Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Adventure

In my life, I have been extraordinarily lucky. Between twenty and thirty years ago, I was in a car accident with my maternal grandmother where I cracked the windshield with my forehead and...maybe that explains a lot.

In 1996, I was standing amidst four trees that were hit by lightning and I emerged unscathed, laying down in a tent to giggle for a half-hour or so as Monty Python-like God-rays streamed from the heavens.

In 2005, I flipped my Honda Civic in the snow at 4:30AM. Enough said!

Yesterday, I started to get into a taxi and he rolled over my foot with his rear tire. My foot was fully stuck beneath the tire, but my shoe (the important part) and my foot are both fine. The mystified driver (what were all those four-letter German words coming out of my mouth?) decided not to roll forward or backward, which in retrospect seems wise as he might then have crushed some bones. I just yanked it out and he agreed to take me and the two people with me to our destination, a service I think he would otherwise have been unwilling to provide. If you are not by yourself, it is increasingly hard, especially as a waiguoren, to get a cab here. If you are by yourself, they can pick up one or two other people en route and make more money.

I am writing this Boxing Day morning in gratitude for all of the near misses in life. Share your funny and miraculous, stories, too!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Hark! The End of the World is Nigh...

Today is the end of the world, according to the Mayan calendar, or, at least, the end of the era of the Corn People, according to 2012: A Time for Change. To celebrate, I spent twelve hours in bed until I was rousted by a colleague asking if I knew about the fire at 7.8 Mall last night. (Alas, it is the beginning of the end!) I got up and ate candle sausage (腊肠) for breakfast.

Today is also the beginning of winter in China, which has 24 special days to mark the year. Some of the names will sound familiar; others are pure poetry.

立春 the Beginning of Spring

雨水 Rain Water

惊蛰 the Waking of Insects

春分 the Spring Equinox

清明 Pure Brightness

谷雨 Grain Rain


立夏 the Beginning of Summer

小满 Grain Full

芒种 Grain in Ear

夏至 the Summer Solstice

小暑 Slight Heat

大暑 Great Heat


立秋 the Beginning of Autumn

处暑the Limit of Heat

白露 White Dew

秋分 the Autumnal Equinox

寒露 Cold Dew

霜降 Frost's Descent


立冬 the Beginning of Winter

小雪 Slight Snow

大雪 Great Snow

冬至 the Winter Solstice

小寒 Slight Cold

大寒 Great Cold

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Father Verbiest and the Early Automobile

This post is dedicated to my amazing student known as Todd, who has memorized one of John F. Kennedy's speeches in a recognizable Massachusetts' accent! Todd wants to own his own car manufacturing company some day and has numerous sketches of models that he would like to build. For months, he has been reading David Macaulay's The Way Things Work with me and we also have long conversations about Allied and Axis generals, military uniforms and equipment, and geography. He is thirteen and nearly as tall as his teacher!

Represented (top): Father Matteo Ricci, Father Adam Schaal, and Father Ferdinand Verbiest
Bottom: Paul Siu (Xu Guangqi), Colao or Prime Minister of State; Candide Hiu, grand-daughter of Colao Paul Siu.
Father Ferdinand Verbiest (9 October 1623 – 28 January 1688) was a Flemish Jesuit missionary in China during the Qing Dynasty. He was born in Pittem near Tielt in Flanders (present-day Belgium). He was an accomplished mathematician and astronomer and proved to the court of the Kangxi Emperor that European astronomy was more accurate than Chinese astronomy. He then made some important adjustments to the Chinese calendar and was subsequently asked to rebuild and re-equip the Beijing Ancient Observatory, being given the role of Head of the Mathematical Board and Director of the Observatory.

If you have been paying attention to this blog for a while, you know that I have written about another Jesuit, Fr. Matteo Ricci of Maceratta in the Papal States (current day Italy) and the subsequent controversy about "Chinese Rites," which still rears its head in our current age. The image above pictures Verbiest, Ricci, and another Jesuit priest, Adam Schaal of Cologne, Germany. Below them are two prominent Chinese Catholics. The one on the left, Paul Siu, was also of great importance in the Qing Dynasty and is considered a pillar of the early Church in the Middle Kingdom.

You may also recall that I wrote about the Kangxi Emperor, who issued a statement basically condemning and banishing Christians as troublemakers and simpletons unable to grasp the intricacies of this five-thousand year-old culture. There are still people here today who feel that we can never understand the Chinese mind or culture. Despite his disgust with the Dominicans and Franciscans who rejected ancient Confucian practices of ancestor worship, the Kangxi Emperor had in Verbiest a valued adviser. Verbiest was the only Westerner in Chinese history to ever receive the honor of a posthumous name from the Emperor.

The steam 'car' designed by Verbiest in 1672 – from an 18th century print
Beside his work in astronomy, Verbiest also experimented with steam. Around 1672 he designed – as a toy for the Chinese Emperor – a steam-propelled trolley which was, quite possibly, the first working steam-powered vehicle ('auto-mobile'). Verbiest describes it in his work Astronomia Europea. As it was only 65 cm long, and therefore effectively a scale model, not designed to carry human passengers, nor a driver, it is not strictly accurate to call it a 'car'.

Steam was generated in a ball-shaped boiler, emerging through a pipe at the top, from where it was directed at a simple, open 'steam turbine' (rather like a water wheel) that drove the rear wheels.

It is not known if Verbiest's model was ever built at the time, although he had access to China's finest metal-working craftsmen who were constructing precision astronomical instruments for him.

The Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Verbiest is full of the fascinating trials and tribulations that Verbiest experienced whilst in China. For further reading, you may want to see their description of his life and time.

Source: "Ferdinand Verbiest." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Sept. 2012. Web. 18 Dec. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferdinand_Verbiest>.




Monday, December 17, 2012

Ancient Chinese Temperature Measurement

Most people concur, Galileo invented the first documented thermoscope in about 1592. When informally surveyed by me, none of my Chinese friends could tell me how temperature was measured in ancient China so I decided to do some research. Surely a people who can come up with the compass and all manner of astronomical and meteorological equipment had some way of recording temperature, I thought, but I have come up short. It remains a mystery! We don't know what the ancient Greeks or Egyptians did, either, although there is some theoretical, printed matter on thermometers still extant from the Greeks. Philo of Byzantium and Hero of Alexandria knew of the principle that certain substances, notably air, expand and contract and described a demonstration in which a closed tube partially filled with air had its end in a container of water.

Verbiest's thermometer.
According to a short article in the Geographical Review:
Thermometers and hygroscopes were first introduced into China in the middle of the seventeenth century by Ferdinand Verbiest16 (1623-1688), a disciple of Tycho Brahe (1546-1601). Verbiest entered China in the year 1659. From that year until his death he received numerous favors and honors from the Emperor Kan-Si [sic]. For several years he held the post of President of the Board of Mathematics and Astronomy
What I do know empirically is that it was -8 degrees F this morning in Changchun. We have had more snowfall this year already than I witness cumulatively in the previous two winters. I cannot see out the balcony windows because the condensation has totally occluded them.

Guns, Pesticides, and Mental Illness: WHO will do something?

As I sift through the commentary on the tragedy in Fairfield County, there seem to be two camps. One group blames guns and the other, mental illness. One group calls for gun control and the other for more resources for mental health. This is a ridiculous dichotomy. We should do something about both, but we get mired in a debate about our Constitutional right to bear arms and don't seem to know where to begin when it comes to mental health.

James Fallows makes a strong case for why we must do something about guns. He talks about an incident in China last Friday and makes his central point: fewer people died from somebody who was just as crazy as the mixed-up 20 year-old boy from Newtown. Take away the guns and fewer people will die, fewer families will be torn asunder.

ChinaKnife2.png
There are plenty of countries--from Greenland to Russia to Myanmar--where the murder rate is much higher than in the US. In fact, most of southern Africa and northern South America far outstrip the US. Murder rates are not necessarily linked to access to guns, but getting rid of guns will result in fewer deaths in the United States.

My former colleague, Lindsay Hanson, posted a Gawker story from a mother with a child who is monstrously violent. It is a sad reminder of how many seemingly innocent people suffer when their children go astray or turn out to have a bit of the devil in them. This mother's piece was moving, but it was the first, insensitively-worded, raw, hard-hitting comment in the comment section that really stuck with me:
I won't deny, I can't deny, that there is a crisis in mental health care in the US. However, if it was just a question of mental illness, then 33 of the 66 mass shootings the author refers to would have been committed by women. One 1 [sic] was. That undermines the author’s entire argument that the primary cause of these types of events is mental illness.
If you have a child that you know is capable of committing mass murder you have a responsibility to contain them by whatever means are necessary. Your child assaults you? Press charges. Medicate them. Even if it turns them into a zombie. Have them committed to a mental institution. Even if it's a shi**y one. Can't get them into one? Lock them in their bedroom. Surrender them to the state. They threaten to kill themselves? Let them. Because one day they will kill you. And your other children. And perfect strangers.
Just because all the choices are shitty it doesn't mean that you don't have choices. Pick one. Do something because they are your responsibility. And for f**k sake, don't own firearms.
This fellow's comment is a display of the incivility and lack of compassion that some people think contributes to the violence of our society and the breakdown in civil communication; however, he is all very clear about some basic facts:
  • In America, if a child is not 18, the parent is responsible and must take that responsibility seriously even if it means taking draconian steps. [The Gawker-mother has, by all accounts, tried to do what she can. This commenter seems to discount how debilitating her sense of helplessness is. She asked the hospital on an intake form for help! Society owes these families some measure of intervention, too. It may not take a village, but few parents would be able to manage a Michael on their own.]
  • Keeping guns in this woman's household would be akin to giving nuclear weapons to Hamas--one cannot be sure what would happen, but it is a not a risk worth taking.
  • Mass shootings are not only about mental illness.
It is only this last observation that I find interesting and rather haunting. So, then, what is the label that we should ascribe to their behavior? If it is not a result of mental illness, what is it a result of? Why are men so much more likely than women to engage in these desperate, public acts of gun violence?

Taking Away Guns Won't Lower Suicide Rates; Would Lower Accidental Deaths

Guns are not just dangerous as murder weapons; they are implicated in thousands of accidents every year and in thousands of suicides. In terms of suicide, though, it can be argued that if you take guns away, people will resort to other means. In 2009, the British medical journal The Lancet identified Lithuania, Finland, Latvia, Hungary, China, Japan and Kazakhstan as all having exceptionally high rates of suicide, 20 per 100,000 people or higher. (As an aside, I do wonder why the Estonians are the only Baltic State not on The Lancet's list.) In Japan, there are only a handful of murders with firearms each year, but people find a way to kill themselves.

China's suicide rate is amongst the highest in the world. Pesticides are China's smoking gun when it comes to taking one's own life. Pesticide ingestion was implicated in 62% of suicides in China between 1996 and 2000 (around 175 000 cases per year), according to the World Health Organization. In the United States, firearms were used in more than half of all suicides; hanging (23%) and poisoning (18%) lagged far behind as second and third. See also Miller M, Azrael D, Hepburn L, Hemenway D, Lippmann SJ. The association between changes in household firearm ownership and rates of suicide in the United States, 1981-2002. Injury Prevention 2006;12:178-182; doi:10.1136/ip.2005.010850.

The way to tackle suicide rates is not to control guns. This is a mental health and cultural problem.

Accidental death or unintentional death (the fifth leading killer in the US after such things as cancer and heart disease) claimed 118,021 Americans in 2009. Automobile accidents and poisoning were the causes most responsible, followed by accidental falls, fires and choking.
The nation’s accidental death rate has been gradually creeping higher and is up 12 percent compared to the lowest rate on record, in 1992, according to a report released by the National Safety Council.
The independent, nonprofit group warned that if the trend continues, the nation could surpass the all-time high of 116,385 accidental deaths, set in 1969.
From 1969 until 1992, the rate of accidental deaths — a number adjusted for population growth — steadily declined. The council credited seat belts and air bags in vehicles, smoke detectors in homes and stiff drunken driving laws with reducing deaths.
But ground is being lost because of increasing rates of falls among the elderly and accidental overdoses from legal and illegal drugs , said Alan McMillan, CEO of the National Safety Council. Meanwhile, deaths from workplace accidents and car crashes have been fairly stable.
If we want to attack accidental death rates, getting rid of guns is not going to be as effective as waiting for the last of the Baby Boomers to fall downstairs and to more effectively address our (legal and illegal) drug problem. Taking poisons off the market and implementing public transportation options that reduce automobile accidents are the real public policy fixes that we need.

While controlling guns is not the only thing we must do and is not an effective fix for some problems, it is hard to reason that we ought to tolerate the status quo.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cold-proof choo-choos

It has been cold here. We received more snow here, prompting a British colleague to ask me when it would ever stop.

The weather prediction for the next couple days is not unbearable.

But let's not talk about the weather; that is not an exciting lede. Let's talk about trains. The NZWeek has a story: China's cold-proof trains to withstand sharp temperature changes.

So now, those of us who live in the "renowned imperial capital of Changchun" will be able to zoom to Harbin for the ice festival in mid-winter and zoom to the famous beach-side community of Dalian in mid-summer.

In frigid northeastern China, in the city of Harbin is hosting its 26th annual International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. Massive buildings built of ice from the frozen surface of the nearby Songhua River, large scale snow sculptures, ice slides, festival food and drinks can be found in several parks in the city. At night, visitors who endure the bitter cold will see the lights switched on, illuminating the sculptures from both inside and outside. This year's festival opened yesterday, January 5th, and will remain open until some time in February. Collected here are several photos from just before the festival, and of the opening night. (Boston Globe, Jan. 6, 2010)


Dalian has won several awards from the United Nations for its environmental progress. The Chinese government has chosen to focus here as a starting place for instituting environmental regulations in China. The air quality is the best in all of China, and because of this and the multitude of parks and beaches, Dalian has become a popular vacation destination.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

China: Oil and Energy

Irresponsible reporting is not why I read the New York Times and Washington Post to the exclusion of other newspapers, but this article from the Times has its emphasis seriously misplaced: Oil Supply is Rising, but Demand Keeps Pace. It is only when you get down to about the sixth paragraph that you get the less than rosy picture that oil production and consumption will keep growing for years to come. Of course, the title of the piece (written by somebody else) does betray that fact so maybe I should cut the writer some slack for his Pollyanna lede.

"In 1969, the United States consumed a third of the oil used in the world, while China used less than 1 percent. Last year the United States’ share was less than 22 percent, while the Chinese accounted for 11 percent. The I.E.A. forecasts that by 2030, the American share could be less than the Chinese one." The patterns of consumption are changing and so are patterns of generation and production. The Oil Forecast chart that accompanies the article shows what is happening.

Also, of interest are the changes in electric capacity. In the United States, the chart below shows in stunning relief the nuclear booms (no pun intended) of the mid-1970s and mid-'80s. More obvious still, is a huge increase in natural gas plants since Enron went belly-up. If you look carefully, you all see that from the late '60s to the mid-'80s, we actually built a lot of oil-powered electric plants (brown).



The same data does not exist in the same form for China, but my conjecture is that coal is to China what natural gas has been to the United States. Forecasts from the EIA available at http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/ieo/electricity.cfm are the foundation for my supposition. Specifically, their international energy outlook says,
At present, China is installing approximately 900 megawatts of coal-fired capacity (equivalent to one large coal-fired power plant) per week. However, it also has been retiring old, inefficient plants to help slow the rate of increase in the nation's carbon intensity. From 2006 to 2010, China retired almost 71 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity, including 11 gigawatts in 2010, and it plans to retire an additional 8 gigawatts in 2011. [referencing IHS Global Insight, "Chinese Government Reportedly Meets National Target for Closing Old Coal-Fired Power Plants" (June 26, 2010), website www.ihsglobalinsight.com (subscription site)].
In other words, they are opening "modern" coal plants at the rate of about one gigawatt per week while taking old ones off line at a slightly higher clip. Despite looming siting and approval battles, nuclear production is at the bottom of what most expect to be an upward slope. That is to say, as China's consumption catches and eclipses America's, oil, coal and nuclear will be the foundation for this growth.




Saturday, November 24, 2012

More About Weiqi

Miss me? Want to play the Game of Go. I have found a website that teaches you how and allows you to play: gomatches.com. It will even allow you to improve your rank. This is the first video in a series which will explain the three fundamental rules and the major concepts (judgment and balance) of this ancient game.



I hope to get really good, but, truth be told, to be really good, you must start when you are really young. A month ago, my Chinese teacher took me to a special club for learning the Game of Go, or Weiqi. It was all aimed at children. Since ancient times, playing this game has been considered one of the primary arts here.

The Four Arts (四藝, siyi), or the Four Arts of the Chinese Scholar, were the four main accomplishments required of the Chinese scholar gentleman. They are qin (the guqin, a stringed instrument. 琴), qi (the strategy game of Go, 棋), shu ( Chinese calligraphy 書) and hua (Chinese painting 畫).

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Flying Tigers and Shenawlt

Before going to Chongqing, I had never heard of Chennault, despite his appearing on the cover of Time and Life during the course of the Second World War. I had heard of Four-Star General Joseph Stilwell, relieved of command by FDR in 1944, but was not familiar with Lieutenant General Claire Lee Chennault (September 6, 1893 – July 27, 1958). In one of the most infamous internecine debates of the war, Stilwell differed as to strategy with his subordinate, Claire Chennault, who had the ear of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. In the end, Chiang Kai-shek asked FDR to recall Stilwell and replace him with anybody else, because "Vinegar Joe", who would die of stomach cancer a couple years later, could not cooperate with his Allies or Chinese leadership. 

A contentious officer, Chennault was a fierce advocate of "pursuit" or fighter-interceptor aircraft during the 1930s when the U.S. Army Air Corps was focused primarily on high-altitude bombardment. Chennault retired in 1937, went to work as an aviation trainer and adviser in China, and commanded the "Flying Tigers" during World War II, both the volunteer group and the uniformed units that replaced it in 1942. His family name is French and is normally pronounced shen-o. However, his family being Americanized, the name was instead pronounced "shen-AWLT."

My photograph of the bust of Gen. Stilwell on a rainy Thursday morning in Chongqing.
In Chongqing, there are two museums right across from each other. The one that gets the attention and glory is the headquarters of Stilwell, but there is so little to see and I was reprimanded for taking pictures of the sparsely furnished apartments. Across the street is the gem: the museum of the Flying Tigers. Lots of fairly well-written captions and a series of photographs brought me up to speed and filled me in about the air campaign in Burma during WWII. If the two museums would combine and seek some serious donations of planes and other paraphernalia, this sleepy little street could become one of the most important tourist stops in the city.

Further down this 1.5 lane, two-way byway is the gate to the property that served as the headquarters of Stilwell.

The entrance to the Flying tigers Museum could easily be missed.

The baseball bat used by the Flying Tigers. Sooo cool!

The dining room of the Stilwell residence. The only picture I was able to capture.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

For the Gorgeous San Xia!

I bought a book: The Magnificent Three Gorges Project. It was 120RMB with ten postcards thrown in for free. It is in dreadful Chinglish and the preface, signed by "Editors", concludes with:
  • For workers of the Three Gorges Project!
  • For people move out of their hometown in reservoir area!
  • For friends who loves the Three Gorges!
  • For the originators who brought culture here!
  • For the grandness Three Gorges Project!
  • For the eternal Three Gorges!
This chant should give you a sense of the book's perspective. There is even a section on how the dam is ready for the "menace of war." The book opens with the magnificent Mao Zedong's magnificent poem, called "Swimming" scrawled in his magnificent calligraphy.

Ma Zedong's "Swimming"
In 1956, the year my nearly eighty year-old father graduated from Harvard ("tough as nails, hard a bricks"), Mao is said to have offered a blueprint for the project, but the people of the Yangtze River valley would need to wait until 1992 for the National People's Congress to resolve that it should be constructed. Even Sun Yat-sen had designs on tapping the power of China's greatest river.

Lonely Planet, among other unreliable sources, contends that it is the largest dam in the world. By only one measure is it so. It has the world's largest instantaneous generating capacity (22,500 MW), with the Itaipu dam in Brazil/Paraguay in second place (14,000 MW). The highest dam is an earthen embankment type dam of 300 M in Tajikistan. Hirakud Dam in Orissa, India, is the longest in the world. It is 26 km or 16 miles long. Also, the Afsluitdijk in the Netherlands, build between 1927 and 1932, is 30 km long [32.5 km if you take the parts on land into account]. It divides the Zuiderzee [now called IJsselmeer] and the Waddenzee so it is really a dam, not a dijk.

It is not the largest lock in the world, either. It takes about 40 minutes to go through each of the five steps. This picture shows the second set of doors closing aft of the Princess Jeannie (our cruise ship), followed by a picture taken several minutes later that shows how it drains.



Of course, the beautiful parts of the Three Gorges are what remains of the natural environment.





One of the only places in the world where water flows uphill! (Just kidding.)





Friday, October 5, 2012

Ad from the Chongqing Rail Transit


For obvious reasons, I am dedicating this entry to my parents, but with the caveat that I would find this ad repulsive in the United States, but in the land of Confucian filial piety, I find it even more horrendous and distasteful. Perhaps I am giving the Lee's what they want by sharing their ad. I hope not.

China and Building an Ecological Civilization

Global Trends Informing A Twenty Year Plan for Ecological Transformation


by Roy Morrison (Director, Office for Sustainability, Southern New Hampshire University)

 "We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy – sun, wind and tide. I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.” Thomas Edison, 1931.

“47 days of desert sun would be equivalent to all known fossil fuel reserves, and 274 days would be the equivalent to all known and expected resources. The deserts have more potential in one year than all fossil fuels ever recoverable on the planet. Of course, that is on top of whatever solar and other renewable capacity is developed outside of the desert areas.” Gerhard Knies, 2006.

China in the 21st century is rapidly emerging as global industrial and economic leader, and faces challenges and opportunities that ultimately will be understood as representing the successful transformation from an industrial to an ecological civilization, or, alternatively, the descent into an epochal ecological crisis.

China, if it seizes the opportunity, can become the prosperous and sustainable leader of a growing global ecological civilization in the 21st century and beyond. The technology, the knowledge, the entrepreneurial energy,and the financial resources are available to accomplish this transformation. But this will require major changes in current path of economic development in China, and in the rest of industrial civilization.

(read the rest at http://www.ecocivilizationweebly.com/

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Yangtze River Cruise on the Princess Jeanne

This post has some words that may not please your mother so be forewarned.

A lot has happened since I last updated you. Instead of going on the Chinese tour that left at 4PM on Saturday, I joined a 4-Star international tour which departed at 10PM after a 6:30PM boarding call. When I spoke to the necessary middleman who books tours for Tina's Hostel, I was already in the car sitting in the backseat. He did what so many of us do and started calling or texting and crashed the car! I think I am alright, but had a doozie of a headache till bedtime. We did not get hit from behind luckily, but he did serious cosmetic damage and destroyed at least a tire and probably a rim. Unfortunately, he did not know how to change a tire so yours truly did it. We hoisted the spare out of the boot and stayed in the left fucking lane, despite a municipal employee who stopped in his street-sweeper to say we should move over to the breakdown in front of two large trucks that were parked there. We were so close to the curb (perhaps a centimeter or two more than the width of the tire) that we could not turn the jack handle properly and the whole process took a long time, but just as I tightened the lug nuts, his friend showed up. He drove us to the headquarters where the bargaining commenced. I talked them down from 3000 to 2000RMB for this tour, which fulfills a life-long dream of mine, but I still think that I was ripped off.



Amusingly, aside from a group of eight German undergraduates ranging in age from 22 to 24 or so, the only other waiguoren is from Spain. Accompanying the Germans is a Swede; they are all international law students in Beijing. Mr. Sesma, the Spaniard, and Mr. Lee share a table for two (the only occupied table for two) in the dining room that is located right where everybody must parade past. It is embarrassing!

It is the Golden Week or combined holiday of Mid-Autumn Festival, which fell on September 30 this year, and National Day. Mid-Autumn Festival is a celebration of the moon commemorated by the re-telling of the story of Chang'an and by eating moon cakes. I snapped this photograph of the moon on October 1st, as it was going down in the morning.



Sunrise on National Day, taken from the deck of our cruise boat.

The meals on board ship are excellent and we even had a half mooncake each for supper last evening. (Riddle me this: Are you supposed to wait two weeks to eat half a mooncake or should it have been eaten two weeks ago?)

My cabin is lovely and bigger than the hotel room that I occupied in Narita, Japan, care of Continental Airlines. Unfortunately, the air does not turn off, but I have a port-side window on the fourth deck. The game room and bar is ten steps from my door, but the majong and smoking stops at midnight so the noise does not keep me up. My preference is to descend to the third deck and enjoy some local tea from the Three Gorges region.

We are parked in a port now so that those who want to pay 270RMB can see the White Emperor City. I debarked and bought some tea, some Sichuan spices, and a jar of red pepper for my girlfriend, having bought a grab bag of special Sichuan and Chongqing culinary delights yesterday, when I went to the China Three Gorges Museum. That museum is excellent and free with numerous, diverse exhibits!

I really enjoyed the section of the museum dedicated to the disrupted ecology of the Three Gorges region, but the signage was over the top. One wonders if Hydro-Quebec is so bold in making claims about the improvement of Cree lives from relocation.

"A Steady Trip to Getting Rich"

"Personal Sacrifice for the Public Interest"

"No matter How Hard, not Delay Resettlement"

Other parts of the museum were also interesting. I skipped only the exhibit on ancient Chinese money, because it seems to recur in various forms at all provincial museums. There were the sort of Madame Tussaud-meets-Sturbridge Village manikins engaged in all sorts of ancient crafts, which I saw in Shanghai last May. One was doing the laundry!



Ebony, which I never knew before, is not a species of wood, but a sort of version of petrified
wood from thee bottom of rivers, if you trust the sign,

Amazing helmet!
The museum is located right across from the large assembly hall for which I paid 10RMB to gain entry. One can imagine Deng Xiaoping, Zhou Enlai or even Bo Xilai striding out on to the stage to whip up a packed house. It is an amalgamation of ancient Chinese architecture and the modern penchant for making everything out of scale.



Saturday, September 29, 2012

Hostile in Chongqing

My girlfriend, by text message, "don't hate the hostel"--Tina's Hostel Chongqing. Good advice, but I will just report the facts. Their English is so miserable that I don't know the name of the company or the direction in which the boat I take later today will go. They wanted to charge me 30RMB, but luckily I printed my receipt which clearly showed that it was 25RMB/night. Really, it is the principle of the damn thing. I do not need to quibble over 30RMB (five yuan more for six nights). I will only stay here three nights now. Last night and Tuesday and Wednesday nights. I think I will be on this boat for the rest of the nights.

They gave me a key to the dorm room, where two American women who prove Texas is the obesity capital of the world and a Chinese student of theirs were also staying. I bent the key trying to open the door because the lock was stripped maybe because the handle for the door was missing. Once inside, I wished to place my things in a locker, but the key for the locker, while less chintzy, would not turn the lock. I went upstairs and they laughingly told me that it was not my fault, the locker key never works for anybody! Nevertheless, they assigned me another locker and gave me a new key, but again it did not work.

The bathroom is customarily revolting. The Western toilets have been plopped down on top of the old squatters so that I am sure all manner of foul smelling expelled matter collects in the seams and grooves.

The directions say that you can easily see the sign from the street. Not only could they not get my can driver to understand, while speaking for five minutes on my phone, that we were right out front, but when the can driver finally brought me back to the location of said phone call, I got out of the car and walked right passed the steep stairs to the hostel, because the sign (at the bottom of the stairs) is totally obscured by a tree. It has been raining, which it always has since time in eternity, in Chongqing which means that it has been raining in the hostel. The whole place smells like a wet, unwashed towel and it brings me back to the after dinner terror of my childhood when mother would chase us about the kitchen with something we referred to as "the rag." (This practice continued years beyond when it should have.)

No breakfast so I am off to wander until 2PM when I must be back here to meet the taxi for the boat down the river, I hope.

But, you know what? The Internet works and the people who work here are pleasant!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Chongqing Bound


I am leaving in an hour to catch a bus to the airport. I will land in Chongqing in the early evening and be to the hostel by 9PM at the latest. Here, courtesy of Lonely Planet and a wonderful CouchSurfer, are some of the things that I hope to do. How many can I cram in as a solo traveler?

Three Gorges Museum

This sleek museum showcases the history of settlement in the Chóngqìng region. A 1st-floor exhibition about the Three Gorges includes a model of the dam, and upstairs you can learn more about southwest China's minority cultures through their clothing and artwork. Some exhibits have better English captions than others, but the artefacts are well presented throughout.


Cíqìkǒu Ancient Town

The opportunity to glimpse slices of old Chóngqìng makes it worth riding out to this part of town, on the Jiālíng River west of the centre. Most of the buildings, many dating to the late Ming dynasty, have been restored for tourists, and the main drag can feel like a carnival, but away from the central street, a living, working village remains. You can easily lose yourself in its narrow lanes, peeking into homes and tiny storefronts. And there's plenty to eat here, both in the alleys and overlooking the river.

It's also worth poking your head inside Bǎolún Sì, one of Cíqìkǒu's only remaining temples. Its main building is more than 1000 years old.

Stilwell Museum

The Stilwell Museum by Eling Park is something of a novelty in China as it focuses on the American involvement in WWII. It is the former VIP guesthouse of the Kuomintang and residence of General Joseph Stilwell, commander of the US forces in the China-Burma-India Theatre and chief-of-staff to Chiang Kaishek in 1942.

Stilwell realised early on that a successful resistance required the cooperation of the Kuomintang and communist forces, and it was at his urging that Chiang relented for a time. Repeated efforts to bring the two sides together in a truly unified front against the Japanese largely failed, Stilwell said later, because of Chiang's obsession with wiping out the communists. Vinegar Joe's caustic personality grated with Chiang and others, so despite major victories including retaking the Burma front and procuring fighter jets for the Chinese air force to fly a key route over the Himalayas, called the Hump, Roosevelt relieved him of command in 1944.

Jiefangbei Square

Junction of Mingzu Road, Mingquan Road and Zourong Road, Yuzhong District, Chongqing 400000, China

Muslim Restaurant of Tian Shan

Serves the dishes of the Silk Road, meaning lots of lamb - braised lamb, stewed lamb and lamb wrapped in buns - eaten with a side of black vinegar and garlic. Try the lǎng (50 jiao), crispy onion pancakes baked to perfection on the side of circular ovens.

Hú Guǎng Huì Guǎn guild

The Hú Guǎng Huì Guǎn guild served as the seat of immigrant life 300 years ago in the Qin dynasty. Eager to increase the paltry population in Sìchuān, the government encouraged widespread immigration beginning in AD 316. By the time of the guild, the population was 800,000 and rapidly growing as settlers arrived mostly from the Hú (Húnán and Húběi) and Guǎng (Guǎngdōng and Guǎngxī) provinces, as well as ten others.

People came to the guild for legal processing and to worship and celebrate with other new arrivals. English guides are available, though you could easily spend a day wandering on your own through the beautifully restored guild houses and their collections of furniture, art and jewellery. Also worth checking out are the daily performances on the three opera stages, highlighting some examples of the traditions immigrants brought to Chóngqìng - from the tea art of Xīzàng to the quick-change biàn lián mask changing of Sìchuān. Free preview performances are put on at 14:30. Full performances with tea service are at 20:00. The guild is a 15-minute walk from Liberation Monument.

Lǎojiē Shíbātī Teahouse

A teahouse has stood for 600 years here at the top of the Eighteen Stairs. Come for a fresh pot served with small plates of dried fruit and cakes and an arresting view of the old city. There's beer too.
There's been a teahouse on this spot for more than 600 years and walking in here is like stepping into an antiques shop, with its wooden interior, period photos and fabulous furniture. The views are cool too as you look over one of the oldest parts of town, a maze of winding market lanes that can be accessed by walking down the teahouse's namesake alley, Eighteen Steps Lane (十八梯; Shíbātī).

Pirates Pub

Serves up the ingenious combination of pirates and disco. Local bands start playing most nights at 21:00 but the mutiny doesn't happen until 23:00. Look for three ship's sails.

Little Swan Hot Pot

Recommended for those who don't subscribe to the sweating-buckets-perched-on-a-plastic-stool hotpot experience. There's air-con, tablecloths, and five kinds of broth. Ask to 'zìzhù huǒguǒ' ( 助火鍋), which allows you to choose from 30 different meats, vegetables and noodles wheeled to your table.

Yangtze River Cruise

As I mentioned previously, it may be possible for me to get as far as Three Gorges. For the Yangtze river cruise, you can normally (except peak season or holiday season) to get the cheapest next day boat ticket at ChaoTianMen dock ticket offices in JieFangBei. The company is called Chongqing Travel Group. The domestic (3 star) boats cost ranging from around 400 RMB (no meals included) to 650 RMB (meals included), and from 2 days to 4 days.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Into the Panda's Den

Planning for a Chongqing Visit on the National Holiday

The People's Republic of China was founded on October 1, 1949 with a ceremony at Tiananmen Square. The Central People's Government passed the Resolution on the National Day of the People's Republic of China on December 2, 1949 and declared that October 1 as the National Day. I will be free at 6PM on Thursday and do not have another class until the morning of Sunday, October 7.

On Friday, I will fly to Chongqing and stay at a dirt cheap hostel (US $27.89for six nights). The name of the hostel is Tina's Hostel Chongqing. It has several dubious reviews, but quite a few glowing ones, as well. I am going by myself and have some trepidation about getting around in a city of 7 million or more, but it will be fun to be there for October 1. It is also the city that has attracted attention surrounding the Bo Xilai Affair. Mr. Bo was an avid promoter of "singing Red Songs" and so I may get a chance to witness that. 



Nationalism is running high right now as things escalate with Japan after the September 19th anniversary of the Mukden Incident (1931).

The former police chief of Chongqing is on trial. Mr Wang, who ran to the US Consulate last spring, was charged with defection, abuse of power and bribe-taking. He may get off lightly for bringing Gu Kailai to justice.

Mr. Bo Xilai is the now well-known former mayor
Wikipedia reports, "The politics of Chongqing is structured in a dual party-government system like all other governing institutions in the People's Republic of China. The Mayor of Chongqing is the highest-ranking official in the People's Government of Chongqing. Since Chongqing is a centrally administered municipality, the mayor occupies the same level in the order of precedence as provincial governors. However, in the city's dual party-government governing system, the mayor has less power than the Chongqing Communist Party of China Municipal Committee Secretary, colloquially termed the 'Chongqing CPC Party Chief'.


"Chongqing also has the distinction of having been the wartime capital of China during the Second Sino-Japanese war, and, for a brief period, being the seat of administration for the Republic of China government before its departure to Taiwan.

"Chongqing is headquarters of the 13th Group Army of the People's Liberation Army, one of the two group armies that comprise the Chengdu Military Region responsible for the defense of China's southwestern borders with India and Myanmar, as well as security in Tibet."

I am eager to meet people in this western hub on the shores of the Yangtze River. I may even make it to Three Gorges on this trip. I will certainly make it to Three Gorges Museum.


China Three Gorges Museum is situated at the west part of the People's Square of Chongqing. Occupying 30,000 square meters, the museum was completed and opened to the public on Jun 18, 2005. It's not only a museum of Three Gorges but also a comprehensive museum of history and art with a collection of over 170,000 cultural relics.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Long unexplained absence

I did not hurt my back playing soccer (or football). I did not have a heart attack or a stroke. I did not go on a hunting trip with Dick Cheney and Xi Jinping. I did not fly home to vote in the New Hampshire Primary. I did not have a birthday bash last Friday that laid me low. Nevertheless, it has been the longest stint of my not posting since I arrived in China--more than a fortnight since my last post.

I have been busy with work. I have been enjoying myself--mostly at Qing Yi Fang (the tea-flower-goldfish market) and various other haunts with which I have made you familiar in the past. I have also been reading.

Last Emperor Puyi and his wife, Li Shuxian
I say that I am reading two books at once, but really I have laid A Dream of Red Mansions (Volume 1 [of4]) aside and am buried in The Last Emperor of China: My Husband Puyi by Li Shuxian. She was his fifth wife, as a matter of speaking. That is to say, he had a wife and then a few concubines whilst he was "the emperor behind closed doors" and the puppet emperor of the Japanese occupation, marrying the Fortunate Concubine in 1943 at the age of 15, a year after his third wife---the 22 year-old "Auspicious Concubine"-- died. His second wife was the "Virtuous Concubine" or Wenxiu. His proper first wife was Wanrong, who became his Empress in 1922.

One of the most interesting projects that I have been honored to undertake literally fell into my lap when I was chatting with a Chinese friend, who goes by the English pseudonym of Jack London. We were at a local bar and I was bemoaning the signage at museums throughout China, which so butcher the English language and which are so full of anti-Japanese sentiment, when he told me that he was indeed the person who wrote the material for Puyi's Palace, one of the foremost tourist destinations in Changchun. You may remember that I visited there within a couple of weeks of arriving and shared some pictures and thoughts. I have begun making revisions to the signs.

I took the HSK2 exam and ran out of time, filling in bubbles willy-nilly in the last seconds. This was a huge disappointment and setback. I know the vocabulary cold, but have so little experience hearing/reading the words and phrases in context that I am quite sure I did not get the 90% which I got on HSK1. Nevertheless, I will prepare for the HSK3 in January. We have an ambitious study plan, which involves me learning how to write and pronounce (tone and all) twenty words each week. I must know 600 words to pass. Luckily, one of my lovely doctor students presented me with a gorgeous calligraphy pen that makes writing a joy.

I am sorry to be missing a family wedding and family memorial service, but send my public blessings to George Gregory, my godson, upon his marriage, and to the Nelson Lee clan, upon his foreseeable departure from God's green earth.

I have also watched the New Hampshire Primary with some interest. Hon. Maggie Hassan is the candidate with the wherewithal to defeat Ovide Lamontagne, but New Hampshire would be well-served to have somebody with the ideas and strength of character of Hon. Jackie Cilley. That my old state is condemned to another indefinite period of pledge politics is grim news. That they are also condemned to the continuing hegemony of Ray Buckley and his minions is also not good news. The Presidential campaign is evidence of how debased American politics has become and how much of a role that obscene amounts of money continues to play.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Unhappy Immigrants?

Lei Chen

In the coming days, I will engage in a debate with Lei Chen--a highly-educated Chinese citizen from Changchun who is living in Boston. His recent Facebook status said, "I guess me and JingJing Wang [a Northeastern University student from Beijing] should have come illegally and pretend [sic] we speak Spanish only. I heard these illegals are even allowed to apply for federal financial aids and loans, so the legally admitted students are all suckers for coming to the US legally!" 

When his job ends in December, he is talking about moving to Canada. (I had to teach him how to spell it-- C-eh?-D-eh?-N-eh?.) We will find out why he is leaning this way and tap into some of the resentment that he feels towards the children of Mexican immigrants, in particular. Last year, about 175,000 Mexicans were allowed to immigrate to the US compared to 59,000 Indians; 51,000 Chinese;  and 48,000 Filipinos.

In June, Pew Research Center released a report entitled The Rise of Asian Americans. The website where you can read the full report states:
Asian Americans are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the United States. They are more satisfied than the general public with their lives, finances and the direction of the country, and they place more value than other Americans do on marriage, parenthood, hard work and career success, according to a comprehensive new nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center.
There has been a history of discrimination against almost every major group of people to enter the United States, regardless of color or creed. The Irish, Jews, Italians, Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans, Sikhs, and Arabs have all suffered tremendous insults over the last two centuries of American development. Nevertheless, Chinese Americans and Asians, in general, have it pretty good right now. It is starkly different than the two earlier waves of Chinese immigration where operating a laundry business or restaurant or helping build a railroad were the only jobs that most could find. Chinatowns or ethnic enclaves are not the primary residential destination for new Chinese immigrants.

Immigration The Other Way

We will also talk about the insular world power, where I reside: the People's Republic of China. I often chide my friends that I will become a citizen and be the first Caucasian (and open Catholic) to get "elected" to the Politburo.

In 2011, the only nations with less immigrants as a percentage of their population were Colombia, Burma, Egypt, N.Korea, Peru, Afghanistan, Guyana, Iraq, Indonesia, and Vietnam. That is to say, almost nobody wants to become Vietnamese. At the other end of the spectrum, everybody who lives in The Vatican immigrated there. Why are so few people asking for or being granted citizenship in China? Maybe this chart from the Pew report begins to explain:



It is worth mentioning two obvious things about the above chart. First, the very questions asked by Pew betray American values. Religious freedom and political speech are bedrock items in our Bill of Rights. China's reputation and, perhaps, its actual record on these things are less than stellar. Second, perceptions are not always reality. I raise this, particularly, in regard to "opportunity to get ahead." The idea that you can "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" in America is a part of our attractive mythology, but a lot of recent data shows that it ain't so easy anymore, especially for the bottom 20% of the population. In China, it is now quite possible to be born in the countryside as a peasant and move to the city and become a wealthy merchant, but social mobility is inextricably linked with geographic mobility here. That said, after a generation of migration, barriers to social mobility remain and the lack of data on social mobility even amongst urban populations is a problem for drawing conclusions like the one in bold that I just drew.

There are things that are startlingly unwelcoming about China. This is a nation that is rife with racism, to say nothing of the abject hatred of the Japanese. As a white man, I am told on a weekly basis that I am handsome...by total strangers. (Those who know me will agree that I'm awright, but nuthin' special.) People (whole families) regularly stop me to have their picture taken with me. I have one "friend" who seems to want my friendship primarily so she can parade me in front of her friends. It is good for her face. This is the advantage of being white and, if you don't let it bother you, an amusing facet of China's deep-seated, perverse racial attitudes.

The school where I work has hired three or four brown people, but only after much hemming and hawing by the Chinese managers. Parents complain and withdraw students from the school when their children are assigned to the brown teachers so I have been told. In turn, I have been told that I cannot hire a very highly-qualified Black woman from Montreal, C-eh?-N-eh?-D-eh? It is an outrage, especially at a school that prides itself on being American-run. These kind of hiring practices were made illegal in the 1960s in the United States. They are probably illegal here, as well, but few of these laws are equally enforced.

Aside from racism, the nearly impenetrable system of guanxi and the subtleties of face are huge barriers for anybody wishing to move here and open a laundry or a restaurant...or build a high-speed railroad.

To generalize, which is never a good idea, the school system here is effective, but ruthless and competitive; based on rote memorization and slanted towards the hard sciences and math; physically exhausting, stultifying and uncreative. I would love to raise a child here, but not educate him here...and I work at perhaps the best school in northeast China.

N.B. After I wrote this piece but prior to receiving permission from Lei Chen to publish this, The Economist published this article: Foreigners in China: To Flee or not  to Flee?