Thursday, April 11, 2013

Food Issues

Lotus Root
Valerie asked me to write more about food and what I eat. Tonight for dinner, I will have ground pork in lotus root with er liang mi fan (0.1 kg of rice) and a side of broccoli with garlic and too much oil. I will get the battery to my camera replaced and then do some videos and more colorful pictures. It has been pineapple season for quite some time now, but when I fried up some chunks with rice for lunch with Deborah, my girlfriend, she was surprised that it tasted good. Yet, I gleaned this idea from visiting Chinese restaurants at home!

People here eat out a lot, at least among the foreign contingent. There is less variety of international cuisine, but a greater variety of Chinese cuisines. Last night for dinner, we shared a half jin (0.25 kg) of a leggy frog in a hot pot with leafy greens, potatoes, mushrooms and black fungus. It was yummy. Deborah insisted on adding meat (lamb, in this instance), because "you cannot have hotpot with out meat. It is strange." That said, I have gained a lot of weight since coming to China. I thought, at first, it was wheat so I gave that up again, but it has made little difference. Maybe because I eat much more meat (and not grass-fed!) than I did in America.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Woman Who Is Always Cooking

In a different iteration of my life, I would have expected to see a woodpecker when I opened my blinds, but the rat-a-tat-tat of a large knife was the cause of this mornings very perceptible sound. I knew already what the cause was: The sound of women chopping the stuffing for dumplings is the music of early mornings in Northeast China. What surprised me, though, was that this sound was coming from far away. I look out from my fourth floor apartment across the roof of a three-story building at the balconies of several apartments. I have named  the woman in one of these apartments: the Woman Who Is Always Cooking. She is not there at this moment, which is aberrant; however, on most mornings and afternoons when I look across she is cooking something or throwing her trash out the window--a medieval habit that I detest.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Beautiful Hereafter

Chinese embrace eco-burials

BEIJING - Chinese traditionally believe that souls may rest in peace only if their bodies properly buried underground in coffins. But today, many are becoming open to other options, like scattering ashes in the sea or inlaying funeral urns in walls.

Ahead of this year's Tomb-Sweeping Day, a holiday that falls on April 4, a citizen surnamed Huang in East China's city of Nanjing went to a cemetery to commemorate her deceased father by burning paper in front of an osmanthus tree, the same tree under which his ashes were buried.

Tomb-Sweeping Day, also known as the Qingming Festival, calls for surviving relatives to tend to the graves of their loved ones by leaving food and liquor at their burial sites, as well as by burning fake money as a form of offering.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

State of the Climate...Debate (in China)

It is appalling that a US Representative, elected by the people, holds the belief that anthropogenic (human induced) climate change is not a big problem. That there is a need for the NCSE in the United States is a sad reminder of the ignorance that I left behind when I moved here more than two years ago. Asked "Is the earth's climate changing?" 49.9% of [American] respondents said, "Yes, I'm convinced," and 33.5% said, "Probably yes, but I'd like more evidence," while only 8.5% said, "Probably no, but more evidence could convince me," and only 7.6% said, "No, there isn't any solid evidence." ( Yet the 16.1% have a lot of sway in the halls of our democracy.

In China this "climate debate" is non-existent. A combination of the focus on science in the education system and the hegemony of a secular (atheist?) state mean that Creationists and so-called "climate-deniers" are not given a spot at the podium--the nonsense is back-benched. Instead, another problem exists: corruption. Sinopec does not fight the science; they fight the financing of the necessary changes in policy. The euphemism used by the New York Times in an article entitled As Pollution Worsens in China, Solutions Succumb to Infighting is "infighting," but the article lays out the real problem:
The state-owned enterprises are given critical roles in policy-making on environmental standards. The committees that determine fuel standards, for example, are housed in the buildings of an oil company...Fuel standards are issued by the Standardization Administration of China, which convenes a committee and a subcommittee to research standards. They each have 30 to 40 members, almost all of whom are from oil companies... 
Dire predictions from Deutsche Bank about the expected number of cars on the road by 2030 mean “a strong government will to overcome the opposition from interest groups” is necessary to begin the work that must be done.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The New Pope and China: Healing Time

"He is absolutely capable of undertaking the necessary renovation without any leaps into the unknown. He would be a balancing force. He shares the view that the Church should have a missionary role, that gets out to meet people, that is active ... a Church that does not so much regulate the faith as promote and facilitate it." 

-Francesca Ambrogetti, who co-authored a biography of Bergoglio

The first Jesuit pope and the first from Latin America (not the first non-European, but "the 11th non-European pope in the church’s history, and the first in 1,272 years") has the potential to heal the rift between the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), or 中国天主教爱国会, and the Roman Curia.

"Former" Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin
Choosing a new Secretary of State will be one of his most important early tasks, "given the dreadful mess the last Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, is considered to have made of it. Cardinal Bertone was seen to have accumulated too much power over the Vatican’s finances for himself and close associates, as well as presiding over the Holy See’s calamitous diplomatic relations, which in the past two years have broken down with Beijing," reports The Independent. This break-down in diplomatic relations has centered around the CPCA's desire to appoint bishop's without Vatican approval. An AP article published in The Japan Times lays out the challenges and the hopes of some Chinese Catholics. The other issue that has dominated the conversation between Beijing and the Vatican, since their formal break 50 years ago, is Taiwan and the "one China Policy."

The rift between the Roman Catholic Church and China pre-dates the ascendancy of the Communist Party. Some readers will remember an earlier post of mine that treated the issue of so-called "Chinese Rites" and the response of the Kangxi Emperor to the itinerant orders and Pope Clement XI's papal bull, Ex illa die. Of course, this is ancient history, but Ricci is still a central figure for Chinese Catholics. Like the new pope, Ricci was a Jesuit who thought that allowing the Chinese to continue ancient Confucian practices, like the celebration of ancestors on Tomb-Sweeping Day, was not contrary to being Catholic. More than a hundred years after Ricci's death, Clement XI sided with the Dominicans and other itinerant orders more fundamentalist point-of-view. As a result, the Kangxi Emperor said that Christians were no longer welcome in China because they cause trouble.

Today, the Chinese government rejects exercise of any authority by organs of the Catholic Church outside China. This has been their position since 1949, the year communists gained power over all of mainland China.  CPCA, which was founded in 1957, thus does not recognize the proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Pope Pius XII in 1950, canonizations from 1949 onward (e.g. the canonization of Pope Pius X), Vatican declarations on even well-established devotional piety (e.g. on the Sacred Heart of Jesus or on Mary as Queen), and the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965). There are still card-carrying members of the CPC who believe that only atheists should be allowed to participate in the governance of China, but that is quickly becoming an out-moded way of thinking.

It will be interesting to see what Xi Jinping does. He and the Pope do have some commonalities. There are likely to be many sarcastic commentaries in the coming weeks, such as Anthony Tao's at Beijing Cream. My hope is that more serious people will work diligently to bring a fragmented Church closer together.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Drying for Freedom in China

As most of my readers know, in 1995, when I was an undergraduate at Middlebury College, the speaker at a peace sympoisum that I had organized, Dr. Helen Caldicott, gave a speech. In the company of my high school mentors, Bud and Barbara James, I had heard her speak in Newburyport, MA, in 1993. Both experiences were significant for me and eye-opening. In Newburyport, she plucked an infant from the arms of a young mother and asked if the child would be a down-winder. It was in Middlebury, though, that she made a statement which truly changed the course of my life: "If we all hung out our clothes, we could shut down the nuclear industry."

For the seventeen or eighteen intervening years, a great deal of my free time and even a couple year of poorly remunerated employment have been devoured by Project Laundry List. Still, I left--and not on Sabbatical, either--in 2010 and came to China in February of 2011 to teach English. My departure came as a result of several frustrations, which I won't cover in this post, and, because, after 15 years (nine of them in Concord), I was ready for a new adventure.

In the year following my departure, the board moved slowly to hire a new executive director and finally, just over a year later, they hired somebody. Unfortunately, poor health led to his resignation about a month ago and I have stepped, perhaps too boldly, back into the breach.

The board had essentially dwindled to one or one and a half semi-active members and so the first step I took to breathe some life back into the group was to approach some wonderful old volunteers to join the board of directors. We now have a board of six and hope to double that in the coming months. Volunteers, like the woman who said she was willing to publish our newsletter, who had heard from nobody in two years, have been approached and are getting actively engaged again. I set up a Skype number and have been re-connecting with dozens of volunteers and supporters. It has been rewarding and fun, but I do not intend to continue at the current pace.

Our Facebook presence has continued unabated, thanks to a wacky volunteer from Seattle, whose creative attempts to bolster "likes" and meaningful engagement, as well provide moments of joy, have succeeded. Somebody else has created a Pinterest page and we are talking about how to leverage YouTube and other social media.

Serendipitously, the filmmakers who tailed me half way across the nation for the 2009 Clotheslines Across America Tour have scheduled a grassroots festival of Drying for Freedom screenings to begin on National Hanging Out Day (April 19th). This has given us something to rally around and focus on as we seek to get North Americans re-focused on the tremendous amounts of energy wasted on bad laundry practices. I will participate in screenings in Changchun, Jilin, CHINA; Wolfeboro, NH; Concord, NH; and, hopefully, in Exeter, NH, and Boston, MA. Local supporters are helping with all of these venues and dozens more.

We will be having a board meeting on Tuesday, March 19 at 9AM Eastern Standard Time. I hope that if you are interested in joining the board, doing a screening, or contributing to the cause in dollars or hours, you will be in touch. Thanks!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Beijing Redux

We had a lovely trip to Beijing, though the housing situation was less than ideal. At first, the four of us were in one hostel, but Deborah and I decided to move to a (cheaper) hotel where the room promised to be a little warmer and the smell of sewage did not permeate the air. [The overall air quality of Beijing during our visit was tolerable. We really lucked out, in that respect!] Our two friends continued to brave it at The Three-legged Frog, where the people were very nice and the service was good. It was, in fact, a fairly charming place and would probably be wonderful in the warmer months.

We arrived in Beijing on the morning of February 9th. The TV show that the whole country tunes into begins around 8:30PM and goes well past midnight. We shivered in our room after a nice day of wandering about Tian'anmen Square and the Quianmen area.

The pictures below show Deborah and I in front of the Great Hall of the People, in front of Tian'anmen with Mao's mug betwixt us, in front of the first movie theater in China, and finally in front of the original Quanjude Peking Duck restaurant. We would eat there later that evening and one of our number won four boxes of monogrammed chopsticks by participating in a dumpling stuffing activity.

On the first day of the Chinese New Year (Sunday, February 10),we went to the Forbidden City. You could spend a year there and not see it all. I did not take many pictures, but will share one of great beauty, one of great symbolism and one of great humor:

It was very cold for Beijing and this cat had found a warm manhole cover seeping with steam.

On the last full day there, we also went for a swim in the WaterCube. There are no pictures of that (thankfully), but here we are standing in front of the Bird's Nest, designed by Ai Weiwei for the 2008 Olympic Games.

While our companions went to the most touristy, accessible section of the Great Wall at Baodaling, we toured the campuses of Tsinghua University and Peking University. This is me in front of the Peking University Law School.

Deborah and I were both impressed by the large number of bicycles. "It's like the olden days," she remarked.

The best part of both campuses were the lakes. I had seen the one at Peking University on my summer trip, but the skating scene at Tsinghua University was positively out of Currier & Ives. The red litter comes from the abundance of fireworks lit off at this time of year for celebration of the new year (look for a post soon on the Year of the Snake). 

We saw an amazing show of Chinese acrobatics called Legend of Jinsha.

The most impressive segment included five motorcyclists barreling around in a steel ball.

When we arrived on the 9th, Qianmen was dead. I felt sheepish that so many things were closed, but the days ahead saw an explosion of people and we estimated that there were 500,000 people in Tian'anmen on the 13th of February. With security such as it is in the square, I could not get enough height to really show the magnitude of humanity waiting in various queues.

A small section of Tian'anmen Square on Feb. 13, 2013.

The crowds at Qianmen (next to Starbucks) on 2.13.13.