Archive for November, 2006

Blighted Homeland

21 November 06

This doesn’t have anything to do with China, but I thought that some of my family from the 4 corners area of the US might be interested in this story I found in the LA Times.

Uranium mining was huge in the 4 corners – where Colorado, Utah, Arizona & New Mexico meet. I remember distinctly my father talking about his friends who worked in the uranium mines in New Mexico. I also remember hearing about tailing ponds that were lakes of viruntly radioactive material.  (I’m not sure that viruntly is a word, but you get my idea.)

The LA Times newspaper is running a four part series about this uranium mining and how it has affected the Navajo Indians in the area. The Navajo are a group particularly close to my heart and I was just horrified to read the articles. Again, another case of humanity’s reckless disregard for both the planet and her people.

Blighted Homeland 

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So Here We Are Again in China

21 November 06

As I posted yesterday, we’ve arrived! It seemed very natural coming back to China. I guess after our year here, I grew quite accustomed to the Chinese and the language. (Having lived previously 3 years in Toronto’s Chinatown helped, too.)

We spent our first day in Qingdao, meeting some of the head office workers and doing our visa medical checks. Then we explored the city a bit with our new Chinese friends – Ivan’s assistant in the Flight Operations Department, the girl responsible for getting our visas, and one of the company drivers. Qingdao is a very nice city located right on the coast of the Yellow Sea. The city has a German feel to it because the Germans colonized the area. It also has a modern feel because the city will be hosting the sailing events of the 2008 Olympics and there has been a lot of investment in building houses, apartment buildings, office towers and more. It seems to me like a great place to be in China. Unfortunately, we do not live in Qingdao, we live in Linyi, about 3 hours to the South.

The location is good for a flight school because Linyi has a small airport with only about 3 commercial flights per day, to Qingdao & Shanghai. This means that the ATC doesn’t have to worry about fitting the small trainer aircraft in between airliner landings and take-offs. (Although in the West this is no problem, in China small aircraft are a new thing and ATC likes to treat a Cessna 172 much like a Boeing 737.) There is also less pollution here because the area is not really industrial. (I’m not really sure about the pollution level yet because both days here have been cloudy with some fog. There is a high humidity level here.) The airport is also mostly owned by Shandong Airlines, which is the airline that the flight school is associated with. These things SHOULD make running a flight school easier.

The flight school is just getting started. We are here to witness and participate in the beginnings and growth of the school, which is very interesting. Since things are just starting, we are using offices in a building that belongs to Shandong airlines. To be honest, it is not new, nor is it very comfortable. The company plans to build their own office building, with classrooms, offices and dispatch area. DH is now the Chief Flight Instructor and Manager of Flight Operations. Me? Well, I haven’t figured that out just yet, but I will be doing some management work of the ESL department and some teaching. In fact, tomorrow I start teaching a class in Radio Telephony Communication – something I know absolutely zero about!

We are living in the airport hotel, and I am not sure if it has stars or not. Our room is small, but adequate, and it at least has heat. The TV has only Chinese channels. (They don’t even have CCTV 9, the Chinese English Channel.) Our bathroom is a pre-fabricated bathroom, exactly the same as the one I had on my Yangtze River cruise. It feels a bit like I am in a trailer when I am using it, but it is fine. The only problem is we haven’t figured out when the hot water is on. (The water was hot last night, but freezing cold in the morning.) As usual, the mattress is rock-hard. (We MIGHT get an apartment in the city sometimes soon!)

The airport only has one restaurant, which isn’t very good, but the good news is that the city is only a 5-minute cab ride away. We took a taxi to the city center yesterday and it cost us 17 Yuan (2 USD). So it is very easy to go to the city if we want to shop or eat. For now, all the company workers live in a few apartments in the city and the foreign instructors and students live at the airport. (Well, right now Ivan and I are the only instructors.)

Linyi is a small Chinese city, and in China, small usually means 2 to 3 million people and less sophistication and modernity. I’d say that is about right. The city resembles Shijiazhuang in some aspects, but I think that basic Chinese city layout is more or less the same. The traffic is crazier than Shijiazhuang, if that is possible. We are used to it, so no big deal. We are also major celebrities here. Everyone, I do mean everyone, stops to stare at us. We got quite a lot of hellos and goodbyes and even the occasional where are you from. I am really oblivious to the staring. It doesn’t bother me in the least, which is strange, I think.

Last night we were invited to eat dinner with the other company workers. We went to a restaurant in the city that serves traditional food. To our surprise, the restaurant was of the biological variety (the biological restaurant is the Chinglish name of a restaurant at the Shijiazhuang airport that resembles a greenhouse, full of plants and a meandering concrete stream with fish.) It turns out that these types of restaurants are common in China. I had no idea. Anyway, we were a large group, all Chinese except Ivan and I. We ate some really delicious food; I’d say the best food I have ever eaten in China. We toasted each other (a must in China) and tried to carry on conversations. Some could speak English, some only a little, and others none.

At Panam, we were among a large group of Westerners. We really didn’t have a lot of social contact with the Chinese. I’m not sure why. The culture within the school just put a lot of distance between the Westerners and Chinese. But not here. Here, I think we are going to have constant social contact. I have a feeling that my Chinese is going to improve drastically, because there is a lot less English spoken here and because we have closer relationships with the Chinese side of the company. I guess I shouldn’t have renamed the blog, because this time I think we really are going native.

Well, these are my first impressions, let’s see if they change any in the coming weeks.  I plan to update the blog everyday, internet connection and sneaky Tor-ing willing.

I Have Successfully Tunneled Under the Great Firewall of China

20 November 06

Ha! Take that Great Firewall of China! Thanks to Tor I am blogging all willy-nilly on a blocked blogging platform within China!! (Also thanks the Firefox – the google search bar is the only way I can access google!) I am quite shocked that there is a noticeable difference in the amount of website blockages in just the last three months!

See, after a long journey passing through 7 airports (Aviles, Madrid, Frankfurt, Shanghai Pudong, Shanghai Hongqiao, Qingdao & Linyi) I finally arrived to Linyi only to find wordpress blogs blocked within China. I panicked, until common sense sent me searching for a way around the censorship. I am glad to report where there is a will, there is a way! For those of you in China and in despair, Tor is your new best friend. It is seamless and integrated (and slow!) but you don’t have to go to a pesky proxy website everytime you want to visit a blocked site.
So I’m here, I’m online, and I’m okay! I spent most of the day figuring out how to blog freely, and now I am cold, hungry and ready to go home so I will be updating with news of Linyi and more tomorrow.

Welcome to On the Fringe

12 November 06

Welcome to my new blog, On the Fringe. For those of you coming from the Mindsay blog, you will find that I’ve already transferred all 200 blog posts here. Also, the comments have been turned on here, and you don’t need to register, so comment away if you like!

As I announced on Mindsay, the DH and I are moving back to China. We’ll be leaving on Wednesday. I hope to have access to the internet by the weekend so that I can update at that time.

Have a good week!

On the Fringe

12 November 06

On the fringe is in transition and is currently undergoing some major work. Stay tuned for the official opening.

🙂 Global Gal

Tell a Veteran Thank You

11 November 06

To all veterans, my brother & my father included, Thank You. (And to my Mom, too, as she just reminded me she serves in the Army Nurse Corps.)

From the Foreign Policy blog:

“Take a minute out of your day to visit Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project, which is collecting the oral histories of American soldiers.”

The Big Taboo – Toilet Talk

11 November 06

As a nurse, toilet talk has never been a taboo for me, but evidently it is for the rest of the world. I was reading Foreign Policy Magazine’s blog (which is great reading, btw), and learned that it is such a big taboo that millions are dying every year because they don’t have access to basic sanitation. For example, in Mumbai’s biggest slum there is only one toilet per 1,440 people. This is astonishing. This is the 21st century, for crying out loud.

An excerpt from the post:

“…a new report from the U.N. drives home the effects of 2.6 billion people around the world lacking access to a decent bathroom. More than two million children die each year of illnesses caused by contaminated water.

The problem, according to the author of the report, is that bureaucrats and politicians often don’t want to talk about toilets. Such topics are often just taboo. He told the NYT that “issues dealing with human excrement tend not to figure prominently…[on] the agendas of governments.” So, despite U.N. estimates that it would cost $10 billion a year (think about that in terms of most countries’ military expenditures) to cut in half the percentage of people needing clean water and a latrine, little at the government level is ever accomplished.”

What a Great Idea!

11 November 06

An Italian company has invented a cement that breaks down pollutants in the air. We need more innovations like this.

Slashdot blog says:

The effects are significant: ‘In large cities with persistent pollution problems caused by car emissions, smoke from heating systems, and industrial activities, both the company and outside experts estimate that covering 15% of all visible urban surfaces (painting the walls, repaving the roads) with products containing TX Active could abate pollution by up to 50%.’ Even more significant is that the cost is only 30% over that of normal concrete. Remarkable.”

For even more info, Business Week has an article.

Aren’t You Glad You Don’t Live in North Korea?

7 November 06

It’s election day in the US, or at least it will be in a few hours. Instead of talking about politics, I want to return to the topic of internet censorship that I brought up a few posts ago.

Reporters without Borders is organizing an online protest against internet censorship. They’ve highlighted the world’s worst countries in Internet freedom.

Here is what they had to say about China:

China unquestionably continues to be the world’s most advanced country in Internet filtering. The authorities carefully monitor technological progress to ensure that no new window of free expression opens up, After initially targeting websites and chat forums, they nowadays concentrate on blogs and video exchange sites. China now has nearly 17 million bloggers. This is an enormous number, but very few of them dare to tackle sensitive issues, still less criticise government policy. Firstly, because China’s blog tools all include filters that block “subversive” word strings. Secondly, because the companies operating these services, both Chinese and foreign, are pressured by the authorities to control content. They employ armies of moderators to clean up the content produced by the bloggers. Finally, in a country in which 52 people are currently in prison for expressing themselves too freely online, self-censorship is obviously in full force. Just five years ago, many people thought Chinese society and politics would be revolutionised by the Internet, a supposedly uncontrollable medium. Now, with China enjoying increasing geopolitical influence, people are wondering the opposite, whether perhaps China’s Internet model, based on censorship and surveillance, may one day be imposed on the rest of the world.

And North Korea:

Like last year, North Korea continues to be the world’s worst Internet black hole. Only a few officials are able to access the web, using connections rented from China. The country’s domain name – .nk – has still not been launched and the few websites created by the North Korean government are hosted on servers in Japan or South Korea. It is hard to believe this is simply the result of economic difficulties in a country which today is capable of manufacturing nuclear warheads. The North Korean journalists who have found refuge in South Korea are very active on the Internet, especially on the http://www.dailynk.com website.

North Korea really frightens me. Have you seen or read reports coming out of there? The people are probably the most brainwashed I’ve ever seen. A while ago I read in a Spanish newspaper a story about a Spaniard who somehow became a North Korean citizen. He came to Spain as a representative of North Korea. If you could read what he said you’d be shocked. He spoke about how NK is the best nation on the earth. Everything there is perfect. There is no crime, only comradely-cooperation. Everyone has food and a home and work. They don’t have the evil decadences of the West like TV, books or the Internet, and that is fine with them because they know they are better off. It was really disturbing.

Other “Internet Black Holes” are Belarus, Burma, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam.

These countries are judged to be black holes because a) the internet is heavily censored and/or b) cyber-dissidents have been detained or imprisoned.

Also, FYI, Yahoo is also a target of the protest because, according to Global Voices Online, “Yahoo! is a special target for RSF because the company’s has cooperated with Chinese authorities in investigations of journalists, supplying information that helped lead to the arrest of Shi Tao, a journalist serving a ten year sentence for “divulging state secrets abroad.””

This was a huge controversy when I was there. I also had personal encounters with China’s Internet censorship, thanks in a huge part to good old Google. I found that if you typed in certain search terms, you would get information different from other parts of the world, and sometimes, after one or two searches, Google would just not function anymore. (Especially when looking at images.)

One famous Google search blockage: Within China, if you type in “Tienanmen Square” in the image search, you will be greeted with photos of happy tourists posing in the square. Outside of China, this same search will lead you directly to photos of the infamous 1989 massacre. Most of my students had never heard of the incident. One student who has a great deal of family in the US, told me that he learned nothing of it in school, but a family friend who claims to have been there told him what happened. Our tour guide in Beijing told my family – we all know something happened here, but don’t ask me about it in the square because there are plain-clothed policemen listening.

If you should ever find yourself confronted with a blocked web page, do what I did everyday in China, visit Anonymouse and type in the web page you want to visit.

So Long, Saddam

5 November 06

Saddam Hussein has been sentenced to hang.

How do I feel about that? I don’t really like to talk about the impending death of anyone. I’ll be honest that I am a pacifist. I think it is difficult to be in the medical profession, especially in the role of a nurse, and not be a pacifist. However, I do not feel any sorrow for Saddam.

I’ve seen his handiwork in Kuwait. I was there after the first Gulf War and I saw firsthand what the Iraqi invasion did to the country. Saddam hurt his own people – the Marsh Arabs, the Kurds, all Iraqis – to an even greater extent. He is a mad, mad man and he deserves his punishment.

My time in China was blissfully free of reality. I hardly heard a word about the war in Iraq, and if I did it was in Chinese and I couldn’t understand it. I think to some extent I purposefully walled myself off from the war – I had internet access after all. Only recently have I started to listen to news channels again. Only recently have I paused on Iraq stories. Only recently did I find a world of blogs that shared Iraqi viewpoints. (Iraqis on Global Voices)

There are many horrific things happening in the world right now, and there are no easy answers to any of the conflicts. It is all so complex that I am reminded of why I chose not to pay attention while in China.
It all feels hopeless. The execution of Saddam should have brought a sense of justice to the Iraqis who suffered under his rule, but with no sense of calm, safety, nor end to the war, I’m afraid it is an empty victory.