Archive for May, 2007

Project Censored

31 May 07

Expand your mind a bit with the top 25 censored stories of 2007. Among the stories are:

  1. Future of Internet Debate
  2. Halliburton Charged with Selling Nuclear Technologies to Iran
  3. Oceans of the World in Extreme Danger
  4. Hunger and Homelessness Increasing in the US
  5. High-Tech Genocide in the Congo
  6. Federal Whistleblower Protection in Jeopardy
  7. US Operatives Tortured Detainees to Death in Afghanistan and Iraq
  8. Pentagon Exempt from Freedom of Information Act
  9. The World Bank Funds Israel-Palestine Wall
  10. Expanded Air War in Iraq Kills More Civilians
  11. Dangers of Genetically Modified Foods Confirmed
  12. Pentagon Plans to Build New Landmines
  13. New Evidence Establishes Danger of Roundup
  14. Homeland Security Contracts KBR to Build Detention Centers in the US
  15. Chemical Industry is EPA’s Primary Research Partner
  16. Ecuador and Mexico Defy US on International Criminal Court
  17. Iraq Invasion Promotes OPEC Agenda
  18. Physicist Challenges Official 9-11 Story
  19. Destruction of Rainforests Worst Ever
  20. Bottled Water: A Global Environmental Problem
  21. Gold Mining Threatens Ancient Andean Glaciers
  22. $Billions in Homeland Security Spending Undisclosed
  23. US Oil Targets Kyoto in Europe
  24. Cheney’s Halliburton Stock Rose Over 3000 Percent Last Year
  25. US Military in Paraguay Threatens Region

As far as I can tell, many of these stories come from known newspapers and organizations. Whether you agree with their findings or not, it is always valuable to read something from different points of view.  Project Censored is a media research group with Sonoma State University. They track news stories printed in independent journals and newsletters, pointing out the most underreported stories in the mainstream press.

Living Like a Local

31 May 07

So you just ran into a fellow foreigner in China? 10RMB says the first question out of their mouth will be some variation on: “What are you doing in China?”

Most foreigners come here to teach English, others come to study Chinese, many are businessmen in town for a few days to inspect factories and supervise work. It is a rare delight to find a foreigner doing something different here. “You don’t teach English!?” We often get the surprised face when we tell people we teach Chinese students to fly.

Today I read a blog, Ben’s Blog, written by an American after a different experience in China. He decided to work in a Chinese barbershop for a month, earning the local wage and doing all the work of an entry-level apprentice. It does make for some interesting reading. How’d you like to wash hair and sweep the floors for 600RMB per month? ($78)

I found this blog on China Daily, the website of China’s English language newspaper. The reporter praised the blog because it offered something different from the usual “run-of-the-mill expat blog bleating about how great that all-you-can-eat teppanyaki place was last Friday night.”  Which is, you know, basically what my blog is all about. Hey, what’s wrong with run-of-the-mill?

XinJiang Dinner

30 May 07

An expat friend here once told me that his life in China was basically wasting time between big meals. While I wouldn’t say that is descriptive of my life, I can definitely relate. One of our most common recreational activities is eating out. There is just so much good food to be eaten, and at Chinese prices you can’t say no.

Last night I ate at a XinJiang people restaurant. XinJiang is China’s most Westerly province. It is harsh desert land and is populated by people descended from the Turks. They are also called Uyghur people. Uyghurs are Muslim and they are famous throughout China for their barbecue and meat dishes. You will not find pork in a XinJiang restaurant, but you will find amazing kebabs and beef & lamb.

I don’t have any pictures, but try to imagine this. The night air is cool, a welcome relief from the high temperatures we have been experiencing lately. We sit outside, where there are a few tables set up on the sidewalk. There is a speaker next to the table blasting Uyghur music – very reminiscent of Middle Eastern music. We are five people – three of which are known for their hearty appetites. (Two Chinese, One Brit, One Spaniard & One American.) Food is ordered on a very empty stomach – maybe not a good idea. Before long, the entire table is covered in food. (Literally!) A plate of empanada like bread pockets with lamb & onion inside. A plate of raw garlic. A plate of french fries XinJiang style (Fries covered in a popular spice mixture). A plate of lamb kebabs. A plate of stir-fried beef with chilies and vegetables. A plate of stir-fried lamb with vegetables. Another plate of stir-fried lamb with vegetables (but different from the other). A plate of deep fried lambchops. A plate of thinly sliced lamb with croutons (so much better than the description). A plate each of chewy noodles with vegetable topping. A plate of XinJiang bread. Tea and beer all around. Are you getting the idea that there was a lot of food?

What was interesting about eating in a XinJiang restaurant for me was that even though we were in China, with two Han Chinese and altogether three people who speak Chinese, there was still some communication problems. Uyghurs speak a different language entirely and may not be very fluent in Mandarin. It made no difference to me, since I speak neither Chinese nor Uyghur, but it seemed odd that our Chinese friends also had difficulty.

4 Stars for the XinJiang restaurant. Looks even better now that there is some sort of pig disease driving up the cost of pork in China.

The Penthouse

29 May 07

Recently I was joking with a friend about the fact that I live in an 8 bedroom penthouse apartment. Maybe it is hard for you to imagine, but trust me, it is not the lap of luxury. Our apartment is very big and very spacious, but it is not plush. I’ve uploaded some pics so you can see what the place looks like. We are located away from the city center, across the river. Rent is something like $100 per month.

Downstairs Hall


Upon entering, this is the first thing you see. It is the hall that leads to 3 bedrooms.
Our bedroom is on the left and has its own bathroom.

Kitchen


To the right is a dining area and the kitchen. This kitchen is not the most useful. The cabinets are too short for most of the people who live here, and the DH has hit his head on the exhaust fan more than once!

Downstairs Living Area 2


To the left is the downstairs living area. The couch and chairs are better suited for an office, as they are extremely uncomfortable! We’ve got the computer connected to the TV and this is where we usually watch DVDs, documentaries and movies in the evening. One of our flatmates installed a surround sound speaker system, and with the huge space, it feels like a cinema.

Laundry Area


Beyond the living area is the laundry room and a place for hanging clothes to dry.

Downstairs Living Area


Another view of the downstairs living area.

Upstairs Living Area


The upstairs living area. This area is a bit smaller than the downstairs and it is usually flooded with light. However, being the attic of the building, it is also quite warm. Good in the winter, terrible in the summer.

Upstairs Hall


The upstairs hall leading to four more bedrooms and a bathroom. The eighth bedroom is directly behind.

Balcony


The balcony. We bought a barbecue pit and had a party here a few weekends ago. In the evenings, this is the best place in the house. The last week has been really hot and it is great to sit up here and admire the stars. I hope to get some lounge chairs and plants up here soon.

Rooftop View


The view from the balcony out to the river.

All of these photos were taken in February, shortly after we moved in. Now we have some trees and plants to liven things up a bit. It is definitely more lived-in now. All together we are 5 people living in the apartment.

Although not plush and full of furniture and tschokes, it is home and I am happy with it. I am not sure what kind of Chinese family would live here. Perhaps it is meant to be for an extended family. A couple, a child and two sets of grandparents and maybe an aunt or two could easily live here.

I Love Food Markets!

28 May 07

Today I was reading an essay in my Saveur magazine (which I receive digitally) written by a woman obsessed with grocery shopping. She seeks out local markets and independent shops in order to fulfill, as she says, her spiritual need for community, faith, hope and transcendence.

While I am not sure visiting a market exactly equals a spiritual experience for me, I do love them. I love how they can be so chaotic and full of local people picking out dinner. I love how there are so many colors and varieties of food. I even like the smells – sometimes! What I like the best is the hint of fabulous dishes that can be created from the humble ingredients found in them. I’ve been to lots of interesting markets in Egypt, Kuwait, Costa Rica, Spain, Kuala Lumpur and China. I even lived in a neighborhood made up of small shops called Kensington Market in Toronto, Canada. There is no better way to buy your food than from a fresh, local market.

Here are some photos of the food market in Lijiang, Yunnan Province, China.

Lijiang Market 1

Lijiang Market 2

Our guide Mamie. She is from the Naxi minority people.

Lijiang Market 3

Blood Sausages – Kind of creepy looking, but I bet they are delicious.

Lijiang Market 4

Lijiang Market 5

Many different kinds of dried mushrooms & fungi

Lijiang Market 6

Lijiang Market 7

Lijiang Market 8

Lijiang Market 9

Market baskets

Lijiang Market 10

Noodles, dried fungi & a cat

Lijiang Market 11

I think those are pork rinds.

Lijiang Market 12

With my apologies to the vegans & vegetarians – what would a market be without the unsettling displays of meat? Sometimes you can get an amazing anatomy lesson just by browsing the cuts of meat.

What I’m Reading/Watching/Listening To…

25 May 07

With a nod to the Foreign Policy Blog Passport’s What We’re Reading, here is what I am reading/watching & listening to now: (Check out Passport’s reading lists for some GREAT reading!)

Reading:

  • “The Ambler Warning” by Robert Ludlum – Because I love spy novels! Technically, I’m listening to this one as I have it as an audiobook.
  • “Fast Food Nation” by Eric Schlosser – Part of my continuing quest to understand the American diet and where our food comes from.
  • Here There and Everywhere – an expat blog written by an American in Kuwait. It offers lots of interesting insights into life in Kuwait as well as very good looking recipes!

Watching:

  • Season 3 of Lost, episodes 1 to 3 – I love this show, but I hadn’t seen any of the latest season. The mystery and wonder is still there.
  • Spiderman 3
  • A whole slew of documentaries from PBS’ Frontline

Listening to:

  • A lot of Tracy Chapman
  • NPR’s Fresh Air podcast as often as I can get it to download

My intention is to have this become a reoccurring weekly post – a review of things I’m reading, watching & listening to, and what I think of them.

The Future for China

25 May 07

No doubt you’ve heard that China is exporting all sorts of exciting chemicals in normal household products and foods, in order to liven things up a bit. I mean, who wants regular old toothpaste when you can have toothpaste that shares ingredients with anti-freeze?! You can even get it in your cough syrup! Why feed your pets plain old purina when they could have enhanced kibble and melamine bits?!

America might be astonished, but I am not. Corruption can and will lead to all manner of truly horrendous things. Corruption is not isolated to China, but it seems to be more rampant here than anywhere else I have been. And it is not just American pet owners and Central American cough syrup purchasers who are suffering because of it. Corruption kills thousands, every day, right here in China.

From last year’s benzene spill in Northern China to the everyday chemical run-off and dumping, China’s rivers are ribbons of waste and foul. Save a few in the deep south, such as the Li River in Guangxi Province,  they are so toxic that fish no longer survive and there are entire cancer villages springing up along their shores. Go ahead and take the no-longer-scenic Three Gorges cruise. Just try not to look too closely at the gruel floating alongside your boat.

Illegal coal mines dot the Chinese interior. When they burn and explode, as they do almost daily, their owners grab the cash and flee the country, without even bothering to  notify the rescue crews because they fear getting caught. Illegal coal burning power plants pop up like corn shoots all across the industrial belt South of Beijing. They don’t even bother with emissions reducing scrubbers. So the surrounding land is permanently bathed in a brown, ashy cloud? The managers and owners have the local officials in their pockets, and they can all afford to escape to crystal clear skies whenever they want.

The victims, as always, are the peasants. Mao aimed to bring an end to the feudalism that ruled China for thousands of years, to serve the people. Now a new feudalism rules the land. The power of money and greed are the new values.

China faces a bigger battle than we can imagine. The foes? Unbelievable, pervasive corruption. So-called harmony fees (bribes) are a way of life. Local officials do whatever they can to enrich themselves at any cost. Environmental degradation. How can you prosper when you can’t even breathe or grow anything in toxic land? The widening gap between the rich and poor. Deng Xiaoping told the Chinese people to enrich themselves. But at what cost? The peasantry – the have-nots have seen the glittery audis, plush apartments, new nikes and alcohol fueled feasts of the haves and they are not happy. Morals and values. Rodney Dangerfield isn’t the only one – not even the elders get respect anymore. The Confucian backbone of China is weakening as the commercialized and consumer driven youth forget or ignore or don’t get taught the lessons of the past.

China faces a long march forward – but she’s survived in the past and I hope she can this time, too. I point out these problems because I want China to succeed. I want China to emerge from the  detritus of the past 60 years triumphant – and free. There are too many good people and too much history for it to be any other way.

The Invasion of the Manti

24 May 07

Those villagers in Southern China aren’t the only ones who have had to endure weird invasions lately. A few months ago, the DH and I invested in some plants for our apartment, in order to make the vastness seem more homey. Among our picks was a nice rubber plant. I put it in our bedroom window since I was told these plants like lots of light. We lovingly cleaned the leaves and watered it regularly and it really thrived. Then one day I noticed there was a strange looking growth-like bump on the trunk. I couldn’t recall its presence there before, but I figured it was just a knot from where a branch had been cut off. A few days later, while watering, I noticed that the growth seemed to be gaping open. Strange. Out of the corner of my eye I saw movement. Lo and behold, the rubber tree growth was actually a nest of praying manti. Suddenly, everywhere I looked, there were tiny little manti. On the window, on the curtain, dangling from the bars covering the window, on the other houseplants. Far from terrified, I welcomed their surprise visit. I think I read somewhere they are supposed to eat other bugs and mosquitoes.

Praying Manti Invasion

Praying Manti Invasion 2

Now, over a month later, my window seat is littered with the sad little carcasses of dead praying manti. I guess living conditions weren’t to their liking. A few did survive, however, and they continue to cling to our rubber tree leaves.

The Toads are Coming! The Toads are Coming!

21 May 07

Imagine the horror…

The China Meteorological Administration is reporting on their website that a small village in Southwest China is fighting a “relentless battle” against an army of toads. The toads, spurned on by the heavy rainfall and desire to conquer the tormented village, began their invasion a few weeks ago. Although the villages feared for their lives, they would not back down against the unceasing waves of toads. Some villagers waged battle with dustpans and farm implements. Others used the age-old, but little known, hand clapping technique. Toads fear hand clapping as much as the villagers fear the toads.

Scientists were quick to point out the toad invasion is related to the climate. Little comfort to the besieged villagers, I’m afraid.

Visit the CMA news site and see how the world’s latest environmental disaster unfolds…

(And please pay special attention to the ghastly images of the invading hordes.)

Chinese Back Roads – How to Avoid a Toll at Any Cost

17 May 07

I’ve posted before about my fear of the Chinese back road – the roads connecting villages and cities that may be windy, full of potholes, paved or not, covered with bicyclists and pedestrians and lately, covered with cars and trucks avoiding highway tolls.

Many areas of China have fairly good expressways and highways. They are usually made up of four lanes and are paved and maintained regularly. (Never mind the people along the shoulders sweeping the dust.) The problem? Most of them require a toll payment. I’d much rather pay a toll than have to endure the roller coaster ride is that the back roads. But not most Chinese drivers. While the tolls seemed reasonably priced to a Westerner, just a dollar or two, they can seem exorbitant to people who make between a few hundred dollars to a thousand dollars a year.

The New York Times today has an article on just this subject. Journalist Jim Yardley reports from the small Chen Village, on the outskirts of Shijiazhuang. The locals are trying to stop trucks and drivers from diverting through the village to avoid the tolls. The heavy trucks (and you have never seen an overloaded truck until you have seen a truck in China) are destroying their roads. Some villagers say that the village officials are charging tolls of their own, something the two officials deny. (And something made illegal a few years ago.)

I used to live in the outskirts of Shijiazhuang, and I know exactly what they are talking about. When we got into a taxi to take us into the city or back out of the city, a complex negotiation always had to take place involving price, route, toll charges, etc. In fact, one of the only Chinese phrases I knew well at the time was the equivalent of: Take me to the airport for 100 kuai on the highway. (100 kuai being a very good price for this trip, the taxi drivers would still try to extort more money.) I am not sure if I ever diverted through Chen Village, but I certainly did divert through ZhengDing and XingChengPu and probably others. I’m glad to have that experience behind me.

As a side note, last year I posted a short video of a taxi ride down those back roads on YouTube. A few days ago, I received a comment from someone who had watched the video. He asked me what the deal was, that it seemed perfectly safe. The fact that the taxi driver overtakes vehicles with trucks coming head on at him didn’t seem safe to me, but what do I know.