Miles from Home

China Commentary– Youthful Musings on the Environment, Culture & Development

Archive for August 2007

Priorities

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“Officials do not like to be lined up and told how they are not meeting the leadership’s goals,” he said. “They found it difficult to accept this.”  — Academic researcher Wang Jinnan on why China’s provincial politicians abandoned programs promoting environmental responsibility.

“Face” is a bizarre concept.  Guide books harp on the cultural importance of face in Asian countries.  In reality, face is practiced in every culture.  No one wants to be seen in a bad light, looking foolish, or feeling inferior to others.  It’s self-promotion.  It’s instinctual.    Businessmen in America like to buy fancy cars, wear expensive suits, shower, shave, etc.  In most ways, face in China works in the same manner.  In some, it is strikingly different.

For all the nose-picking, public flossing of teeth, and loogie spitting, Chinese people actually do fret over public perception– an identity pegged to the Almighty dollar.  The pursuit of wealth is blatantly exhibited, and blindingly narrow-minded.  The hypnosis here has people jogging down the street on the way to the office.  There is money to be made; and thus, there is nothing else to do, nothing one could possibly afford the time to think about in this booming bordello of business.

In the span of two generations, the Chinese are going through what took the U.S. two hundred years:  rapid industrialization, urbanization, and economic growth at whatever the cost.  And there, on the corner, in the settling spue of fumes and acidic atmospheric fallout, sits my old buddy Mr. Environment.  Clothes tattered, holding out a business card, he’s looking for a chance– not garnering a second glance from passers-by.

In Taipei, whenever I would moan about the awful smog and soot, which literally stuck to your face like snowflakes, the Taiwanese would insist it was China’s fault.  Smog from all the dirty, unregulated coal plants hitched a ride in the jetstream and fell off in the valley basin of Taipei.  The problem is that this isn’t relegated to Taipei, to Taiwan, or to China’s metropolis-laden East coast.  This week’s NY Times feature reports China’s smog is falling on California– if one connects the dots, on the entire world.  And China doesn’t care.

Here’s an example of a very common mindset:  my new landlady.  She is an English teacher at an economics university.  One would figure such an educated person would hold rational views of the world.  Riiiiight.  She tells me that she has a knack for finding foreigners who will marry Chinese women, and pegs me.  I remind her of a past tenant who recently moved to Beijing with his Chinese wife and bought an apartment.  His father had just sold a business in the States and gave his son some cash towards the home.  “Small money,” she insisted.  “Very small money.”

“Oh,” I replied, feigning a look of polite interest.   She scribbles down $500,000USD on a piece of looseleaf floating around the table.  Number conversions are generally difficult between even well educated Chinese and Westerners due to a different measuring method, mostly counting by the ten-thousands.   “Wow, lucky guy.  Must be nice,” I concede.

“Oh no.  No, no, no.  Very cheap.  It is just small money,” she retorts half disgusted by my impression of the facts.  She insists apartments are cheap in Beijing relative to how much money foreigners have and make.  This is a widely held misconception here:  All foreigners are rich.  It makes sense, as many foreign visitors to China are business people with large amounts of capital looking to invest.  It also stems from the globalization of culture, half blocked by China, which specifically portrays America as Laguna Beach.

She goes on to tell me of her friend– “who was not very smart and not a very good student”– just got her master’s and is now making $180,000USD/year in the States.  This, to her, proved that half a million dollars was pocket change.   Here is where I took it upon myslef to prod the issue a bit, not impolitely, but just in an effort to plant a seed.  I took the pen and told her that most Americans make around $27,000 each or about $50,000 per household.

“What!!!” she exclaimed, and not in an asking manner, but in a way to show that I was an idiot and that she was clearly smarter than me.  She showed the number to her husband, a nice guy who obviously left his pants in the closet of the relationship years ago.  He giggled.  She mocked me.  And I sat there smiling, being ridiculed.  “That is for coffee and tea!” she chortled.  “Maybe that is just for coffee and tea.”

Maybe China needs to wake up and smell the coffee and tea.  Not everyone is rich.  Not everyone will be.  Not everything has a pricetag.  And not everything goes away when you ignore it.  With 750,000 people dying a year from pollution-related diseases, maybe the best place to invest is in healthcare.

Written by Miles

August 27, 2007 at 10:02 am

Free Speech and Modern Media Lynchings

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Never report old news.  The news is always now, or it doesn’t sell.  If an office burned down, what are the actors doing now?  Now.  Now.  And so, in my ever expanding distance from all that I have ever learned, I’m regurgitating old news.

It took two days and one post before my blog lodged itself in the firewall of Chinese internet streams.  Shocking, really.  Such a small fish as myself, such meaningless banter.  Too many, more than I’d like, of my current posts revolve around petty (tourist) observations.  They grow increasingly trivial, less poignant and increasingly isolated.  I find this infuriating, on an inner level where I answer to my own misguided aims.  Too many sentences start with “I.”  I, for example, just regained access to my man E’s blog, where he is discussing his research guidelines to his thesis.  That’s strong.  That’s a contribution.

Unique.  That’s all I want my words to be.  Often I have thought I made a mistake in creating this blog with a known identity.  Emailing links to family and friends.  For when I really want to push the boundaries and become explicitly honest with the issues of my life, even here I have left narrow margins.

Thus tonight, I stumbled upon the rogue miscreant I could have been.  Last year, unbeknownst to me, and hopefully to most of you, there was massive news from the Chinese blogosphere emanating out of Shanghai.  A 30-something year old British man had a blog entitled “Sex and Shanghai,” posting under the name Chinabounder.  Please, please google this.

Chinabounder is as much a myth and legend as any great story of lore.  Anonymous, no one knows his true identity. And this bandit, this Zoro, sliced through Shanghai and left it reeling, making off with its prize (women) and leaving the henchman (Chinese males) infuriated and alone.  His postings contain graphic descriptions of lustful encounters with local women, and loaded rants about Chinese culture.

His site became increasingly popular.  Some envied him, some loathed him, some agreed and some didn’t.  The site got so hot (pun) that it ignited an online lynch mob, lead by some Chinese professor and hoards of Chinese who believed this “immoral” foreign scum was defiling their women and attacking the hyper-nationalist Chinese identity.  So he went underground.  Everyone was left arms in air, searching through the murk of internet dead ends, trying in vain to discover the assailant.  Thousands literally wanted to kill him.

Then, miraculously, he reappears from the depths of darkness.  Sword blazing, nostrils flaring, steed on its haunches– he burst through his words.  This time, he was angry.  He blasted China, hard.  One final assault.  And then again, he vanished.  Off into the night and not a sound.

Fascinating.  Again, google it.  But what I really want to say is this:

Despite his interesting ramblings on women, most of what he says of Chinese culture I find to be relevant and honest.  Nothing infuriates like the truth.  Nothing forces people to go underground like the truth.  Nothing.  Being honest is a one-way ticket to the bottom of the pile.  The jealous, weak-minded conformists ascend.  That’s why this world is going to shit.  A witch-hunt for a guy because he sleeps with women?  Or because he says Chinese men are sexist posing autocrats?

It reminds me of two things.  First, my good friend Marc in Taiwan who once said to me that he doesn’t adhere to any notion of cultural differences.  Just because its someone’s “culture” doesn’t mean it has the right to exist.  Small scale:  Chinese people not knowing how to wait in a damn line and mauling into the subway car before others have exited.  It just doesn’t make sense.  Broad scale:  Cutting off a women’s head in the middle of a soccer field because she left the house without a male escort.  That isn’t culture.  It’s brutality.  It’s absurdity.  The veil needs to be removed from the entire global population.  There is right and wrong and it is blindingly easy to see.

Two.  It reminds me of Ward Churchill’s post 9/11 “technocrats” comment and the current cultural blacklisting of the new book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.

Why these two things?  How in the world are they related?  Freedom of speech.  Honesty.  Cultural whitewashing and complacency among global citizens.

I don’t know if this blog will survive my time in Shanghai.  I do not know.  Maybe I will fade into insignificance, or maybe one day I will have something I deem important to say and be silenced.  I hope, then, that my rantings and ravings will be as noteworthy, as controversial, as provocative and enraging as the work of Chinabounder.

Written by Miles

August 19, 2007 at 4:57 am

Something to Laugh At

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I poached this idea from my little buddy Tyler in Taiwan. I’ve been dying to post his inspirational St. Petersburg video, but it’s burried in some obscure realm of Youtube and he isn’t returning my email. So, here’s a little dose of humble tourism.

Written by Miles

August 16, 2007 at 4:35 pm

Can’t Cuff Me, China!

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I’ve only been able to access to my blog about once a day, in little five minute windows. The shift change of the internet police. Perhaps it has something to do with rule #3 on…

Welcome, and Shut up

So today, I found a little loophole. My roomy, quite the character by the way, put me onto a little internet web-hackery. And presto! We’re back in the game, free from the crackdown on internet freedom. Ah, personal expression, how I’ve missed you!

One week in the books. Accomplishments thus far? Nearly getting into a fistfight with one of the staff at the Foreign Student Office at my new university. Brushing a little dirt off my bowling technique. Tons and tons of stampeding onto and off of the subway. Plus a good deal of more functional and less interesting minutiae.

Things I do not miss from Taiwan would include the hairless zombie street dogs, stinky tofu vendors parking in front of my building, poor piping (Taiwanren you know what I’m talking about), gray on gray on gray, pollution so bad it burns my eyes, rampant binglan abuse, err… and some others.

Things I do miss? Never thought I’d admit to it, but 7-11. You couldn’t walk 30m without running into a convenient store or two in Taiwan! And now, nothing. I miss cold drinks. Don’t let it fool ya when the Chinese put drinks in a refrigerator, it’s not on. I miss taxi drivers who don’t make it seem like they’re doing you a favor when you get in. I’ve been kicked out of a taxi here because the guy didn’t want to bust a u-turn.

All in all, I am adjusting. I’ve been out rockin’ a few nights. I’m settled in a bit. And I am– ba dam ba da da– lovin’ it.

Written by Miles

August 16, 2007 at 3:58 pm

China isn’t the only one spying

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I find it disconcerting how many people are jumping onto Facebook.  I remember when Facebook was cool, when it was designated to each university, before it sold out.  It’s like people spending out the nose for Lacoste again, after we all wore it as kids growing up when it cost pennies.

Written by Miles

August 13, 2007 at 3:42 am

Already???

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As you have probably noticed, China is banging on my blog. I cannot upload images.  The images I had, seem to be gone.  So, give me some time to figure it out.  It may be my connection speed or it may be the Evil Empire and Darth Vader…

Written by Miles

August 12, 2007 at 7:51 am

Proud Mary Keep on Burnin’

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Happy 21st Birthday little Bethy Boof!!!
Third night in Shanghai. I spent the entire day moseying along city streets, block after block, until my legs felt like I went from 25 to 43-year-old Barry Bonds in one day.

I came back to the hotel to find my little second floor nest of a room perched directly above some type of raucous banquet. I was waiting for a new friend to call, if she was going to go out tonight. I decided come dinner time to head back to my fancy-pants Italian restaurant I had eaten at last night.

It’s a short walk from the hotel. I first saw it as I passed by in a taxi, a classy facade with those three special letters– restaurant and “B-A-R.” Last night, I enjoyed a particularly delicious tomato sausage rigatoni and a few JW Blacks on the rocks. The bartender and manager are both from the Philippines, as well as the four female singers who perform each evening.

Mind you, this is a classy restaurant way out in the burbs of the city. Clientele is limited. So when I walked in again tonight, it was to cheers all around. After my meal, a scrumptious chicken penne, and a few Tiger drafts, the place was empty except for myself and one other customer. By this point, I had already struck up quite a camaraderie with the staff and the singers. I love Filipinos. They know how to sing and entertain, and just live. Just have fun.

Next thing you know, I am on stage, belting Creedence tunes and odd early 90s tracks like TLC’s “Waterfalls.” Classy, huh? The girls drag the manager up, and the other patron, and we’re all having a blast. It took me a while, to let it sink in, that here I am two days removed from Taiwan on stage at a 5-star joint (all to ourselves) singing TLC with two sexy, sexy Filipinas… honestly, is this real?

Written by Miles

August 10, 2007 at 5:14 pm