Friday, April 1, 2011

The Problem of Libya

One Expatriate's View of the Situation

Let me say first that I love America. I shed tears when the 4Troops sang the National Anthem on the Mall of the Capitol on October 31 at a rally I was attending. While I have previously alluded to the fact that my patriotism is more akin to that of Wendell Berry than Joseph McCarthy, I committed myself to the poisonous vicissitudes of the New Hampshire Primary between 2004 and 2010 because I think the people we elect make a difference. Politics is not just about your daughter playing the piano or your son coming up from fishing in the brook; it's about the role of nation states in stopping violence and despots.

Second, let me say that she makes some pretty damn stupid decisions sometimes. Though I would rarely find cause to consult with Congressional leaders if they were men like John Boehner, I do think the President acted without duly adhering to our Constitutional requirements and over-stepped. At first, I thought it was another moment of meticulously orchestrated brilliance where he could allow himself to be the fall guy for a bad decision, sparing Gates and the rest of the team, including Congress, from the blame of taking us to war. Now, I am not so sure that was the plan.

Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi is a disturbed, sick man. Though not quite beyond a reasonable doubt, some blood from Lockerbie clearly and convincingly stains his resume. We do not yet know the full extent of his diabolical activities...but for the Watchman, we may never.

Nevertheless, men are capable of reform and other men should be capable of forgiveness. We cannot overlook the despotic ruler's past transgressions or let our guard down against future mischief from the bizarre, insular, radical revolutionary commander, who at age 68 seems to still have the piss & vinegar of his only true ally, Hugo Chavez (a dozen years his junior). On the other hand, I do not think we should prosecute a war because of what happened a distant moon ago.

Women, despite the rape that the propaganda machine has focused on this week, have fared better under the liberal, Libyan regime than under most of the neighboring nation-states, including some of America's allies.
From a purely amoral, utilitarian stand-point, the Senators who asked what the game plan is for succession demonstrated a keen understanding of the problem that the world will face if Libya is de-stabilized and the Colonel removed. I tend to find myself in strong agreement with Hu Jintao, the President of China, "[H]istory has time and again proved the use of military force is no answer to any problem, but, complicates the problem." Hu emphasized that the ultimate solution lies in "dialogue and other peaceful means."

The other utilitarian question that seems to arise from my senator, Hon. Jeanne Shaheen, and others is whether we have a strategic interest and whether we need to take a central role in the fighting, since NATO is sufficiently prepared to carry out this misadventure without our overt, direct leadership.

Secretary Hillary Clinton clearly drove the behind-the-scenes push for air strikes, because she understood the guanxi it would give America among is allies--notably, France. The United States government has been prosecuting its own oil wars for a decade with reticent support from these allies. This gives the US a chance to say, we will protect your strategic interests if you support protecting ours. France needs Libya's oil as badly as we need Iraq's and Kuwait's.

The bigger problem with the strategy we have adopted is whether it acts as a recruitment strategy for Al Qaeda or similar groups. The United States--no saint in regards to human rights violations itself--enters as policeman of the world, causing resentment and stirring up hatred with potential allies as large as China and Brazil. While setting sail for Libya was a big step for China, as noted in The Economist, its steadfast commitment to peaceful resolution of the conflict after this initial action is admirable and should garner notice for Hu Jintao from the same committee that gave Barack Obama and Liu Xiaobo a $1.5 million US dollar prize.

The Twilight Zone: Thugs Do Demolition

Just when you think, okay, I can adjust to this strange land. Things are not so different here. People are not so different around the world--we all want the same thing. Just when you think, nothing can surprise me...not even the sandstorm that darkened the skies yesterday, not even the car coming the wrong way up my one-way street. Just then, you read the news and, oh boy, you wonder where on Earth you are:
Liu Shuxiang, 50, was buried under the rubble of a collapsed building when dozens of excavators and several hundred gangsters holding sticks torn down 14 dormitory buildings of Changchun Film Studio on March 26 in Changchun, capital of Jilin Province...Some residents were dragged out of the buildings by the thugs, who didn't have enough time to remove Liu from her apartment. (Forced demolition death sparks an investigation)
This is the kind of story that the expression, "What the fuck?" was invented for. I mean, it says hundreds of gangsters holding sticks. FUBAR.

It also says, "Officers at the local police station told the newspaper they weren't aware of the incident or the victim."

In Beijing last weekend, walking toward the Temple of Heaven, I watched a car flip over and the bloodied teenager crawl out. I watched the whole thing (from screeching wheels to final resting place) with a suspended sense of disbelief and then plodded slowly down the sidewalk to the car to make sure he was okay. A crowd had gathered, but the police did not come...and did not come. Now, this was Beijing. You cannot walk a minute without seeing a police officer in a grey, a dark blue, or a light blue uniform (three layers of public safety officers to keep you safe); however, when somebody is actually in need of a doctor...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Tribute to Alice

"Are you content?" asked Alice.

"Most of the time, but not always," I said.

"When are you not content and what makes you not content?" asked Alice, who runs a small tea house a few yards away from the Far East International Youth Hostel.

I answered with a short list of things which we need not explore in this space. Conscious that I "should" be elsewhere voraciously consuming the ancient history of this magnificent, crowded city at places like The Temple of Heaven, the Great Wall ("you have to see the Great Wall!" sayeth the World), and the Beijing Opera, I was nevertheless content to sit and drink five or six different kinds of tea with Alice and her various guests. On Saturday afternoon, another Alex was there--a Chinese recruiter for PWC.

"PWC?" I asked.

"Price Waterhouse Coopers," Alex said. We exchanged contact information. I handed out business cards like candy in Beijing and, especially, on the train, where there were likely to be people interested in learning English, who live in Changchun and have money for private lessons.

You can get everything you need at Alice's tea house...

Alice's husband, who is a "very honest man," stands like a terra cotta warrior in a very funny moment shared by me and two community college students from California who are here on the first ever Chinese program offered by a community college.

My Chinese Name is Li Zhe

This weekend I went to Beijing by train. It took about 9.5 hours on the night train and I set out around 10PM from Changchun in a whirling blizzard that wrapped the train station in a thin veil of snow.

I spent the day on Friday at North Park and then inside of the Forbidden City. I bought some artwork (two scrolls) and had a stamp with my Chinese name inscribed in traditional characters. The seal has the characters for my real surname (Lee) and the Chinese name that my colleagues gave to me (Zhe). The handle is a double dragon. Li Zhe is a play on words. Some students gave me the name Li Changchun, because I already have a Chinese surname and because I live in Changchun. There is a very well-known Communist Party bigwig named Li Changchun so that name really would not do. Zhe, which means double lucky and smart, is the character for Jilin Province, where Changchun is located, repeated twice. It is a good name.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Happy Beginnings

Yesterday, I went for my fourth massage. It was a foot massage. I have had a two hour massage and a one hour massage and a ninety minute hot stone massage previously. This is the kind of mindless nonsense that people post to Facebook and expect people to care about so I will try to say something more profound about the experience and why I have been so self-indulgent.

To the descendants of Pilgrims and Puritans at home, still trying to build a City on a Hill, I want to give my assurance that there have been no "happy endings." While such diddling is widely available, I am told, it holds no appeal for me. On the other hand, there are few things more enjoyable than having your ears massaged (they do this strange flicking thing, actually inserting their fingers into your ears, completing the exercise with a suction caused by lightly boxing your lobes) and there is little more satisfaction to be had in life than when your shoulders are reduced to rubble by the sharp elbows of the masseuse or masseur.

This is something I could ill-afford in America, but it is preventative medicine and I will keep on with it for a few weeks until some of the residual knots of my American existence (I was a Democrat in New Hampshire) work themselves out. Right now my neck is sore and my feet hurt, but I am sure this will all disappear with time. Day before yesterday, I left my phone on the seat of a cab and had to chase him down by foot to retrieve it. I am pretty fast for an old man, but my hip is still somewhat stiff today.

I will be looking into acupuncture and regular yoga practice, too. It is not uncommon to see people doing taichi in the parks here.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Firewater & Smallpox Bar coming to a town near you...

If I really wanted to make light of past atrocities, I might open a Firewater & Smallpox Bar in Minneapolis or a Hitler Youth-themed kindergarten in Munich. Fortunately, some capitalists in China are already a few steps ahead of my dark and creative inner-marketing genius. David B. says that there are a proliferation of restaurants like the one we visited in every city in China.

On my day off, I called David B. and Andy. We wended our way down Longli Lu and across Remin Da Jie on to Yue Yang Jie where there is a restaurant that is supposed to bring one back to the throes of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). For those of you who did not pay attention in social studies or who never got exposed to this lovely chapter in Chinese history, I recommend the BBC's informative site. The waiters and waitresses here are dressed as Red Guards and the food is reasonably affordable. There are parrots and other talking birds for ambiance. On your way out, for three quai, you can choose between matchboxes with an image of Mao or, strangely, Chiang Kai-shek.

My friend Andy remarked that it felt like a Rainforest Cafe inside--kitschy and malapropos. Our experience was disrupted by two young waitresses arguing in loud voices behind us. I sort of wondered if this was for effect, but it seemed quite heated.

I ordered soup that appeared from the pictures in the menu to have blood sausage in it and then a second dish of bee pupae, which were the bee's knees. Really! "Battered and deep fried, the smallness  anything besides make you revolted. If the pupae and the heaviness of the frying process pretty much renders these things tasteless except for the saltiness and crispiness of the batter." (8 Bizarre Chinese Foods and How to Eat Them)

David had not even ordered before my food arrived, the order punched in on a hand-held, phone-like pad. The Great Swimmer looks over David's shoulder.
The bird worked intently through the evening to get through the metal sheath and furiously lick the iron pipe beneath for its ferrous fix.
Changbaishan Hotel

A few nights prior, Jason and "E" joined me at one of the top three (read, most expensive) eating establishments in the city. For 400+ RMB, which is about $70 US, I had goose leg accompanied by a colorful salad, preceded by sea cucumber soup. I passed up the opportunity to eat some of the other local specialties:
Many people come to sample the more exotic dishes that Changchun produces, which contain such ingredients as deer antler, bear's paw and snow toad, and the city specialty of deer's tail. If you are really not into these "exotic" foods, you can try potent Ginseng Chicken cooked with Maotai wine, a local dish that uses the famous Chinese liquor. (Changchun Restaurants)

The elegant carving of a goose from a white radish was one of the charming accompaniments to the meal. The salad contained the black shelf fungus for which Chang Baishan is well-known.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Changchun Steps Up

On Fridays, I teach eight classes of roughly sixty students at one of the top high schools in China. In fact, one student from this school last year got a full ride to MIT.

Last week they watched Ronald Reagan in a GE advertisement from 1957 and the trailer to Drying for Freedom. This week, I plan to discuss nuclear power, earthquakes, and whether (and why!) China should help Japan.

I am very pleased and proud that the city where I live and the province, as well, are among the first local governments in China to rise to the occasion.
Local governments in northeast China's Jilin Province on Monday pledged to donate money to the Japanese areas hit hardest by last week's destructive earthquake as rescue work continues.

The provincial government of Jilin will donate 100,000 U.S. dollars to the prefectural government of Miyagi while the municipal government of Changchun, capital of Jilin, will donate 500,000 yuan (76,900 U.S. dollars) to the municipal government of Sendai, local officials said. (Local Governments in NE China Donate to Japan's quake-hit region)
Extent of Manchuria
When I discussed the Japan tragedy with two of my favorite people here, I was disappointed by the glee that they seemed to express. The Manchurian Invasion and the Rape of Nanking (the highest rated comment on this YouTube video right now is one that says, "Enjoy the earthquake and the tsunami, you descendants of murders and rapists!") are still fresh in the memory here.