Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Learning About China from Books and Magazines

This blog will become more of a travel journal after I get on a plane to San Francisco on February 2. In the meantime, I will try to help you learn about China through some of the sources that I am exploring. I am half way through Peter Hessler's River Town and about a tenth of the way into John Pomfret's Chinese Lessons. The former is edifying and the latter, a terrifying account of the Cultural Revolution's victims. Hessler writes for the New Yorker. Pomfret is an interesting journalist who writes for the Washington Post.

The biggest lessons from Hessler are a) don't look in the Kleenex in a country where one in four people die of lung disease and b) it is possible for a cab driver to honk in excess of 500 times during a fifteen minute trip. As an opponent to Hydro-Quebec's developments and a life-long opponent of large dam projects, his section on the antediluvian Yangtze River is fascinating and insightful. This is a place that I plan to visit.

I wanted to share this with you, too, from Bill McKibben's interview in Grist with James Hansen:
BM: There are also a lot of people who say that it doesn't matter what the United States does, because China now has the greatest emissions and its emissions are growing the fastest.
JH: China is taking the right steps to move toward carbon-free energy. They are now number one in the world in production of clean energy technologies: solar power, wind power, and nuclear power. Also, China stands to suffer greatly from global climate change because China has several hundred million people living near sea level and the country is already experiencing large damaging regional climate disasters.
There is no doubt that China will want to move rapidly toward clean carbon-free energies. When the United States realizes that it must impose an internal fee on carbon emissions, it should not be difficult to get China to agree to do the same.
Also, it is important to recognize that the United States is responsible for three times more of the excess (human-made) carbon dioxide in the air today than any other nation, with China being second. [My emphasis.]  The much greater responsibility for accumulated human-made emissions is true despite the fact that China's population is three times greater than the United States'. So there is no reason to expect China to act first to reduce emissions.
However, there are advantages in beginning to act rapidly. China is investing heavily in clean energies, and it is likely that they will recognize the merits of imposing an internal carbon price to spur development and implementation of clean energies. The United States risks becoming second-class technologically and economically this century if it does not stop subsidizing dirty technologies and instead move toward progressive policies such as fee and green check, which will stimulate development of clean energies.

Dr. James Hansen is the director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Adjunct Professor at the Columbia University Earth Institute. Bill McKibben is an American environmentalist and writer who frequently writes about global warming and alternative energy  and advocates for more localized economies. I wrote my college thesis about him and his family and he serves on the Board of Advisers for Project Laundry List.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Honey or Vinegar?

A piece that was part eulogy, part editorial ran in today's Nashua Telegraph, written by veteran environmental reporter, David Brooks. In it, he bares his soul,
I confess that despite my willingness to spend time and money on home efficiency – including installing a solar water heater on the roof long before the state gave rebates for it, which has helped cut our electricity use in half over four years – my household is a PLL failure. We haven’t reduced our dryer use at all.
Hauling wet clothes downstairs and outdoors is such a hassle and hanging them on a line inside the (largely unheated) guest room next to the washroom dries them so slowly that I’ve occasionally had to rewash cotton T-shirts that started smelling musty.
Those are feeble excuses; after all, my little old grandmother dried clothes on a line all her life. Laziness has won out, I fear.
If Project Laundry List sticks around and gets stronger, though, maybe it will convince me.
I am all full of piss and vinegar as I read this epitaph. It is an epitaph not so much for Project Laundry List, but for a nation that has seen "the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness."

As I head to China, where the government sometimes just tells you what to do imperially and imperiously, I must say that I am tired of the Project Laundry List approach that I have tirelessly espoused--the "positive approach to change" baloney; the no guilt trip for you; it is all about choices, honey, and you are doing some good things for which we are very proud of you. 

Only in a country where everybody is supposedly accepted and free (everybody's mind is so open, their brains are falling out) would a whole branch of psychology develop to look at social marketing and behavioral economics. Only in a nation oblivious to the most obvious of inconvenient truths would there be an annual conference put on by ACEEE that deals with tactics for behavior change. When is it going to be all right to say, you know what you need to do, dammit, stop with the excuses and get to work? I hope that day is coming.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Making Connections: Three Gorges and The Northern Pass

Photo of damage to the Shih Kang Dam

One of the things I plan to do when I am in China is visit Three Gorges. My interest in Three Gorges Dam arises out of my long-term interest in Hydro-Quebec's large dam projects in North America. I first started paying attention in 1991, when I was an eleventh grader at Phillips Exeter Academy.

As I prepare to leave New Hampshire, Northeast Utilities plans to merge with NSTAR and negotiate a 40-year contract with Hydro-Quebec (HQ). If they get their wish, they will build a $1.2 billion line that can transmit 1200 MW of power to markets in New England. Meanwhile, HQ plans to bury a 1000 MW transmission line beneath Lake Champlain and the Hudson River to serve ISO-NE and New York. At the same time, the Canadian province of Newfoundland & Labrador has approved a $6.2 billion project to build two new major dams with an eye to markets in the United States.

This past Sunday evening, a friend of mine and I watched Still Life (2006). It was fascinating. I was at the premier of Up the Yangtze (2007) in Montreal at the Canadian Film Board. My friends are making a movie about the Romaine River (next on HQ's chopping block) and there is already a tribute to Mike Robinson, a colleague of mine from Keewaydin-Temagami.

Tomorrow, I plan to speak with Peter Bosshard, the Policy Director at International Rivers, who has just returned from Europe. There are a lot of reasons to be concerned about large dams. Here is one big one:
…Fan Xiao, chief engineer of the Sichuan Geology and Mineral Bureau, told the South China Morning Post that landslides are inevitable because elevated water levels significantly increasing the internal moisture of surrounding banks, making them soft, loose and unpredictable.

"It's like dipping a piece of bread in milk. The deeper you go, the more difficult it is to hold on," Fan said. Yong, a Sichuan-based geologist, clarifies Fan's warning:, "When the dam reaches 574 feet (the capacity mark achieved Tuesday), it will push the region's geological instability to the fringe of catastrophe." [Source:]
I hope that I learn a lot about their dams and proposed hydroelectric projects while I am in China. As one friend of mine joked, now that I have been on the front page of The Union Leader for my dam work, it is really time to get out of the Granite State!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Red Mass

My blog is only a couple weeks old and already the religious fanatics in Amerika are trying to breathe fire on what I am doing. See Resisting the Green Dragon: A Biblical Response to One of the Greatest Deceptions of Our Day. I look forward to living in a nation where I can quietly practice my Catholic faith without the blather of these lunatics interfering with my appreciation of the Creation and our Blessed Savior, Jesus Christ Our Lord. [Note: This video is not actually a response to my blog.]

I am planning to spend some time with my friend Paul in Seoul, South Korea. He is a devout Christian and sent me a PowerPoint with this message:
It is very pleased to be known you so far. The Lord be with your new adventure in China. Let's keep in touch and someday we may meet each other... Enclosed pls find my spiritual life story. It is my personal gift to you heartedly. Grace and peace from God, Savior and Lord, be to you always.
I can stomach this sort of devotion to God, but not this group's nonsense. Maybe this is what the Chinese are guarding against?

+     +     +

Since the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949 by the Communist Party of China, Catholicism, like all religions, has only been legally permitted to operate under the supervision of the state. All worship must legally be conducted through State-approved churches belonging to the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which does not accept the primacy of the Roman Pontiff. 

The Chinese Constitution reads:
Article 36. Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief. No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion. The state protects normal religious activities. No one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state. Religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign domination.
Which do you think has greater religious tolerance and freedom, China or the United States? Is the Rosary a normal religious activity? Is making a movie about climate change a normal religious activity and/or does it interfere with the educational system of the state?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Advent: Preparing the Way (Prepare Yee the Wei?)

The last time that I moved and began a new job was in February 2002. My first day of work required that I fly to DC and meet my boss, former Commissioner Nancy Brockway, at a National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners conference in Washington, DC. It was Valentine's Day, 2002.

My job at Perfect English in Changchun will begin on Valentine's Day, as well, with an all day training. I have been asked to read a book on learning English as a second language and nearly everybody that I speak to recommends Peter Hessler's River Town. I watched an hour of the BBC's Wild China with a friend on Monday evening. It was Programme 4: Beyond the Great Wall. The imagery, the people, the depictions of the fierce climate along the Silk Road left me breathless. I am certainly flying off into the Middle Kingdom. Luckily there is a guide to life and teaching there.

I am getting some CDs from Irene Rawlings that will give me a cursory introduction to the complexities of Mandarin. What else should I be reading and watching and thinking about?

Monday, December 13, 2010

On Patriotism

A friend of mine in the state employee's union (which has a vaguely communist ring to it) wrote jokingly to me, "So now you'll be contributing to the Chinese economy and making it even stronger at our expense! Enjoy the Food!"

Last week, I read a poem again that ranks high among my favorites. Wendell Berry's To a Siberian Woodsman. The seventh and final stanza reads:

There is no government so worthy as your son who fishes with
you in silence besides the forest pool.
There is no national glory so comely as your daughter whose hands
have learned a music and go their own way on the keys.
There is no national glory so comely as my daughter who
dances and sings and is the brightness of my house.
There is no government so worthy as my son who laughs, as he comes up the path
from the river in the evening, for joy.

This morning I read Tax Deal Angers right as well as left in The Washington Post. This article references a piece by the Post's own Charles Krauthhammer, where the ultraconservative columnist writes:
[The tax deal] will pump a trillion borrowed Chinese dollars into the U.S. economy over the next two years - which just happen to be the two years of the run-up to the next presidential election.
Even if he is right, is this the wrong thing to do? Are the Chinese our enemy or can they be our greatest partner?

What is your definition of patriotism?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Preparations for Departure: Food and Language

McDonald's is right next door,
but why would you go there?
In Concord, NH, where I have lived for almost ten years, there is a wonderful little place on Loudon Road, called Sunshine Oriental Restaurant. Loudon Road is the ugly strip of endless fast-food restaurants and big-box monstrosities that have come to haunt the outskirts of many towns and cities in America. This little place fits right in with the depressing McDonaldization aesthetic, but is a gem when it comes to its dim sum and the friendly service. I had been here once before and it received a favorable review in our local rag.

Originally a Cantonese custom, dim sum is closely linked to the Chinese tradition of "yum cha" or drinking tea. I had a couple of cups of tea before my lunch guest arrived because it was -17 degrees Celsius today in Concord. We had taro and Chinese broccoli as well grilled bean curd sheet rolled with shrimp. They accommodated my gluten-free diet and brought us beef with rice noodles and some lotus leaves all wrapped up with rice and meat inside.

I am looking forward to the food in Changchun. When I tell people that I am going to the Northeast of China, they are enthusiastic about the food there; however, wheat, not rice, is the staple in those parts. Steamed rolls are supposed to be outrageously good. I might have to just see if my system can handle wheat again!

I had lunch with Cathy Silber who took over as the staff person for Granite State Fair Tax Coalition after I left, but in a prior life she was the director of the Chinese language program at Williams College and worked at various other colleges, sharing her knowledge of Mandarin, which she picked up living in China twenty years ago before the Dragon had woken. We had a fun exchange and agreed that she would help with my blog so that I can give people a sense of what has changed in the ensuing two decades of rapid transformation.

We also agreed to meet three or four times before I depart to work on my Chinese language skills. The only thing I know in Mandarin is ni hao, which looks like the characters to the left and means "Hello." Ni hao is the phonetic English spelling referred to as pinyin. Pinyin is the official system to transcribe Chinese characters to teach Mandarin Chinese in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Republic of China (Taiwan), Malaysia and Singapore

My friend, Andy Sylvia, who has some grasp of written (simplified) and spoken Chinese already pointed me to, an invaluable resource for the neophyte hoping to make sense of a complicated tonal language. Another friend, Irene Rawlings, who wrote The Clothesline Book with Andrea van Steenhouse, is sending me some CDs for Christmas that will allow me to learn some of the sounds and key words and phrases.

My excitement is building every day.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mr. Lee, the Laundry Guy, Goes to China

It is Pearl Harbor Day (Dec. 7) and I am dropping a few bombs of my own.

This is the day I announce to Project Laundry List and my friends in politics in the Granite State that I am moving to Manchuria. Wikipedia reminds us, "Without occupying Manchuria, the Japanese probably could not have carried out their plan for conquest over Southeast Asia or taken the risk to attack Pearl Harbor on the 7th of December, 1941." I will teach at Perfect English for a year, where I plan to learn some Mandarin, eat lots of great food, and explore as much of the country as I can on a limited budget.

Changchun (simplified Chinese: 长春; pinyin: Chángchūn)

Specifically, I am going to Changchun, the capital of Jilin Province and the "motor city" of China. Changchun is the largest city of Jilin province, located in the northeast of the People's Republic of China, in the center of the Songliao Plain. It is administered as a sub-provincial city with a population of about 7.5 million under its jurisdiction, including counties and county-level cities. The name, which means "Long Spring", originated from the Jurchen language. That is a bit of a misnomer, though. With a January mean temperature of −15.1 °C (4.8 °F), the fall and spring are short transitional periods.

God willing and the creek don't rise, I will arrive at the end of Chinese New Year celebrations and will begin work on St. Valentine's Day (Feb. 14).

We Live In Interesting Times

The nephew of George C. Lee, III, who, in 1952, gave his life for his country as a first lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, I am picking an exciting time to spend a year in this part of the Waking Green Dragon. As I write this, allies of South Korea are pressuring China to warn North Korea and the ICC begins a look into the N. Korea attack. 

It was a Washington Post story by Keith B. Richburg that first got me thinking about China and its relationship with my life work. I read James Fallows in The Atlantic Monthly religiously and my dear friend, Rep. Christine Hamm of Hopkinton, has filled my head with stories of her son, who lives in Beijing and is married to the daughter of the head of Goldman Sachs China. Their website reports:

China is changing fast in many ways. Goldman Sachs is working with the Chinese government on regulation issues, helping to lay the groundwork for the opportunities of today as well as tomorrow. 

As I write, my most dashing second cousin, George Lee, who works for Goldman Sachs himself, is en route to China for business meetings. I look forward to an exciting year of networking and exploring the Waking Green Dragon.