Saturday, August 24, 2013

Tea and Game of Go Gifts: Giving and Receiving

Life is about what we give and receive, whether it is air, birth, cancer, a poem, or...a tea set. Yesterday, we had our first visitors in our new apartment, Deborah's paternal grandmother and a 16 year-old paternal first cousin who is learning English. On this occasion, Deborah's grandmother gave to her, for our mutual enjoyment, a tea set that had been presented to her late husband by his company. It is levely, made from a deep purple clay (zisha or 紫砂) and adorned with an insect larvae as the handle of the teapot. Each handle, on the teapot and six cups with saucers, is shaped like a twisting piece of bamboo.

The day prior we had purchased an iron teapot for my little sister at Maliandao, the tremendous Beijing tea market famous across China. We will make gifts of tea to several friends on our trip home.

I am now in the midst of a great book, The Ancient Art of Tea, written by a Chinese tea expert from the West. It is a trove of wonderful information and poetry related to Chinese tea culture. The author, one Warren Peltier, says, "Presenting a fine gift of tea to your friend or host is seen as showing your esteem toward that person."

We are also preparing other gifts. Tomorrow, we will go fetch paper and a scroll so that I might make a gift to my favorite professor of a Chinese poem, in my own hand, about the ancient game of weiqi, or the Game of Go. He is a rather advanced player. I also bought him these stamps (for $1.50 or 10 yuan!). Who says a gift needs to be expensive to be meaningful?

The blind poet Jorge Luis Borges, a couple days after my fourth birthday, penned a poem about the Game of Go. Spanish was his native tongue and so I present the untranslated version here as a gift for my Spanish-reading friends, especially Jessie Mejia.

El Go
Hoy, 9 de septiembre de 1978,
tuve en la palma de mi mano un pequeño disco
de los trescientos sesenta y uno que se requieren
para el juego astrológico del Go,
ese otro ajedrez de Oriente.
Es más antiguo que la más antigua escritura
y el tablero es un mapa del universo.
Sus variaciones negras y blancas
agotarán el tiempo;
en él pueden perderse los hombres
como en el amor o en el día.
Hoy, 9 de septiembre de 1978,
yo, que soy ignorante de tantas cosas,
sé que ignoro una más,
y agradezco a mis númenes
esta revelación de laberintos
que ya no exploraré...

Monday, August 12, 2013

On Chinese Rain

New Hampshire friends, I am very sorry to hear about the tragedy in Manchester last night. It is not dissimilar from what happened in Penacook/Boscawen a few years back. I hope we will learn that the answer is not armored cars for local police departments, but mental health policy changes and alertness on the part of clergy, mental health workers and all of us.


Li Shizhen Collects Medical Herbs
The Chinese word for rain is 雨 or yue. Yan mo (淹没) is the word for flooding by forces of nature. Ancient Chinese classified water based in its apparent source, either sky or earth. The sky waters were called "heaven's spring." Li Shi Zhen in Outline Treatise of Materia Medica listed 13 types of sky waters and 30 types of earth waters each with its own medical use. (from Warren Peltier, Ancient Art of Tea, 2011, pp.34.)

On Thursday afternoon, Deborah and I will alight at Beijing Airport, which saw hundreds of delayed flights yesterday due to flooding as well as the death of a worker from a lightning strike. This summer has been a bad one for rain in China, especially my former home in Dongbei (Northeast China).

"By Friday, pounding rain in Heilongjiang and Jilin provinces, as well as the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, had caused flooding and affected 2.28 million people, according to the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters.

"Floods have ruined 1.07 million hectares of crops and plants, resulting in direct economic losses of 6.6 billion yuan ($1.08 billion), according to the headquarters," according to a news report in China Daily. Last week, I learned that China has moved its grain production over the last few decades from the Yellow River to the three northeasterly provinces of Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang. That would be like the US giving up on Indiana and Nebraska and moving all grain production to New England. Yikes!

One of the things that China can be very proud of is that through long-term efforts, it has successfully fed nearly 20% of the world’s population with less than 10% of the world's cultivated land. The main products include rice, corn, wheat, and soybean. China's average yield of grain is among the top in the world. In 2005, the total planting area reached 104.3 million hectares, and the aggregate production exceeded 484 million tons, among which the production of rice, wheat, and corn was 180.6 million tons, 97.5 million tons and 139.4 million tons, respectively. This number has grown in the ensuing seven or eight years, but now about 1% of China's total cropland has been flooded.

Reasonable prognostications by experts in agriculture and water indicate that the situation will only deteriorate. If you want to read more, visit

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Is Racing to Adopt "Transition Fuels" a Perilous Idea?

The Lesser of Two Evils is Still Evil

It is interesting to read Keith Schneider's rationale for China adopting the same transition to natural gas from coal strategy that has taken place rather organically in the unfettered markets of the United States (well, there are some subsidies back in the US of A, but in the Summers-ian, Geithnerian, Paulsonian, Bernakeian economy there is still less interference than in "Communism with Chinese characteristics"). Mr. Schneider is positively giddy in his reports about the wonderful things that have happened in the Rust Belt and Ohio Valley because of natural gas' precipitous rise in America.

I am very skeptical about anybody dismissing those of us opposed to the Keystone XL project and shale gas, in general, as DNA (Do Nothing Anywhere) Americans. There are lots of reasons to oppose this shift from coal to natural gas. Just today the Old Grey Lady speaks about Kalamazoo and Mayflower as precursors to future disasters. While that may be speculative and/or reactionary (c'mon Fukishima couldn't happen again, right?) there is a bigger reason to be skeptical about not letting China burn its coal:

The coal will be burned anyway. If China does not burn it, they will export it to Africa and the developing world. Warren Buffet is already making moves to ready North America for the exportation of its no longer needed coal resources...and the ports might somebody be convertible to LNG terminals, as well.

Until the economic community gets real about rebound effect (Jevons' Paradox) and removes all corporate gains from efficiency savings from the corporations' and the public's pockets, we will spiral towards a climactic climatic disaster! I am not optimistic about this happening if Obama appoints Summers to the Fed, but that is a convoluted political sidebar issue stemming from my fear of Larry's chronic macroeconomic orthodoxy.)

Blessing a fuel shift to the lesser of two evils would be the moral equivalent of my organization giving its blessing to Haier, GE, and Maytag for the production of combined washer-dryer units, because they are not producing two white goods for families, just one. Either scenario is completely unsustainable. As much endogenous energy as there is in two obsolescing large appliances, the energy just one and certainly both would use over their lifetime(s) is still the bigger concern--just as the water that a nuclear power or other thermal plant withdraws over its 40-year expected life is more significant than the water used to build its concrete reactor vessel and/or cooling towers. I shudder to think of a world where Godrej has delivered just one washer-dryer unit to ever hamlet in India...never mind one to every household therein.

Note: All emission estimates from the Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions
and Sinks: 1990-2011
The natural gas and petroleum industry is three times worse than coal in terms of emissions, according to my understanding of the EPA data (US Methane emissions by source). Methane, even if the Massachusetts-tested PG&E lasers can cut down on leaks, is 72 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 10 year period. Our 100 year-centric carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) accounting system should not forget that the 20 year global warming potential (GWP) of methane is 72, which means that if the same mass of methane and carbon dioxide were introduced into the atmosphere, that methane will trap 72 times more heat than the carbon dioxide over the next 20 years! 

It is very Seventh Generational thinking to be concerned about a 100 year horizon, which is a laudable mode of thinking, but most of us are legitimately worried about a 20 year horizon or maybe 50 years in terms of our own health...and the planet's. Even as I write this, I live in a city (Beijing) where the PM 2.5 is over 300 ("hazardous") at Xizhimen North Street air quality index measuring stationIt is extremely dangerous for me to go outside, but don't be fooled by the media's post-Olympics focus on China's capital--there are many other cities here that have just as bad or worse air. Those of you who have the benefit of living in a better air environment should be careful before condemning the whole developing world to ozone (smog) levels like we are seeing today. Continuing to exploit fossil fuel (coal or natural gas) is penny-wise and pound foolish.

Perhaps, I am jaded and "transition fuels" are a good idea, but I need to be convinced that keeping the developing world from exploiting shale gas and allowing them to use ever diminishing amounts of coal is worse than letting them burn through the shale gas while other parts of this largely undeveloped world exploit the coal. Maybe what I am suggesting is draconian, because it keeps the second-tier developing nations (i.e., African republics, the ones who will use the coal if the BRICS opt for natural gas/methane/CH4) from immediately becoming frenzied consumer cultures like the China that I am witnessing. 

I support Bill McKibben and those opposed to Keystone XL, because not allowing the natural gas industry to develop quickly is the only feasible pathway to a lower carbon future that I see. I hope the Chinese government gets real about policy suggestions for addressing Jevons' paradox; confronts Haier about making washer-dryers; and does not move to a "transition fueled" economy, enabling it to enrich itself by selling coal to second-tier Third World nations. It will be the end of the world as we know it.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

English Mass at St. Joseph's Cathedral in Beijing

Among the roughly 15 million people here, Catholics are said to number only around 60,000 and are served by four cathedrals (informally named for each of the cardinal directions).

Our bishop is one of the few recognized by both the Catholic Patriotic Association and the Vatican. His name is Joseph Li Shan and this is his seal:

Last Sunday, as I plan to do tomorrow, I attended Mass at St. Joseph's Cathedral, the second oldest Catholic church in Beijing--sometimes referred to as the East Cathedral. There is an English Mass at 4 PM. Here are a couple pictures from inside the sanctuary.

Friday, August 9, 2013

BEN & BEER in the North Capital

One of the hotbeds of foreign expert activity in China is the Beijing Energy Network's (BEN) Beijing Energy & Environment Roundtable (BEER). The Beijing Energy Network (BEN) is a grassroots organization with a mission of promoting knowledge sharing, networking, and collaboration in understanding and tackling China’s energy and environmental challenges among individuals and organizations from diverse sectors such as government, finance, industry, media, advocacy, think tanks and academia.

This week I was able to attend a very interesting round-table along with about 80 other folks, the vast majority of whom were waiguoren (foreigners). The panel was featuring:

  • Jennifer Turner, Director, China Environment Forum, Woodrow Wilson Center
  • Keith Schneider, Senior Editor, Circle of Blue
  • Jia Shaofeng, Deputy Director of the Center for Water Resources Research at the Chinese Academy of Sciences
Keith Schneider is senior editor for Circle of Blue—the internationally recognized center for original front-line reporting, research, and analysis on resource issues, with a focus on the intersection between water, food, and energy. Keith manages multimedia story development, reporting, editing, and production for Circle of Blue. His personal site:
Jia Shaofeng is the Deputy Director of the Center for Water Resources Research at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Chair of the Department of Water & Land Resources Research of the Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources Research at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Vice Chair of Special Committee for Water Resources at the Hydraulic Engineering Society of China, board member of China Society of Territory Economists.
Jennifer Turner has been the director of the China Environment Forum at the Woodrow Wilson Center for 13 years. She has created meetings, exchanges and publications focusing on a variety of energy and environmental challenges facing China, particularly on water, energy and climate challenges, as well as environmental nongovernmental organizations, environmental journalism, and environmental governance in China. One of her current projects is Choke Point: China—a multimedia and convening initiative uncovering how energy is impacting water in China. 

BEN asks that their speaker's remarks remain off the record unless the speaker(s) otherwise grant permission so I will not offer a report on what I heard, but here some links to the handouts and an article written by Jennifer and Keith, with two others, for Vermont Law School's environmental journal (!):
It is impossible not to editorialize generally about the way that switching to natural gas was portrayed as a huge victory for the climate. In fact, America is an out-sized consumer of energy, relative to its population, and simply fuel switching is, as Ozzie Zehner's book points out, not enough. We need to do some walking away from burning energy for anthropogenic ends. Choosing the lesser of two evils will still wreak havoc on the environment.

We must find a way, especially in developing economies, to take the earnings from efficiency gains out of the system so that we can avoid the untoward results, described by Jevons' Paradox. Otherwise, we are just inducing higher levels of consumption...which, by the way, is the stated goal for China of everybody from Premier Li Keqiang to former Secretary of Treasury Hank Paulson to Nobel laureate Paul Krugman

There are other opinions and thoughtful analyses, like this rambling rant in The Nation by Richard MacGregor sort of reviewing a book by Karl Gerth, but the "powers-that-be" seem to have made up their mind that a nation of Chinese consumers is inevitable and should be the goal. I hope to offer a future BEN talk on how Project Laundry List and the Least Resource Design Initiative might help. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Important Red Tape: New Requirements for Criminal Background Checks

Perhaps without an awareness of the extra cost of doing business, the Chinese government now requires schools hiring a foreign expert to have the individual obtain a certificate of no criminal conviction from their home country. I have created a guide to help foreign experts from the US (see below).

Anybody who has taught in the US has been fingerprinted and gone through a similar background check. I think it is great that the Chinese government is implementing this new system to insure that China does not become a haven for pedophiles or other criminals who should not be around or influencing children; however, I am not sure they anticipated the work and money involved in the full, proper implementation of this policy.

A Guide to Criminal Background Checks for US Citizens in China

In July 2013, the Chinese government passed stringent new rules for foreign experts. Among the new requirements for people working as teachers is the presentation of an affidavit or certificate of no criminal conviction. In order to obtain this, there are several steps that you must undertake.
If you are a US citizen and have not yet come to China, you may go to your municipal police department or state police barracks to obtain the needed document. The responsible agency varies from state-to-state; a list of the responsible agencies appears at the end of this document.
If you are already in China and your local criminal background certificate-granting agency does not require you to appear in person, you may send for the necessary document by mail.
In New Hampshire, for instance, if you are not able to appear in person, you must submit a form and fee of $25 (cost in August, 2013) to the Central Repository for Criminal Records at the Department of Safety, Division of State Police. The form requires a notarized signature and the signature of the receiving party, if you are having the report sent directly to your firm or some person other than yourself. The cost for the report varies from state-to-state.

To obtain a notarized signature in Beijing, the easiest thing to do is to submit a request for an appointment with the US Embassy, but this is costly. The cost to get something notarized there is $50 and they do not take personal checks so you must pay with U.S. cash, equivalent RMB cash, traveler’s checks or credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Diners Club, or Discover; U.S. dollars only). See for more details. If you live and work in another Chinese municipality, you may go to the local consulate, as well. For instance, in Changchun, you would need to travel to Shenyang to obtain a notarized signature. Expect for it to take a long time. My appointment for which I was punctual was for 10:45 (actually I was 15 minutes early) and I was not done until around 11:40.

The Chinese notary services, though local law enforcement may accept their signature (NH State Police said they would), proved, in my case, unwilling to sign and sent me to the US Embassy…of course, only after I had made a personal appearance with what they knew ahead of time were US documents.

The Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) is given to Board certified, non-criminal justice agencies such as schools, day care centers, home health aides, youth athletic coaches, and municipal government agencies. Individuals may also obtain a copy of their personal criminal record. Listed below is the contact information for requesting CORI in all US states.

Criminal Justice Information Center
770 Washington Ave, Suite 350
Montgomery, AL 36310
(334) 242-4900

Dept. of Public Safety Records Section
450 Whitter Ave, Room 103
Juneau, AK 99801-1745
(907) 465-4343

Dept. of Public Safety Criminal Records
2102 W. Encanto Boulevard
Phoenix, AZ 85005
(602) 223-2222

Arkansas Crime Information Center
One Capitol Mall
Little Rock, AK 72201
(501) 682-2222
Dept. of Justice Records Review Unit
P.O. Box 903417
Sacramento, CA 94203
(916) 227-3849

Bureau of Special Investigations
690 Kipling Street, Suite 3000
Denver, CO 80215-5844
(303) 239-4208

State Police Bureau of Identification
1111 Country Road
Middletown, CT 06457-9294
(860) 685-8480
Fax (860) 685-8361

Bureau of Special Investigations
P.O. Box 430
Dover, DE 19903
(302) 739-5901

Metropolitan P.D. Criminal Records Section
300 Indiana Ave. NW MPD HQ Room 3055
Washington D.C. 20001
(202) 727-4245
Dept. of Law Enforcement CJIS Services
USB/Public Records PO Box 1489
Tallahassee, FL 32302
(850) 410-8109

Crime Information Center
PO Box370748
Decatur, GA 30037-0748
(404) 244-2601

Criminal Justice Data Center
465 S. King St, Room 101
Honolulu, HI 96813
(808) 587-3279

Bureau of Criminal Identification
700 S. Stratford Drive
Ste. 120
Meridian, ID 83642
(208) 884-7130

Bureau of Identification
260 North Chicago Street
Joliet, IL 60432-4075
(815) 740-5176
Fax (815)740-4401

Indiana State Police
Criminal History Limited Check
PO Box 6188
Indianapolis, IN 46206
(317) 233-2010

Division of Criminal Investigation
215 East 7th Street
Des Moines, IA 50319
(515) 725-6066

Bureau of Investigation
Attn: Criminal History Section
1620 South West Tyler Street
Topeka, KS 66612-1837
(785) 296-6518 or 1-800-452-6727

Kentucky State Police
Criminal Dissemination Center
100 Fair Oaks Lane
Frankfort, KY 40601
(502) 227-8700
Bureau of Criminal ID & Information
265 South Foster Drive
Baton Rouge, LA 70806
(225) 925-6095

Bureau of Identification
State House Station 42, 36 Hospital Street
Augusta, ME 04333
(207) 624-7240

CJIS Central Repository
PO Box 32708
Pikesville, MD 21282
(410) 764-4501
Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) Services
200 Arlington Street, 2nd Floor, Suite 2200
Chelsea, MA 02150
Ph: (617) 660-4640
Fax: (617) 660-5973
Michigan State Police Headquarters
333 S. Grand Ave
PO Box 30634
Lansing, MI 48909
(517) 241-0621

Bureau of Criminal Apprehension
1430 Maryland Avenue E.
St. Paul, MN 55108
(651) 793-2400

Mississippi Department of Public Safety
Special Processing Unit
PO Box 958
Jackson, MS 39205
(601) 987-1212

State Highway Patrol
Annex Building
1510 East Elm Street
Jefferson City, MO 65101
(573) 526-6153

Dept. of Justice Identification Bureau
303 North Roberts, P.O. Box 201403
Helena, MT 59620-1405
(406) 444-3625

Nebraska State Patrol
Criminal Identification Division
3800 NW 12th Street-Suite A
Lincoln, NE 68521
(402) 471-4545

Nevada Department of Public Safety
333 West Nye Lane
Suite 100
Carson City, NV 89706
(775) 684-6262

New Hampshire Department of Public Safety
Division of State Police
10 Hazen Drive, Room 106
Concord, NH 03305
(603) 223-3867

State Police Records and ID Section
PO Box 7068
Trenton, NJ 08628-0068
(609) 882-2000 x2918

New Mexico State Police
PO Box 1628
Santa Fe, NM 87504-1628
(505) 827-9300

Division of Criminal Justice Services
4 Tower Place, Stuyvesant Plaza
Albany, NY 12203-3764
(518) 457-5837 or (800)262-3257

North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts
P.O. Box 2448
Raleigh, NC 27602
(919) 890-1000

Bureau of Criminal Investigations
P.O. Box 1054
Bismarck, ND 58502
(701) 328-5500

Civilian Identification
PO Box 365
London, OH 43140

Bureau of Investigation Criminal History Unit
6600 North Harvey Place, Bldg 6, Suite 300
Oklahoma City, OK 73116
(405) 848-6724

Oregon State Police
Identification Services Section
3772 Portland Road NE
Salem, OR 97301

State Police, Central Repository-164
1800 Elmerton Ave
Harrisburg, PA 17110

Attorney General Bureau of Criminal ID
150 South Main Street
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 421-5268

State Law Enforcement Division
P.O. Box 21398
Columbia, SC 29221-1398
(803) 896-7043

Attorney General Division of Criminal Invest.
500 East Capitol Ave.
Pierre, SD 57501-5070
(605) 773-3331

Bureau of Investigation
901 R.S. Gass Boulevard
Nashville,TN 37210
(615) 744-4000
Dept. of Public Safety Crime Records
5805 North Lamar
Austin, TX 78752
(512) 424-2079

Department of Public Safety
Bureau of Criminal Identification
3888 West 5400 South
Salt Lake City, UT 84129
(801) 965-4445

Criminal Information Center
103 South Main Street
Waterbury, VT 05671-2101
(802) 244-8727

State Police Criminal Record Exchange
P.O. Box C-85076
Richmond, VA 23261-5076
(804) 674-6718

State Patrol Criminal History Division
P.O. Box 42633
Olympia, WA 98504-2633
(360) 534-2000

State Police Criminal Records
725 Jefferson Road
South Charleston, WV 25309
(304) 746-2170

Crime Information Bureau
P.O. Box 2688
Madison, WI 53701-2688
(608) 266-5764

Division of Criminal Investigation
208 South College Drive
Cheyenne, WY 82002

This guide was prepared by Alexander Lee for New Oriental and is meant as a guide. There is no guarantee that the information in this guide is current or accurate. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

人山人海 "People Mountain, People Sea"

It has been many weeks since I last posted. I decided to leave my position in Changchun as Director of Studies for Perfect English's Adult Branch (aka "The Culture Club"), because I had been there for two and a half years and was ready for a new adventure.

I have left behind some fabulous students, who sent me off with great gifts of pu'er tea and a new handkerchief (just in time for I have had a summer cold for a week). The top English student in sophomore year at the top high school in Northeast China even gave me a traditional bamboo slat version of Sun Tsu's Art of War. I did not get a chance to say good-bye to my 13 year-old VIP student to whom I taught most of The Way Things Work and whom I helped prepare to pass the Grade 9 Trinity exam with distinction because he was in Canada and then Hainan for a rocket competition!

Deborah, my partner in crime, and I decided we wanted to see another part of the country before we possibly return to America...possibly together.

I will work for New Oriental, "the largest provider of private educational services in China. New Oriental teaches skills that give students a crucial competitive advantage in the workplace and help to improve their quality of life. Their wide range of educational programs, services and products include English and other foreign language training, overseas and domestic test preparation courses, all-subjects after school tutoring, primary and secondary school education, educational content and software as well as online education." End of corporate spiel.

I understand that I will get some opportunity as one of only a very few foreign experts employed by the company, to teach history, SSAT prep, and TOEFL classes for prep school-bound Chinese middle schoolers.

Deborah and I have moved into a fairly small apartment in the Dongzhimen neighborhood of Dongcheng District of Beijing (北京). The city's name translates into North Capital; Nanjing (formerly Nanking) is South Capital. I have visited the city probably eight times previously, most of which have been documented on this blog. I love it here and will continue to soak it up. I will be making a lot more money, but Deborah won't let me spend any of it...but we will get to that in a moment!

Lampan, Adils, and Torbjorn all assembled!
Tomorrow will be 91 F and today was hot, too. The air now at 1 AM is unhealthy with 157 on the 2.5 micron particulate matter scale. I am sitting in my new Torbjorn at my new Adils lit by my new Lampan, which are three of the five things that I was permitted to buy at IKEA. For the record, I am not a shopper, but I had never been to IKEA and it was an orgy of consumerism which I was eager to join.

While we waited for more than forty minutes for a taxi in the sort of Disneyland snaking queue that you also find at train stations and airports in China, the rest of the experience was just marvelous. We walked there from some ginormous five-story place where the cheapest desks started at 1000 RMB and then, at this Swedish mega-store, we spent less than US $100 on five fairly significant things. I have participated in the death of craftsmanship and enjoyed it. I have drunk of the cup of consumerism and reeled home to assemble an office with a screwdriver and bike wrench!

There is a saying in Chinese, "People mountain, people sea."  It was Saturday and there were thousands of people plowing through the circus, but some (more than the three pictured here) were tired!

Shoes off. Yuck!
Not just testing the pillow.
Mom and boy out cold!

Me posing with something I was not allowed to buy, but would have been a fun, retro way to display photographs. 
The first floor is a help yourself frenzy. 
This was the queue for the taxi or pedicab, if you dared.
It is now 2 PM. The crickets and cicadas are still chirping. The collective din of people's AC whirring and the swish of passing cars are all I can hear. I refuse to use the AC, just as I refuse to use the dryer function in our single-unit washer-dryer. It is enough that I enjoyed IKEA, is it not? I will follow the lead of the sleepers at IKEA and sign off.