

The Rise of China and Meat Prices

Back when I was in California growing up, my parents would occasionally take us out to eat at western restaurants or fast food places. I was generally able to finish my food as a kid, but my sister used to be able to eat only a spec of food before she explodes (though these days she can eat a water buffalo and then ask what’s the main dish). My parents would try to force her to finish it, but when its obvious that she couldn’t, they’d always tell her to eat the meat because it’s more expensive. 

In most restaurants here in the mainland, especially the Chinese fast food joints that I frequently eat at, the meat dishes are more expensive than the vegetable ones even if there is only a couple specks of preserved pork within a sea of noodles. For example, at my favorite Chengdu Xiaochi place, the Tomato and Eggs rice dish is 8 RMB while a Pepper and Preserved Pork dish is 10 RMB. Non-preserved meat would be around 12 RMB a dish. Of course this is more expensive since I’m in Beijing, but the price difference between meat and vegetables is pretty big throughout most of the country.

Yeah, so the article goes on to talk about how increased purchasing power has allowed more and more people to buy meat. It’s pretty good so I recommend taking a little time to check it out.

China Tries to Increase Telecom Competition

China Unicom sucks. It’s a pretty much accepted belief here in China. I once unknowingly got a non-China Mobile SIM card while I was in Guangdong and my students all stared at me in disbelief when they found out. For one thing, the roaming charges were ridiculous. Recently, I used my Beijing China Mobile SIM card in Guangdong for three days and I still had most of the 50 bucks I charged it with. When I lent my Guangdong China Unicom phone to my sister while she was in Beijing, all 100 RMB was gone after just two and a half days. Maybe I just got a bad plan, but right now I’m pretty convinced Unicom blows.

So maybe with all this reorganization, China’s telecom industry would be able to get more competition and encourage more innovative plans and adoption of new technologies. Maybe one of those companies will be able to sign a deal with Apple and get official iPhone support on the mainland. Good stuff.


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Buying Soy Sauce

I like random Chinese phrases that become extremely popular on the internet. I personally think they’re much more interesting than those 4-letter chengyu that the ‘cultured’ people use.

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The west has generally perceived China to be a country without freedom. That’s why there’s always this talk about no human rights, police brutality, and government regulations over every little thing you do. When someone says this to a Chinese person, they would generally get a reply about how China is free and they never feel repressed.

So what gives? Is the west just stupid and know nothing about China or are the Chinese people brainwashed into believing that they are free?

I think the reason why there cannot be agreement between the two sides is because they’re talking about different types of freedoms. When the west criticizes China on this issue, they basically point to censorship, restrictions on public assembly, limited freedom of speech, and the repression of independent religious groups. However, when the Chinese people talk about the freedoms that they have, they’re thinking of how they can talk about whatever they want in the privacy of their own homes, how they can go out and walk around in the streets of Beijing at night without fear of getting killed, and the ability to go out and spend their money however they want.

The Chinese people are free to do things that would not be acceptable or is against the law in America. For example, they’re free to ride a car without wearing a seat belt while in the States, that would lead to getting a ticket. Then again, in America, Cobert can go and stand next to the president and humiliate him for an hour without any consequence while someone who attempts to do that to Hu Jintao would probably get yanked off the stage after the first word and then disappear into some labor camp for the rest of his life.

And then there’s this idea that too much freedom would lead to chaos. I think it’s true at least. Chinese people would criticize America’s freedom of speech in that it allows any nutcase to say whatever lies they want. I mean when I heard Sharon Stone’s idiot statement, I would have to say that I was tempted to agree with this type of criticism. However, at the same time, foreigners in China would say that there needs to be more traffic laws and rules regulating spitting. I would also agree with this since I almost got run over by a car on my way to work today while spitting in the middle of the road.

The rationale between the restrictions of freedom is usually to protect something. Like no smoking laws in California is to protect non-smokers from second hand smoke while the Great Firewall is supposed to protect the Chinese people from inappropriate materials.

Honestly, I think the current systems in China and the United States fit their respective societies pretty well. In the States, there’s always all this talk on principals and ideas and beliefs even among the common people. It seems like there’s always some kind of moral judgement, may it be regarding physically educating one’s children or abortion. Because of that, American citizens need to be accommodated with more freedoms in thought and speech. China doesn’t quite work like that anymore, though back during the Mao Era everything was judged as either revolutionary or counter-revolutionary. In these days, people seem to care more about the physical and material things rather than the lofty ideas of Marx and Lenin so restrictions on thought doesn’t interfere quite as much in their daily lives as it would to extremely religious Americans.

Now with that said, there is a growing segment of the Chinese population who are resenting the lack of the ‘higher’ freedoms. As Chinese society continues to evolve and the people become more materially comfortable as well as educated, there would be less justification for restricting information and speech. I mean let’s say a Peking University student wants to read the BBC to make sure the reporting is fair but it’s blocked by the Great Firewall. That student would believe that he is smart enough to not get brainwashed by the west and that the censorship is illogical when applied to him. When more people in China begin to think in a similar fashion, I think the demand for such freedoms would naturally go up.

And I think the US needs to take it easy on some of their laws. I mean hell, if I don’t want to have a bike light when riding at night, that’s my own damn decision.

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Alright, I kinda wanna talk about something other than the earthquake, so here are some random things I’ve been thinking about.

First of all, there’s sports. A lot of people in the United States like to call Yao Ming and Liu Xiang tools of the CCP. I mean they really don’t have much personality when compared to people like Kobe Bryant and Deon Sanders, they seem to always go along with the party line, and basically are just objects for fueling China’s nationalism. But I think it’s difficult to understand the Yao and Liu craze in China especially when one is American. I mean the United States has dominated lots of sports in the past so when an American athlete wins a gold medal, it’s not that big of a deal. I’m not too sure what happened in Argentina after their basketball team won the gold in Athens, but I would think that at least some people thought it was awesome. However, Argentina was always pretty decent in basketball, if not too spectacular. Liu Xiang and Yao Ming’s successes would be understandable only if a Somalian ping pong player wins the gold in Beijing. Imagine that… a Somalian ping pong player returns home to end the civil war and brings peace to Mogadishu.

And… street vendors and illegal entrepreneurs. Today as I was walking to work, a whole bunch of black taxis that usually sit outside the subway station got ambushed by three real police officers and about two dozen security guard/toy soldiers. They were all sitting in their cars looking very gloomy as the police got their information and proceeded to herd them all off into vans. Anyone who has been in China for any period of time would have witnessed at least one incident of street vendors suddenly disappearing as the police come rolling by. A lot of people, Chinese and foreign, would also say they don’t like these street vendors since they’re always bugging you about buying their junk or take up valuable sidewalk space. I, on the other hand, think that the reason why they exist is to fill out a local market demand.

So people need a ride on a rainy day during rush hour. The taxis are full. Who’re you gonna call? Ghost busters? Probably not, but a black taxi wouldn’t be so bad. Sure, they’re not all that safe and there’s not much recourse if something bad happens, but that’s why you gotta look at the costs and benefits. No one is forcing anyone to take a black taxi. If they’re willing to wait forever for a real taxi to stop by, that’s fine. If they’re willing to take the risk and take a black taxi, that’s fine too. I guess this is one area where I think the government should just butt out. I mean the illegal lamb on a stick tastes a lot better than the ones in restaurants in my honest opinion.

What else is there… oh. Chinese haxors. So there was a recent article published about how some Tibetan blog was haxed by some Chinese hacker group. Back in the 1990s, hackers were considered so cool. I mean they even made a terrible movie about it with people on roller blades, weird hair, and some hot babe who was also a l33t haxor. But yeah, hackers aren’t too popular these days, at least they no longer have that mystique from back in the 90s. Chinese hackers have been growing in numbers and they’ve been pretty good at supplying the masses with hacked .exes and .iso images for computer games and software. They’ve also been putting fear into the hearts of other governments since everyone’s afraid that the CCP will utilize these patriotic hackers into attacking sensitive and military sites. I… don’t really have too much to say about this. Let’s move on.

Ah forget it, I’ll just end with a link talking about local democracy and the earthquake.

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Internet Special Agents

Whenever some sort of disaster or crisis strikes, there’s usually some kind of call for ‘unity’. Anti-Flag and Rage Against the Machine gets taken off the radio, people all go to enquire about joining the armed forces, and people wave a lot of flags. Any dissenting opinion leads to condemnation that they’re unpatriotic at best or a traitor at worst.

So the initial shock and absolute unity part of the Sichuan Earthquake crisis has passed by. There won’t be too many heroic rescues now that most of those trapped under the debris are dead and the number of those grieving will transfer their emotions to focus on the future or searching for someone to blame for their loss. Just like the Olympics, natural disasters are also a double edged sword.

However, I’m not going to do any criticizing. The Chinese people can do that without my help. What I am looking at is the mass response to the criticisms themselves. I mean the Chinese people have been rallying together to protest corruption and immoral acts in a fashion similar to that of the Carrefour protests, the anti-Japanese demonstrations over the history books, and the rallies against America after the embassy bombing except they’re now acting on their own whim against their own people and government who are behaving, in their eyes, inappropriately.

Now some of the protests are a little stupid. Like hating on McDonalds customers because the newspapers forgot to pull out the colored advertisements during the days of mourning and criticizing Yao Ming for not donating enough money. I mean those kinds of protests are just instinctual and comes from feelings of helplessness, which is the same as the anti-foreigner sentiments during the international torch relay.

However, the other demonstrations in which they marched against corrupt officials responsible for the poorly built schools, the anger against the official slapping a volunteer for spilling disinfectant on him, and the mass action against the thievery of emergency supplies is extremely useful in its role as a watchdog against those who would usually be beyond the reach of the people.

The overall response to criticism and protest have been mixed from what I’ve read thus far. Sometimes, those who criticize are called traitors. Sometimes, they are praised for their actions. The government has also been inconsistent. Sometimes they act against those who are accused while other times they arrest those who make the accusations.

But with all these people dead, from the earthquake, I’m hoping that something good will come of it. Maybe better built schools, more people watching the government for corruption, and maybe even the creation of a ‘responsible citizenship’ in which the people work together together through their community and grassroots organizations to act as a check to the government. I just hope they wouldn’t just build a monument to the people who died and left it at that.

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Well, now that I’m back at work I guess it’s time to start gearing up the post-writing-machine again. However, I’m a little rusty after running around to different tourist sites and trying to think of different types of Chinese pastas to feed my noodles-addicted sister for the past week so here are just three links about the earthquake that I thought were nicely written:

China, Government, and Charities

Which brings me back to China and a post at the Black and White Cat entitled, “Beijing’s blood bank is full.” The title says it all; so many people have donated blood in the wake of the Sichuan earthquake, Beijing no longer can handle any more. I think this post is very telling. It says that when the Chinese government cannot handle a crisis on its own, the people will step in.

Nerves Fray in Chengdu

Metaphorically speaking, the first week of the earthquake disaster was like the honeymoon of a longer relationship. First the euphoria of survival and the closeness one feels with those you survived with. Then, as the news began to broadcast images of horror from the surrounding areas, a surge of sympathy and compassion as the population mobilized to help. Granted the tone was marred by a few panics, over the water supply for one. But over all optimism and community feeling prevailed.

Change in Chinese Politics

Those answers, too, were unusually candid in a country that has a long tradition of diluting bad news lest it reflect ill on the party. Instead, he revealed that the death toll, now 62,000, was likely to go as high as 80,000 or more. China, he said, now faced three main challenges – to prevent epidemics, to provide shelter for five million homeless and to tackle 35 “quake lakes” formed by landslides blocking rivers. “We must not allow this major tragedy to be followed by another major disaster,” he said.

Sharon Stone and Earthquake Karma

Just to show how one stupid person can damage the reputation of an entire group.

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Just got back from a little trip to Guangdong, but my sister is coming today for a 10 day visit, so I won’t have much time to write anything since I’ll be her tour guide and translator around Beijing.

So let me ramble for a bit about nothing before I go meet her at that big new airport.

There’s been a lot of stories of heroics around the Sichuan area. You know, soldiers saving lives, miracles of children led by their teachers walking a thousand miles to safety, teachers sacrificing their lives to save some kids… it’s really moving and my girlfriend has been crying in front of the TV for three days now. But to say that all of China is united by this tragedy would not necessarily be true.

When I was in Guangdong, I went to eat dinner with a bunch of my old students. Now these kids are the sons of newly rich businessmen and are all fairly ‘uncultured’. So while we were eating, they began to talk about the earthquake. But they were focusing on all these little things. Like they were arguing about who donated more money as if the 10 RMB that they gave would help so much more than the 5 RMB that another kid gave. There were talking about how the American scientists knew about the earthquake but didn’t tell China about it. They talked about how many high ranked multi-starred generals showed up to help in Sichuan. And they talked about how hot Sichuan University girls who were taking a shower ran outside naked during the earthquake.

Now all this was said in the privacy of a little room among friends. They have long considered me to be one of them and the only difference between us is my heavily accented Mandarin (though my Cantonese is better than theirs since they’re all from other provinces). Out in public, they probably would have acted more appropriately since they have at least that much consciousness.

Which would be pretty different than the peasants I was riding on the train with on the way back to Beijing. During the moment of silence that we were supposed to observe, they were talking and laughing and eating, much to the dismay of the more civilized folk around them. Some of them were still playing cards and not even standing up.

What I saw was real, though I hope they don’t represent the majority. The apathy of these people were real, just as real as the sorrow of those who lost their friends and families.

My immediate reaction was disgust. I sat there glaring at my students while they laughed and joked about the earthquake. I tried to nudge the lady who was eating her watermelon seeds into standing up. But now that I think about it, there’s nothing wrong with any of this.

Why should they be forced to express their sadness when they don’t feel it? Why should they act like they care when they don’t? If they don’t have any tears to shed for those who died, then they shouldn’t have to force it out. It’s a waste of time and effort. Enough tears will be shed by those who do care so that those who don’t can go on with their lives.

Alright, times up. There won’t be many posts this week and once again, if your comment doesn’t show up, give it some time.

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