Archive for July, 2008

It’s been a while since I’ve written, but here’s something that’s been bothering me for a while now: the Beijing Olympic Volunteers.

So there are several levels of volunteers that I’m aware of.

The lowest level is made up of middle and high school students who are wearing the China Mobile shirts and have to stand in the sun all day. They have a couple water bottles attached to their fanny packs and they’re all bored out of their minds. There aren’t too many foreigners walking around the streets of Beijing quite yet so they spend most of their days just sweating. With that said, they might be pretty useful when the pale hordes descend upon Beijing. I wanted to test their English and direction-giving ability so I asked one of them how to get to get to a subway station. They were a little taken aback at first since I’m Chinese-looking, but it seems like their training paid off as they recovered quickly and gave me dead on directions to the subway stop.

The second from the bottom would probably be the college students who are given jobs at various Olympic venues who do language assistance and things like that. The lucky ones get to stay indoors with the AC at full blast, but all of them get a full authentic Adidas outfit (including some pretty sweet running shoes).

The highest level of the volunteers actually get paid. I don’t know what they do, but it apparently required a long term commitment starting from a year ago or something.

Now I like the idea of volunteering. I had a friend back in college who always worked in soup kitchens helping homeless people and stuff like that. I even helped gather donations one time for this non-profit organization since I needed to fulfill my community service requirements for a triple homicide that I might or might not have been a part of. It’s something you do that makes you feel good about yourself. However, the best thing about volunteering is that your boss gotta treat you nice since you’re working for free and can quit if you can no longer bear the work.

The Beijing Olympic Volunteers were volunteers in the beginning. They chose to do this work for no pay because they wanted to serve their country, help foreigners feel welcome during the Olympics, or were hoping to be able to watch Liu Xiang win the gold medal for free. I guess they weren’t really told what they signed up for until much later though.

It’s boring work. I used to work at a movie theatre as the guy that checked tickets. I stood there for like 8 hours a day. On a weekday, there would maybe be like ten people who came to watch movies in total. Time moves so slowly that you begin to feel happy since you think you’ll be getting a big fat paycheck for all the hours you put in. The vast majority of the volunteers, especially the lowest and the middle tier ones, will be doing similar things. Sitting or standing at some location and waiting. It wouldn’t be so bad if you could surf the net or play with your cell phone to waste time, but alas that’s not really allowed (though obviously you can do it if no one’s watching). And some of these shifts are twelve hours long. And some of those twelve hour shifts are night shifts from 8pm to 8am.

And you can’t back out of it. If you do, it makes the school and all those bureaucrats from that school look bad. I mean imagine if you’re a fat Chinese official for Peking University and 90% of your recruits drop out while Tsinghua students only had a 20% dropout rate. That would make you look awful. So while there is officially an option for students to stop being volunteers, there are severe punishments for those who choose to give up (punishments mentioned by a Peking University supervisor listed things like withholding vital documents, delayed graduation, and promising that the school would no longer support the student with any issue).

So what I’m basically saying is that if you do go to Beijing and you do meet some volunteers who seem to be a little out of it, take it easy on them. If you were on your feet for twelve hours and is treated like shit by your supervisor for no pay, it’d be a little difficult for you to smile at a foreigner asking where they can find a McDonalds for the 100th time.


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Dissident Blogs

Bloggers Take a Stand

It must be really hard to be a dissident blogger in China. I mean first there’s the obvious difficulties and risks of saying the wrong thing and being herded off to some reeducation facility or getting flamed by a horde of government paid commenters (as well as the online Mob on occasion). However, that’s not exactly what I’m thinking of at the moment.

I mean how can they possibly go on blogging about depressing stuff all the time? How do they find new things to say when it’s all the same old shit of oppression and corruption? Even when they write about the occasional good news, it’s still just some random dude who sticks it to the Man before fading into obscurity. There’s gotta be long time periods where they just have nothing to write about. They can’t be all that different from what I’ve been feeling for the past few weeks.

There’s nothing for me to say. I read the news and just nod or sigh as the same old news about the Olympics or Africa or whatever shows up. The other blogs that I usually enjoy reading, like Blog for China or EastSouthWestNorth or Peking Duck just doesn’t hold my interest. It’s not stimulating anymore. Back when I first started writing this blog, which really was only a few months ago, any little thing would get me going. I was able to write two to three posts a day and the only reason why I didn’t write more was because I wanted to save some of my material for another day. Now, I’m lucky if I write a single post that I’m happy with a month.

But the Olympics are coming and I’m sure something is gonna happen that will get me thinking again. Maybe the Chinese men’s soccer team will win the gold and Liu Xiang gets his ass handed to him by a East Timor hurdler. Yeah… that’ll do the trick.

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Migrant Workers Attack Police Station

So here’s another riot, though not nearly as big as the one in Weng’an. It has something to do with a migrant worker ‘colliding with a wall’ and the a bunch of other migrant workers beating up the police.

I’ve actually been to this Yuhuan county, though not the town itself where the riots took place. I also know a little bit about what the county’s capital town was like back in the day. How? Well, it’s my girlfriend’s hometown.

Yuhuan was a tiny little town that’s the capital of Yuhuan county famous for this rice noodle thing that they make with seafood (rice noodles cooked in a clay pot filled with a seafood broth and clams, shrimp, fish, and all sorts of other shellfish). It’s on a hilly, forested island and back in the 1980s, it had just a single long street where peddlers would sell stuff while everyone else lived into little buildings scattered around the island.

Then, the township-village enterprises took off. Small scale manufacturing of mechanical products and eye glasses frames were the key to growth. The people became wealthy almost instantaneously. Restaurants popped up everywhere. The first KFC opened in the late 90s and there was a huge line from all the young folk who wanted to get a taste. Taxis were available even though it took only 15 minutes to walk from one corner of the town to the other. And then there were the brothels. On the main road, they were everywhere. When I visited, I counted a total of 14 all packed together side by side shamelessly advertising their hourly rates on the windows.

There was a huge gap between wealth and culture, that’s what my girlfriend said. The people in her hometown didn’t go out and travel or see new things. They just brought things in. Nice cars lined the streets, gaudy looking decorations in front of the brand new hotel, and the brothels. Not even in the shadiest part of Guangzhou have I ever seen such a large concentration of brothels in a single area. All the local residents stopped cooking and they ate out and drank every night in expensive restaurants. The clothes in this little town were so expensive that it made Beijing’s cost of living look affordable. The people finally had wealth and they were using it to consume.

It would be nice to paint this picture as the cruel rich against the righteous poor, but this is not the case. The poor migrants are a huge source of crime, may it be robbery, rape, or murder even though the wealth of this county is built on the back of their labor. People fear and detest migrant workers for a reason. They’re unmarried poor uneducated young men from random parts of the country who arrive for the sole purpose of making money.

So why did they riot? Were they fighting against the corrupt police who beat a migrant worker? Were they rising up against the inequalities and injustice that they witnessed every day? Or were they just looking for an excuse to exercise their power through a display of brute physical strength before meekly retiring back to their mundane and wretched lives of mundane manual labor?

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So the online community seems to have won another victory (the previous one was where the government admitted that the picture of the Chinese Southern Tiger was a fake) over government corruption and censorship after a bunch of Wengan officials got sacked and the case got reopened. Here’s a summary of online stuff going on at China Digital Times:

Netizens’ Anger and Wit Against Online Censorship

Even though I like it whenever government officials get a black eye (and I hope the guy who made up the Olympic cheer would get his ass kicked multiple times), I still don’t like the idea of mob justice. I mean what if the netizens gang up on someone that’s innocent (and I don’t mean that girl that got hated on because she defended the Free Tibet people at Duke since she seemed to have done it more for attention than anything else)? Or even worse, what if the government sends their agents to infiltrate the forums and stir up their anger towards their own targets?

Even though the Chinese netizens are saying that they are against online censorship, I get the feeling that they wouldn’t mind censoring people who think that online censorship is necessary. This kind of movement is not necessarily one that is promoting freedom of speech or information, but is basically a different faction fighting for dominance or power. However, the one online essay, if they actually believed and followed what was being said, is pretty good.

For the sake of human dignity, let’s rise up online!

Rising up online is not illegal. According to the Chinese Constitution, citizens have the right to freedom of expression. According to the  Property Law, servers and websites are private property, and must not be arbitrarily invaded. If the Internet police believe some posts are illegal, they can indict the author and the court can make a judgment, authors should be responsible for what they write.

But in our opinion, Internet police have no right to delete our speech. Whether this speech violates the law or not has to be decided by a court. Who gave the right to the Internet police to decide? Evidence shows, the speech deleted by Internet police is not illegal speech. The brutal way that Internet police censor speech is a violation of the Chinese Constitution.

So grassroots pressure attempting to change the way China works huh? Well, it’s the beginnings of a checks and balance system and something is better than nothing, but unlike the Olympic cheer, which I am firmly against, I’ll have to sit on the fence on this battle (though I’ll lean to the side of the netizens for once).

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I watched this CCTV special on how to cheer just the other day. I guess the Chinese officials are all afraid that their uncivilized and uncultured people will make China lose face during the Olympics since they don’t know how to cheer so they had to create an ‘official Olympic cheer’ as well as a whole show about how to cheer appropriately. They even had these weird ‘cheerleaders with Chinese minority nationality characteristics’ dancing around and doing the Olympic cheer and ‘cheer experts’ who talked about when and when not to cheer.

I personally think that if the Chinese Olympic fan is rich enough to drag their ass over to Beijing, live in an extremely overpriced hotel, and pay for a ticket to some random sporting event, they should have some consciousness about what is good and bad cheering. I mean these aren’t your usual football hooligans over in Europe or your typical Oakland Raiders fan. These are middle to upper class folk who work for the government or other private sector white collar job. Sure there will be some teenagers and young people who might cause trouble, but that’s what’s great about sporting events. Rivalries are hot and god damn it’s awesome when you got some heavyweights going at it in the bleachers for the sake of their team’s pride.

Besides, those kinds of problems are expected at sporting events. As long as there isn’t a bunch of wheel chaired Chinese Olympians running over French fans with electric wheelchairs outfitted with monster truck wheels to avenge the Olympic torch, a little scuffle wouldn’t be that big of a deal and the security can probably break it up quickly enough. China won’t lost much face over a couple fights that take place between drunken fans.

But the Olympic cheer? Imagine 1.3 billion people doing that idiotic clap clap thumbs up crap. That’s embarrassing enough to make even the most ardent Panda Hugger to turn away in shame.

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Chinese police reopen investigation into girl’s death after huge protests

Police defend riot measures in SW China protests

The Chinese government has announced that they are reopening the case of the girl that died of a supposed suicide in Wengan. From The Guardian:

It quoted a vice-chief of the county, Xiao Song, as saying a preliminary investigation had found no links to relatives of local officials. He said the provincial government had sent 10 criminal investigators and forensic experts to reinvestigate the death.

Chances are pretty good, if the Chinese government continues to follow their standard procedure for containing crisis, that these investigators will spend a long time looking at the body before coming out with a result. The reason for this is to wait for people to stop feeling to passionate about the issue and for people to move on to their daily lives. Then, they’ll issue some inconclusive vague statement about how she might or might not have been raped and murdered or they will arrest some young hoodlum and put all the blame on him. Behind the scenes, the local officials will be punished slightly to let them know that the central government is dissatisfied with what happened. The people will bitch and moan about the results for a little bit before doing the Olympic cheer as they watch Liu Xiang and ping pong on TV.

As the China Daily stated:

The provincial Communist Party chief Shi Zongyuan on Monday called for local authorities to handle the incident properly. “We must put maintaining social harmony and stability on the top of our agenda,” he said.

‘Social harmony and stability’ are the most important issues. There is no mention of finding the truth. The investigators sent to Guizhou were not there to find out what really happened. I mean if the autopsy does show that the schoolgirl was raped and killed, that those who did it were relatives of the local officials, and that the uncle of the girl was beaten to death and found under the house of a Guizhou official, the entire country would be in an uproar. More cases of corruption around the country will pop up, people will be angry at the government for being corrupt and immoral, and there will be more demonstrations.

Yesterday’s edition of the province’s official paper, the Guizhou Daily, had reported that the family were “too emotionally unstable” to accept the results of the “careful investigation according to the law”.

And for once, the Guizhou Daily is correct. Even if the autopsy truly found the case to be a suicide, there is no way the family will accept it. Because the local government screwed up in their handling of the issue and because of all the censorship that’s taking place on the internet, the official line has lost legitimacy. There will be no truth to be found from the investigation and the people are no longer demanding the truth. The Wengan incident has reached the point where there is no longer any chance of solving it through a simple autopsy.

Instead, everything will be clamped down until the flames die down and people forget. And oh how quickly do people forget.

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‘Artist’ calls for Pandaland boycott of Kung Fu Panda

So I wrote recently about how much I enjoyed Kung Fu Panda and soon afterwards, I was informed that there was some kind of boycott being organized in Sichuan over the movie. I dismissed this as just rumors on the internet for a while until I finally decided to google it today. I guess I should not have underestimated the stupidity of some people in this world.

“In my artistic heart, I cannot accept the fact that Hollywood wants to make a fortune from the Chinese people after the huge earthquake in Sichuan,” said Zhao Bandi in one of his blogs on Bokee.com. “It’s an ugly bear. I wouldn’t even dignify it with the name ‘panda’.”

His reasoning appears to be that for a start Hollywood’s Sharon Stone recently said the Sichuan earthquake is due to “karma” and Hollywood is always creating people like her through its atmosphere and the values it promotes and some people like that might be working on this film. And Kung Fu Panda has stolen Chinese cultural treasures and wants to make money out of Chinese people who have been physically and emotionally damaged by the earthquake. And the film has some slight connection with Steven Spielberg because it was released by DreamWorks SKG which was co-founded by Spielberg and Spielberg was against the Beijing Olympics and pulled out of his role in the Beijing Olympics in February which angered many Chinese.

However, before people start jumping up and down and calling the Chinese people a bunch of brainwashed nationalistic nutcases, it’s obvious that people who are boycotting Kungfu Panda is a very small minority. Even the traditionally anti-foreign Mob on the internet has sided against this ‘activist’.

“Idle parochialism and xenophobia! The film doesn’t insult the panda or the people of China. How can this ‘artist’ – who has not even seen the movie – start a call for a boycott based on nothing more than his own over-fertile imagination!” a furious netizen wrote in an Internet post, the Shanghai Morning Post reported.

And the state press? Are they going to take advantage of this moment to create tariffs against Hollywood movies to protect their own movie industry? Naw…

In a Shanghai Evening Postcommentary, the author asked, “Why the boycott? What’s with the postponement? Is it about Zhao’s own fragility, or does he genuinely believe that the quake-hit victims are too sensitive? The panda is cute, the Kung Fu is Chinese, the story is hilarious, and the theme is inspiring! Is this not what the people in the disaster area need most right now? Sichuan, more than any other place, needs to find something to laugh about! “

So why was this anti-foreign nationalistic movement such an utter failure? I mean the movie is actually making good money in a country and everyone I know in China has seen it (either at the theatre or on Youku) and liked it a lot. I think one cause of the problem is that the guy who is at the center of the movement isn’t some cute little girl in a wheelchair or Andy Lau. Instead, he’s an ugly bastard who does weird stuff with pandas which he calls his ‘art’. On top of that, he’s an arrogant glory hound who keeps trying to throw himself out there as a defender of Chiense culture against American imperialism.

But the main reason for the boycott’s failure is… well, because Kung Fu Panda is awesome. And so is Jack Black since School of Rock is one of the best movies of all time. Right next to Back to the Future and Clerks.

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