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 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?

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Lovely Day at the Park

Perfect weather in Changchun today so my girlfriend and I met at 1PM at the MEERGENCY SHELTER of the Changchun World Sculpture Park.

I know that I have posted about this park at least twice previously. It is too expensive at 30RMB/adult and 60RMB for a thru ticket that includes the indoor sculpture museum. The city would be smart to authorize me to open a good restaurant inside the park and lower admission. My impression has always been that more people are working at the park than visiting, but "if you build it, they will come" is not a bad operating principle for something like this. Someday soon the people of Changchun will discover that they have a jewel in their midst.

Among the most exciting things we saw today was the installation of a new sculpture and a reminder that the Lord's Almighty hand creates the most beautiful things.

I would now just like to share some of my favorites from today--ones that I am fairly certain that I have not shared previously.

Apple-picking was happening in the middle of the park. Hard to believe it's the season already.

"Security Point" by a Cuban sculptor

A British artist sculpted this "Seesaw"

A Canadian artist contributed this one.

A Dutch artist built this Chinese chess table

Little Raindrop

"Made in China" by a UK artist

This is the sort of thing I don't usually like, but I adore this sculpture.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Day 6: China Solar Valley

Himin Solar Co., Ltd., is the big kahuna in the solar thermal market. (The pronunciation of its name does have an unfortunate homonym.) Founded in 1997 and, reportedly, started with no government subsidy, Himin's visionary leader won the Right Livelihood Award in 2011. They focus on education, communication, research & development, manufacturing, and tourism. They exported about 100 MW of modules last year. Tourism may seem out of keeping with the other core functions of the company, until you come to China's Solar Valley.

China's Solar Valley is a city, but the factory complex includes a hotel and convention center, model houses, and Unity College in Maine has even lent them Jimmy Carter's solar panels that Ronald Reagan, in his infinitesimal wisdom, removed from the roof of The White House.

Their signature products looks like this:

Notice the tubes go right into the water tank. The ones sold in the West generally have a manifold.
Many of the tubes are made in a 13,000 square meter plant that we toured. 

It's corporate profile states:
Himin Solar Co., Ltd addresses the global concerns of rising energy costs and environmental protection through our developments in the use of solar energy. With our more than 15 years of experience in solar heating systems and solar power, Himin Group's products range from solar water heaters, solar collectors, solar panels, and split solar water heating systems, to solar lights and PV lighting products, to name a few. We also provide solutions for solar hot water heating projects. Clients can rest assured, as our products are in high quality. We have obtained the ISO9000 certificate, CE certificate, TUV and SOLAR KEYMARK certificates on our products.

A typical Himin solar water heating system is composed of solar thermal collectors (evacuated tube collectors/solar panel), pumps, heat exchangers, controls, and one or more solar water storage tanks.
A little research, though, and you find: Himin Solar's IPO was pulled amidst allegations of corruption. For our part, we were able to meet with many top managers, but learned very little about how they actually work. Most of us felt that their goal of opening 50,000 Climate Marts around the world was absurd, given that the range or products they intend to offer are mostly, though not all, useless crap that we don't need cluttering our post-2012 lives. A prime example was that hat with which each of us was presented. It has a useless solar-powered fan built into the brim. Cute gimmick and I will wear it because I am ridiculous, but...

They have 30,000 employees in Dezhou and another 40,000 spread throughout the nation. There are 3,000 students at Solar University. It is a huge enterprise in every respect.
The total constuction [sic] area od [sic]the University Town is 82,092.97 ㎡. It is the world’s first professional education and training institution for renewable energy, and it is also a typical work for the combination of solar energy and crowded buildings. The building adopts over 10 items of domestically and intemationally [sic] leading high-end technologies, including solar cooling, heating, solar hot water, intelligent PV sun-shading, Wenping energy-saving glass, etc.
This is the Sun Moon Mansion, which acts as a sort HQ, but sounds like the home-base of a religious sect. 

You can learn more about the entire facility at, but I am sorry to say they ran out of money before they could build the spa.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Day 2: Solar Thermal and Project Incubation

Spain's huge solar thermal plant
On Thursday, we went to this really cool solar thermal power facility. There are a few others in the world, like the really huge and famous one in Spain. This one that we went to is the largest in China and part of a demonstration project run by the.

The whole facility creates about 8.83 MW, but does not feed to the grid. I have no idea how they consume that much energy on-site. It is enough capacity to power 3,000 homes. The field of about 100 large mirrors, which adjust direction as the sun moves across the sky, is about 10,000 sq meters or 100 meters by 100 meters. It is expensive and we had lots of questions about scaling it up. There are plans for a big installation in the desert of Gansu Province. It cost 35,000RMB/kW for this facility (construction, maintenance, and human resources, but not the geographic footprint/land).

The permanent tower is 120 meters tall, but incomplete. They will dismantle the other tower (62m) when it is ready. It felt like we were in Middle Earth. The way the tower is constructed, it twists in this otherworldly way towards the heavens. Here are some pictures that I snapped before we were asked to stop taking photos. Unfortunately, you cannot see the beams

This is the crew: a South African, a French woman, an Australian, a Chinese, an Irishman, a Dutchman, another Irishman and then another Frenchman, a British of Indian origin, Founder and organizer Yan Mi (pronounced Yummy), a Spaniard, me, and a Portuguese woman, who decided to stand fsr away from me.

Nice sunglasses, dude! Are you about to get burned up? Because there is a brick behind you that is...

Steel plate and brick (turned into ceramic) that were burned by the solar oven.

Gandalf the Grey and Merlin were having a meeting in the upper chamber so we could not climb the tower.

After the tour, we took the bus to a hutong and quite famous Beijing restaurant. This fish is not, surprisingly, made of tofu, but rather from milk.

After lunch we went to the Beijing International Technology Transfer Center. That was okay. It is a fascinatingly opaque way for the government to funnel money to projects that it likes. This is the release from their opening:

On January 26, 2011, the launch ceremony for the International Technology Transfer Network (ITTN) was held in Beijing International Hotel Convention Center.
Jointly initiated and established by more than 40 highly recognized technology transfer and innovation service institutions from 15 countries, including the Beijing Technology Exchange & Promotion Center (BTEC) and the International Technology Transfer Center (ITTC) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the ITTN is committed to providing an open innovation service platform in support of international technology transfer, and aims to pool global innovation resources and drive regional innovation and development.

Afterwards, we wandered past the National Center for the Performing Arts.

This is the rear end (so to speak) of the Great Hall of the People.

Finally, here are a couple of blurry photographs of "the opiate of the masses," which is my term for the flag-raising and lowering ceremony at Tianan'men where thousands of people gather each morning and evening to watch the PLA and plain-clothes police officers participate in a martial exercise. They don't fold the flag in a triangle like American troopers, but sort of grab at it and pull it into a big knot.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Day 1- The GreenTree Hotel and Green SMEs

I took the train from Qingdao to Beijing, leaving at 10:27AM and arriving just after the scheduled time of 4PM. From there, I took Line 4 and Line 13 to an area of Beijing know for its universities. I saw, from the window of Line 13, the GreenTree Hotel so I decided to walk there, but they could not find my name on the reservations' list. I was starting to get worried when they told me that there are 17 GreenTree Hotels in the city. I got into a cab and 21RMB later (and a couple of phone calls from the cabby to the concierge) found myself at the right place around 6PM. I am rooming with a man from Barcelona.

There are three people, who will join as soon as possible, stranded in Shanghai due to a typhoon. My friends from work, Jason and Dom, are in the Philippines. This weather is scary. It is pouring in Changchun again, but here it is nice weather, relatively (relative humidity is 85% or so).

The people who have arrived include a girl named Alice (my li'l sis' name) from Australia; two smiley boys with the map of Ireland on their face, to whom I awkwardly announced that I had been reading William Butler Yeats on the train; a sharp fellow from South Africa, who has been in Beijing for six months learning Chinese; an analyst for Shell of French origin and a male classmate of hers from France, as well; a Dutchman; an East Indian from London; and a Chinese woman from Dalian, who seems very educated and well-connected.

After a nice welcome dinner, we headed to a Beijing Energy Network BEER event where a gentleman reported on the Impact Report of Green Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs). It was a first of its kind attempt to explore and develop a methodology to evaluate the business, environmental and social performance of green SMEs in seven green sectors and evaluate the contribution that green SMEs have made to China’s economic transformation. It also highlights the challenges to the development of green SMEs and discovers their needs as well as explores different ways in which SMEs can realize “environmentally friendly” and “resource-saving” development.
The report is based on the Impact Performance Indicators System developed for SMEs in China, jointly developed by New Ventures Global (part of WRI), the Institute for Environment and Development, and the Information Center of MIT. 
One of the companies (aka SMEs), named Landwasher, has created a new waterless flush toilet that allows rural villages in China to use the by-product (aka night spoil or humanure) to fertilize their crops. While most of these toilets are probably not replacing toilets that do use water, the claim is that if the 10,000 that they have in the market were each used 100 times per day, there would be 1.64 million tons of water saved annually.