Friday, October 14, 2011

The Waking Red Phoenix: Solar Dreams

The dragon and the phoenix are yin and yang in Chinese lore. Here are some articles on China and solar, nuclear, and wind issues, debacles, and opportunities. Only the first article in the list is not related to energy directly. The last article only makes passing mention of China in its last paragraph, but I include it, because it puts in sharp focus the reasons for taking an interest in these debates. The expected, projected rise in demand here, and in India, is frightening. 

Andrew Jacobs' piece is interesting because it shows the strength of the Chinese government's resolve to safeguard the environment. On the other hand, they may just shift the problem to another community.  "Government officials promised to relocate the plant after 12,000 residents took to the street."

I don't know enough to comment on Solyndra or the WTO issues, but I predict these will be the central contentions between the US and China in the weeks and months to come.

Aaron L. Friedberg considers the growing Sino-American rivalry and calls for the U.S. to project hard power to counter China’s rise.

China Shuts Solar Panel Factory After Antipollution Protests
Since last Thursday, the factory, JinkoSolar Holding Company, has drawn hundreds of protesters who blame the plant for fouling the local air and water.

China and India will consume 31 percent of the world’s energy by 2035, up from 21 percent in 2008, the Department of Energy predicted. 

Solyndra and the China Blame Game – Venture Capital Dispatch – WSJ – As we watch U.S. solar start-ups go up in flames, it’s easy to blame China. On Thursday, in light of the federal investigation into now-bankrupt Solyndra, Reps. Henry Waxman (D., CA) and Diana DeGette (D., CO) asked the House Committee to examine whether heavily subsidized Chinese solar companies are skewing the market, and making it impossible for U.S. manufacturers to compete.

Questions abound about whether China will be a savior for the international nuclear power industry or a ferocious competitor. 

The Obama administration gave the World Trade Organization a list of 200 programs, some in solar and wind power, that it said may unfairly benefit Beijing. 
Trees, natural carbon sponges, help keep heat-trapping carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. But insect and human threats are taking a heavy toll on them. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011


I awoke at 4:30 AM, met Shannon (my intern), and we hailed a cab to the bus station on Remin Da Jie. It would have been a cold walk. We waited there for the other nine people--colleagues and their partners--and boarded a bus at 6 AM to go to Changbaishan.

The mountain represents the mythical birthplace of Bukūri Yongšon, ancestor of Nurhaci and the Aisin Gioro Imperial family, who were the founders of the Manchu state and the Chinese Qing Dynasty. The name literally means "Perpetually White Mountain Region" in Mandarin Chinese. Koreans consider Mount Baekdu (their name for it) as the place of their ancestral origin and as a sacred mountain, one of the three "spirited" mountains; the one contained in the legendary foundation of Korea. From the beginning of history through the Three Kingdoms period, to the Goryeo and Joseon Dynasties, Koreans have spiritually depended upon the “divine” mountain. There were plenty of them at the mountain..even some waiting with us in this line. You have never seen so many people!

Yup...and over-run with humanity.

The mask is for warmth or is she afraid of the fresh air?

There were hundreds of these vehicles hurtling up the switchbacks, screeching their tires on the sharp turns and slamming the faces of tourists against the windows as we sought to take pictures of the extraordinary scenery.

Largest crater lake in the world! Might be the highest mountain I have ever been atop, as well.

You are considered lucky if you can see the lake and we were blessed with clear days and seriously cold temperatures.

If you look carefully, you can see Kim Jung-Il standing on the other ridge behind me. He is very small.

This is called an environmental bus because it uses natural gas. This is how you get up the first half of the mountain before transferring to a jeep.

It was lovely in the aspens...and cold.

I was amused by the juxtaposition of this couple standing on stones at the edge of this stream and the sign that warns "No Nearing." I think they could not get nearer.

Shannon Brien (PEA '11) and Alexander Lee (PEA '93) posed for a picture for
The Exeter Bulletin
at the waterfall near Changbaishan's north entrance.

Hundreds of people took our picture, because white people are a curiosity, but when I went to take a picture of these adorable twin boys, the shy one headed for mama.

Everywhere there must be a plaque.

The three characters in the upper-right mean Chang (Long) Bai (White) Shan (Mountain).

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

On blogging, kiwi berries, and cabbages

Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife
Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

This activity--sitting down to write a few words that intrigue readers half way around the world and trying to say something original and relevant while sharing my own photographs--is inherently self-indulgent. One of my occasional readers brought this to my attention with his usual tact. As I contemplate spending another two years here, I am not sure if I can continue apace with my updates, because I am busier and I want to keep my nose clean.

Lord knows, there is much to write about with the Dalai Lama unable to attend Tutu's 80th birthday, with the brother of Liu Xiaobo visiting him in jail, the "yuan bill" being debated in the US Senate, the gift of arms from my country to Taiwan, etc. One cannot open a newspaper without being mired in stories about these things.

Fantastic as it may have been, I had a higher hope that this could be a forum for educating Americans about our biggest adversary and strongest ally. The Middle Kingdom remains a fascinating place to live at this point in human history. This blog is not particularly revelatory for those who already live or work here for part of the year, but I hope it offers a glimpse of life half a world away. Waking Green Dragon had about 400 readers when I left and that number has not grown exponentially. I need your help in spreading the word.

On a lighter note, a couple of my friends have taken to teasing me about my obsession with the new fruit varieties that appear each week at the fruit stands here. Some fruit is sold by vendors on the street with a yoke and two baskets. From one of these women, I bought kiwi berries and, from her second basket, black currants. Yum.

Finally, I would like to offer a couple pictures of my buildings courtyard at this time of year, which are filled with drying leeks and Chinese cabbage. The usual detritus of a city that only recently installed trash cans and recycling bins swirls around in the courtyard as well. Yesterday morning, I encountered one of the hundreds of orange-vested, broom-carrying street sweepers scraping dust and plastic wrappers and all manner of dirty litter up to the edge of one person's pile of leeks. All of these will be eaten in soups throughout the winter after being meticulously cleaned by Chinese housewives. Most people here have much bigger things to worry about than a South African birthday party. I do not mean to belittle the issue, but such debates are far from the consciousness of the madding crowd here.

Getting ready...for what?

Yesterday, in the hallway of the third best high school in China, where I teach middle school and high school students once a week, I stopped to look at some pictures of the middle school kids at basic training. Everyday, during their half hour break at 9:10 AM, the students at this school and virtually every other school in China, as far as I know, parade out into the quadrangle for marching exercises. This is just the light duty, though. At a couple different points during their academic career, these students have to play dress-ups and actually spend a couple weeks in basic training.

A friend of mine, who has had to participate in these exercises of late (two weeks, I think), is ready for them to be over. She knows how to make her blanket into a tofu, though, which is the vernacular for making a bedroll. They make her stand for hours at a time, too. I wonder what these long-haired intellectuals and top science students are thinking about while they drill. Do they romanticize battle scenes where they get to impale Japanese invaders or American imperialists? Or do they think the whole exercise is a ridiculous gesture? My girlfriend, who had to go through this herself when she was in college, said that they are taught that everybody is responsible if China faces a threat. What is the threat? Isn't militarism itself the threat?

Daily mid-morning exercises at Shi Da Fu Zhong, Changchun, China.

You can see at least one cadet in purple and one in sky blue. This is a block from my house at Changchun Technical Institute. The sign on the building in the upper right-hand corner is for a locally famous hot pot restaurant.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Of Huns and Hans

On Saturday, I took a three hour bus trip, which ended up being 4.5 hours, to Jinshanling--a section of the Great Wall of China in Hebei Province. I went to the Summer Palace on Friday. More on that in a subsequent post. I want, first, to share the experience of visiting a place that was built starting in 1570 AD during the Ming Dynasty.

It really was remarkable. On the tour bus were Swiss, Austrians, and Germans, as well as an expatriate from Switzerland who was married to a woman from Lichtenstein. They live in South Africa and run an inn. There were also some Yanks and Brits, Flemish folk and Russians. We all enjoyed it immensely.

The remarkable "crooked house" construction at some points, which has stood the test of time, impressed me. Look closely at the upper reaches of the railing in this first picture and you will see that the bricks were not stacked atop each other, but rather leaned on top of each other. Each stone had to be carried up the mountain, which is why our funny little tour director said they call it the longest cemetery in the world. I saw no bones, but it required no imagination to muster the scene of poor men and donkeys hauling up stones for the protection of the empire from...the Mongolian invaders.

Though I am a bit reticent to complain, the annoying part of visiting this "wild" section of the wall was the large number of unemployed Mongolian farmers with backpacks full of T-shirts and Red Bull and bottled water for sale. They would follow you like fleas for ten minutes until you shewed them away, at which point they spent a minute trying to get you to buy a book or postcard as a memento. The going rate for a pint of water is about one yuan; these farmers were asking ten at some spots along the way.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Boy George, Why I am Not Going to Australia, etc.

Some of you who read my earlier post may have misinterpreted what I said. I am staying in China and not going to Australia. So why mention Australia at all? Because in the previously referenced Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, he says that he is moving to Australia because it is far, far away. I am not moving to Australia, because I don't want to be far, far away. With Skype and the Internet, I can stay in touch and we can remain virtually close.  "It is just not the same." I agree, but I will make a sojourn back to America in January or February 2012 and hope to see many of my faithful readers then.

I am staying involved with the Stop the Northern Pass! campaign and I am excited to see that Lynch is not going to be in a position to negotiate more bad deals for New Hampshire, like ripping up our forests and damaging our tourism industry by making the Granite State a highway for electrons bound to Massachusetts and Connecticut. Let's hope Gov. Pete Shumlin of Vermont (ahh, poor Vermont!) wakes up and realizes that getting hydro from the Maritimes is no better. The only way we are going to end our dependence on electricity is to halt the endless growth model and materialism that D. H. Lawrence decries in Lady Chatterley's Lover--the book I finished reading last week. (There is quite a bit more excitement in that book, by the way, if you have not read it.) We need to learn to say no, instead of, "Please, suh, can I have some more." (Yes, I know that is Dickens.)

I am staying here to accept a challenge more considerable than staying warm in the infamous Manchurian wintertime. (In other words, I am not staying here for a girl, as some have asked.) I will manage a new entity called The Culture Club. The late Jack Murray, who was the founder of Perfect English and its headmaster when I arrived here in February, endowed it with this name and so we will move forward thus, bowing, of course, to Boy George and the Second British invasion. A large number of important decisions have been made without my input, because I hemmed and hawed for months about whether to step up to the plate--two years seems, and seemed, a considerable commitment. One such decision was to inscribe on the marquee above our door the words Culture Club (even though we are THE Culture Club) in almost the same font that Coca-Cola uses. It is a sight to behold!

The purpose of The Culture Club is to provide a fun and entertaining environment to practice English with other non-native speakers while preparing our members and students with the necessary skills to travel abroad. In other words, I am going to show chop-stick users how to use the sinister fork. My mother's diligent training will finally pay off. If I am successful, hundreds, maybe thousands of Chinese people will know that the blade of the knife is supposed to face towards you when you set it down to the right of your plate.

In all seriousness, I will be working with a visiting student (Phillips Exeter Academy Class of 2011) and my colleagues at Perfect English Training School to develop programming and curriculum that will engage our existing clientele and new members. When the World Series rolls around (and the Red Sox are beating the Yankees), we will turn on the boob-tube, do reading-for-comprehension with Casey at the Bat, and practice listening with Abbot & Costello's Who's On First? Come Yuletide, we will teach carols and old standards. You get the idea.

For instance, it is terrifying for some Chinese to arrive in a foreign country and not know that you actually have to drive on the correct side of the road and stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk so we will familiarize people with America's car culture. To date, I have taught a couple dozen people how to play International Chess and Texas Hold 'em, as well as led a few discussions. It has been a lot of fun and will only get bigger and better.