Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Foreigners in China

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Orphan's Christmas

For the first time in 37 years, I was not with my aunts, uncle, cousins, parents, and sisters for Christmas dinner. Nevertheless, I was able to speak with them during a frenetic Skype call and to enjoy turkey, beef, potatoes, and a lot of wonderful rum balls with several of my colleagues and foreign friends in Changchun.

My day began with breakfast at a little hole in the wall that serves baozi. I go here all the time and get a tray like the one pictured for about eighty US cents or five yuan.

In the morning, I went to visit an orphanage. I expected it would be a miserable place, but found a state-of-the-art facility that was extremely tidy. The girls dormitory rooms, where we were shown, all had pink sheets. The girls were in Japanese schoolgirl-style uniforms. I taught them all "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" and one of my colleagues told a story. For most of the time, I and a Chinese teacher from my school were with three fourteen year-old girls. They were sweet and full of questions about America. I introduced myself with my Chinese name. We sang a couple songs and played a game with chopsticks and lollipops that was coordinated by some students from Shi Da Fu Zhong, who helped plan this adventure. Apparently, my picture was in the newspaper yesterday.

They played some fun games and listened to a story.

We had an Asian student Santa Claus (aka Saint Nicholas) by the name of Jack.

These girls were 13-14 years old. The one all the way to the left was in my small group.

Beneath the beds were several pairs of Crocs for each girl and several basins for laundry, cold feet, etc.

They each have a little area for drying laundry, which did my heart good! The clothes freeze almost instantly at this time of year.

There was an abundance of over-sized stuffed animals, which is a society-wide phenomena. I am missing the gene that allows me to understand the Chinese affiliation for stuffed animals.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Northern Pass: A tragedy in the making

The lifelong "environmentalist" and environmental consultant thinks this is going to replace petroleum? This is the nonsense that gives environmentalists a bad name. Do your homework and you will realize that electricity comes from nuclear, coal and natural gas, almost entirely. Also, the millions of square acres of Northern Quebec already flooded and that will be flooded if we build this pipeline through NH to southern New England are something to consider. It is not just a transmission line.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Vaclav Havel and Kim Jung-Il RIP

"We live in a contaminated moral environment. We fell morally ill because we became used to saying something different from what we thought. We learned not to believe in anything, to ignore each other, to care only about ourselves. Concepts such as love, friendship, compassion, humility, or forgiveness lost their depth and dimensions, and for many of us they represented only psychological peculiarities, or they resembled gone-astray greetings from ancient times, a little ridiculous in the era of computers and spaceships. Only a few of us were able to cry out loud that the powers that be should not be all-powerful, and that special farms, which produce ecologically pure and top-quality food just for them, should send their produce to schools, children's homes, and hospitals if our agriculture was unable to offer them to all. The previous regime - armed with its arrogant and intolerant ideology - reduced man to a force of production and nature to a tool of production. In this it attacked both their very substance and their mutual relationship. It reduced gifted and autonomous people, skillfully working in their own country, to nuts and bolts of some monstrously huge, noisy, and stinking machine, whose real meaning is not clear to anyone. It cannot do more than slowly but inexorably wear down itself and all its nuts and bolts." VH

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Definition of Insanity: US vs. China

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result.

The United States Senate is at least half full of nutty people who have refused for the last seventeen years to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. That is why Voice of America (VOA)--the closest thing that my country has to China Daily, or state-run media--ran a story entitled: China: Canada's Kyoto Protocol Withdrawal 'Regrettable.' I read that story ashamed that it was not my government which was disappointed with Canadian PM Harper's decision, but, alas, the United States is not in a position to regret Canada's retreat from responsibility since it is not a party or signatory to the agreement.

Today, I wake to the news that the POTUS has been backed into a corner and must now face the wrath of the electorate if he vetoes the payroll tax extension. Nevertheless, he should do it. Canada is an avaricious neighbor at this point. They are hoping to make lots of money and create temporary employment by the construction of the Keystone Pipeline and building thousands of miles of transmission lines to accompany mega-hydroelectric dam projects. This must be stopped. It is time for Obama to lead, not follow the polls.

Chinese negotiators are just as insane to return year-after-year to the Conference of the Parties (COP) meetings, like Copenhagen, Cancun and Durban, in the hopes that the West, and particularly the United States, will pay reparations for decades, nay, centuries of oppressive policies. Even crazier than that, though, is their hope that the United States will change its way of life or that our broken democracy will soon stop sending men like Inhoffe back to the Senate.

Men/ideologues who get elected on their stance on abortion, evolutionary teachings, and gays in the military (Romney, are you listening?) get to fool around with the important issues that governments should be dealing with, like economic development and climate policy. We all lose. China should stop hoping that crazy will go away, though, because that in itself is very crazy. Crazy is here to stay.

Whimper or Bang: Who cares, man?

This is an excerpt of an editorial from China Daily this week, entitled Durban ends with a whimper as expected:
The blame for the failure to produce any real progress at the climate talks lies with the US. For one, US President Barack Obama has not helped revive the talks that have stalled for years, because the world's largest historical source of GHGs has refused to accept any mandatory cuts. And the US refuses to change, or even modify, the American way of life, even though it never shies away from forcing developing countries, which historically have contributed a fraction of the emissions, to do so.

It was written by OP Rana, a senior editor with China Daily. While I am sympathetic with the writer's anger at a process that I have come to refer to as the Hot Air Conference, this piece is an irresponsible rant. Obama could certainly lead more, nay, even a little would be nice. On the other hand, he is not responsible for men like Speaker John Boehner and Senator Inhoffe. The collective insanity of the American electorate (a small fraction of the American citizenry, by the way) returns these people to Congress year after year so that they can make mischief like the news we awoke to this morning. That Obama cannot fully and properly support his own appointee, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, is only partly a function of his spine. It is primarily a function of the realpolitik that he chooses to practice in a breaking or broken system that calls for such Machiavellian machinations.

I dedicated years of my life to imploring the American public to change its way of life. But is this writer being ironic or experiencing cognitive dissonance? I condone the editorialist's frustration at the profligacies of the North American lifestyle. On the other hand, it is quickly being adapted by China which reports how its noveau riche are now the world's second leading consumers of luxury goods. They passed the US in this respect in 2009 and will pass Japan this year, according to Xinhua News Agency. See China to be largest luxury goods consumer in 2011. Here is a picture that I took today enroute to the tea market in Changchun, as a case in point. As somebody whose blood pressure surges when he spots such a vehicle, I can promise you that I have seen more of these opulent displays here than I ever did in America. You could "re-hair" most of the fauna in New England with the real and faux furs paraded around the streets here.

Doing the Fuzzy Math
National PM 2.5 Standards by 2016, But No Binding Climate Agreements Until 2020?

Particulate matter in the air that is 2.5 micrometers or less in size is a serious health concern for many or, as China Daily says, "believed to pose health risks." The sources of such pollution are primarily large power plants and vehicles (i.e., burning fossil fuels). Incidentally, these are also the most focused-upon sources of climate gases.

In Beijing, 105 people a day are diagnosed with cancer and one in four deaths there last year was attributable to this disease. But a couple weeks ago, China was not considering adding a PM 2.5 standard to air-quality regulations that it sought to update for the first time in ten years. There was, in part because of re-postings of the US Embassy in Beijing's Twitter feed with its daily PM 2.5 reports, a public uproar. 

In a show of responsiveness that is unthinkable in the United States, the Chinese government listened to its people and a PM 2.5 standard will be included now. China Daily bragged, "In making the announcement, the ministry showed once again that China is responsive to public health concerns." If one reads the entire article, though, you can see that 2016 is the expected implementation date for the new regs with pilot programs in a few fortunate metropolises a possibility. The year 2016 is after the Grade 2 students (equivalent to juniors in high school in America) whom I teach will have graduated from college. It is not particularly soon.

On the other hand, it is four years earlier than China's negotiator in Durban signaled that his nation would be willing to consider binding carbon emission standards. One has to wonder how a nation that can respond in a couple weeks to a noisy citizenry and that is ready to regulate PM 2.5 by 2016 can justify waiting until 2020 to even start talking about binding emissions cuts. If the Chinese leaders really believe the science on climate change and think that climate change is an ensuing catastrophe in the making (which they do and it distinguishes them from the crazies running my own democracy), if they really care about the health of the workers of the world, they should stop the posturing at the COPs and push for binding standards by 2016. The term "common but differentiated responsibilities" is a legal fiction that is shaped by a history of grave and unacceptable injustices, but which is not shaped by reality or science. That London was belching smog at higher rates than China for most of the last two centuries does not diminish the fact that London 1850 was a fraction of China's size today or that China is now the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

China has a chance to display some sanity in the face of crazy. I hope she chooses well. Two wrongs don't make a right or, as they don't say here, "Two Wongs don't make a white."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Traditional Chinese Instruments, especially the erhu

My last post mentioned the gu zhong. This is a gorgeous instrument, aesthetically and musically.

I cannot say anything new about the array of ancient instruments in China, because I know almost nothing about them. Here is a great picture of many of them:

The traditional erhu uses python skin! I have heard it played in parks by old people many times. It is the most prevalent of the instruments shown above, I would guess.

As usual, Wikipedia is a great source of information for most of these instruments. Here is some information about where they got the name erhu:
The first Chinese character of the name of the instrument (二, èr, two) is believed to come from the fact that it has two strings. An alternate explanation states that it comes from the fact that it is the second highest huqin in pitch to the gaohu in the modern Chinese orchestra. The second character (胡, ) indicates that it is a member of the huqin family. The name huqin literally means "barbarian instrument," showing that the instrument likely originated from regions to the north or west of China inhabited by non-Han peoples.
I would like you to hear the erhu for yourself. It emits a mournful and adventurous sound. Here is a six-minute sample:

If you want to learn the basics, you can see this video:

Finally, I want you to hear Ave Maria on the erhu.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Coal + Ice = Moving Exhibit

You need only visit the Asia Society's website to get a sense of what I saw in Beijing a couple weeks ago. A thirty minute cab ride for close to 50RMB brought me and Shannon out past 798 Art District to Three Shadows Photography Art Center where "Coal + Ice" has been showing since September for FREE.
Coal + Ice is a documentary photography exhibition featuring the work of 30 photographers from China, the United States, Canada, Malaysia, Russia, Hungary, Poland, Norway, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom, whose work, brought together here, visually narrates the hidden chain of actions triggered by mankind’s use of coal.

This photographic arc moves from deep within the coal mines to the glaciers of the greater Himalaya where greenhouse gasses are warming the high altitude climate.  As these mighty glaciers melt at an accelerated pace, the great rivers of Asia that flow from the Tibetan Plateau into the oceans are disturbed, and the lives of billions of people downstream are disrupted.
It was fittingly frigid in the converted warehouse. We moved too quickly through the photographs and suspended movie screens, not pausing long enough in front of the panoramas of the Tibetan Plateau.

The exhibit closes on December 28th. It will travel after that. There have been good articles about this show in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and numerous other publications.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Peking Opera

Last Friday night, I went to see Beijing Opera in Beijing. I want to share some pictures with you. Pictures are always worth a thousand words, but this is certainly one of the more visually stimulating things to see in the world.

Before the performance begins, there is a young woman who plays the gu zhong on stage while one of the performers "puts on his mask." When he is done painting on his mask, another man comes out to help him don his unwieldy costume.

There are four important roles in Peking Opera: Sheng, Dan, Jing, Chou. These Chinese words mean main male role, any female role, painted face male role, and male clown role, respectively. There are also important ways to breathe when singing the parts and many other intricacies of this old art form.

The music is orchestral with a jinghu leading the pack. This grainy photograph is the best I can offer.

I took dozens of photographs of the actual performances. Among the short operas we saw was "Farewell My Concubine."

China Arrives in Durban Greener than Ever

United States Should Take Heed

Workers prepare to lift a giant blade to be used as part of wind turbines at the Vestas Wind Technology Co. Ltd. factory in Tianjin, China, on September 14, 2010. The Chinese central government committed to increase renewable energy consumption to 11.4 percent of the energy mix by 2015 and 15 percent by 2020.

This week representatives from 194 parties are meeting in Durban, South Africa, for another two-week round of climate negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC. As always, all eyes are on the United States and China—the world’s biggest carbon emitters and, according to some, the biggest hurdles to a global climate agreement.

China balks at a legally binding international climate commitment due to its still-developing economic status, and the United States refuses to sign a global agreement that does not include comparable—though not necessarily identical—action from China. (See more.)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A River's Gifts

IHT Magazine | Global Agenda 2012

When I was younger I was ashamed to admit I came from a remote village, yet I lacked the courage to claim I was from a city, so I usually said simply that I came from an outlying township. Now I must tell the truth, that I was born in an isolated village.

Let me start from the banks of a humble river where my life began and which is the true source of my writing. My fellow villagers live and while away their time in a monotonous environment completely cut off from the outside world. I know their lives only too well. If I had not harbored a distant dream from a very young age I would have shared their fate. (more)