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 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.