Archive for June, 2007

The State of Aviation in China

13 June 07

Couldn’t have said it better myself:

From The Economist:

Open skies are needed if China wants its aviation industry to thrive

“WE NEED policy reform,” declared one speaker after another at a conference in Beijing last month. They were not talking about property rights, environmental policy or pensions, but about airspace. China has a booming civil-aviation industry but is lagging behind in the field of “general aviation”—in other words, allowing things other than commercial airliners and military aircraft into the skies. General aviation covers crop dusters, corporate jets, single-engine training aircraft and cargo aircraft, among other things. Although civil aviation accounts for the bulk of air passengers worldwide, general aviation accounts for most of the flights.

Visit the Economist site and read more. The article is highly accurate and relevant!


Friends – Uniting the World?

13 June 07

Today I overheard one of my students humming a familiar tune. While I tried to place it, he  started singing a few of the words:

“Smelly cat, sm-e-lly cat. What are they feeding you?”

That’s right – Phoebe Buffay’s greatest hit sung by a 23 year old Chinese student pilot.

Thank god we’ve been able to share something other than McDonalds with the world!


8 June 07

Blogging is difficult in China. My blogging platform, WordPress, is banned in China. For me to be able to update, I have to launch a program called Tor which allows me to bypass the Great Firewall of China. It is slow, and sometimes it just doesn’t want to work. I’ve maintained a mirror of my blog on Mindsay so that I’d have a backup in case of Tor failure, and also so local friends can read my blog without using proxy websites. Today I’ve discovered a new problem.

In the Southern China city of Xiamen, protests have been taking place over the planned construction of a chemical plant. The local residents don’t want another polluting factory disrupting their health and lives. I am far from Xiamen, so I am relying on the Internet to get information, but from what I have read, this protest sounds so awesome. It is a very remarkable thing that the locals are standing up for something they truly believe. Their numbers are so great that their message cannot be hidden from the people.

Protests are not unheard of in China, in fact, they are happening more and more. Peasants unhappy over land grabs, women upset over forced abortions and sterilizations, hospitals attacked for refusing to treat patients without cash-in-hand are a few of the recent protests I’ve heard about. The things is, you don’t usually hear about them. They are squashed as soon as possible. Protesters are dragged away, shot at and detained. The media just doesn’t cover them. Until now. Until blogging and SMS messages, Flickr photo sites and YouTube video upload. More than ever, Chinese are waging Web 2.0 protests. Click on the Web 2.0 link and be astounded. It is an amazing thing to see these people letting their opinions be known.

Of course, this doesn’t sit well with the local officials and the central government. Action must be taken. The Internet must be filtered, censored, blocked. As of today, all of my photos on the photo site Flickr are showing up as empty boxes. (Without the Tor program – with the Tor program I can see them.) This means, that even on my Mindsay blog, which is not blocked, my photos will not be seen.

I am not so concerned about being blocked. My voice is heard by friends and family, mostly in the US and other countries. I am a foreigner who chooses to live here. But for the Chinese voices that need to be heard in China, the filtering and blocking is monumental. Once again, the people are being silenced. Controlled. But for how long?

Steven Banick made this comment on Global Voices, and it sums up nicely my thoughts:

…for sure, the authorities are “cracking down” and heads are rolling, but holding back the inexorable tide of the information age is like that li’l ol Dutch boy…

Yes, this may sound naive at the moment, but for those of us who remember Mao’s Cultural Revolution, the economic and “human interest” changes with China are stunning. Several hundred million middle class people increasingly more engaged in/on the world market, traveling, et al, will not be able to be “held back” in the long run.

As General Patton said, “fixed fortifications are a monument to man’s stupidity.” Thus it will be with Chinese firewalls, bit by bit (yes with some setbacks) as China modernizes, seeks, questions, stirs the pot…

So here is my own protest: One of my favorite photos, taken in Tibet, of a little monk who stood strong against his minders who wanted him to go back into the monastery and stop playing with the ram who had wandered close to the monastery entrance. He was mischievous and wanted to play. He was defiant. (I’m not sure that is what monks are supposed to do.) He wanted it his way.

Little Monk

These protesters have my highest praise. Good for you. Stay strong and do it your way.

Am I a Wheniwuzzer?

7 June 07

“WhenIWuzzer…” A very annoying type person who has traveled extensively and lived all across the globe. In conversation, this person will frequently wax poetic and long about places they’ve been. They are all too often excited to share experiences they’ve had “when I was in Kathmandu…” or “Well, when I was in Madagascar…” Their neighbors, friends and co-workers all eye roll and yawn as if on cue when a wheniwuzzer starts to reminisce.

Eee-gad. Do I do that? It really is my worst fear – that I’ll be that annoying someday.

Seriously, though, this is a really big problem for expats. When so many of our day-to-day, normal life activities take place in random and foreign places, most of our stories will somehow relate to the fact, that we were in Thailand or we were in Panama or we were in Zambia. Really!

Of course, the very best is to get two expats together – that is when the love-fest that is sharing expatriate experiences can really take place. Two expats, especially two TCKs, will gladly trade wheniwuzzer tales. There is no greater joy than finding someone who will willingly and happily listen to your stories. And if they have actually been to that little back alley food stall in Kuala Lumpur – pure gold!

So, I should say thanks to everyone who reads this blog and listens to my stories. Lemme know if I ever get too wheniwuzzer…

Home Fires

7 June 07

The New York Times has introduced a new blog, Home Fires, on its website. The blog is written by several returned Iraq war veterans. Returning home from a war zone is a welcome relief for the soldiers and their families, but in many ways it is never as easy as just walking off the plane and going home. It will never be the way it was before. Too much has changed. Or maybe, as one soldier recounts, everything is the way it was before  and fitting back into life is relatively easy. The truth is, there is no road map. Read the blog to find out first hand how some of our troops are dealing with the adjustment. Also, interesting comments section.

Update on the Global Voices website – must have just been a hiccup, access is back to normal.

Global Voices Silenced in China?

5 June 07

You’ve heard me talk about Global Voices before. It is one of my favorite sources for stories and blogs from across the world. Basically, it is a website that aggregates blog posts from different areas, translates many into English and points out the most interesting stories from a given area. I’ve learned all kinds of things from their email newsletters. Like today, I wanted to read about planned Tienanmen Massacre observances in Hong Kong, and some of the top blog posts out of Kuwait. Instead, I got the “can’t find this page” screen. Odd. I usually don’t have problems accessing GV. Hmmm. Kept trying, but no luck. Is it just me or has Global Voices been banned in China? They do offer up a lot of links to blogs and content that may be anti-party line.

If it is true, I’ve got my trusty proxy to get around the great firewall, but it is a shame nonetheless.

China Responds

4 June 07

To the issue of toothpaste and food contamination.

From the China Daily, China’s English language newspaper:

Panama importer ‘to blame for deaths’
By Zhu Zhe (China Daily)

Updated: 2007-06-01 06:57

A Panamanian importer is mainly culpable for the deaths of up to 100 people last year who used cough syrup which had a toxic chemical as an ingredient, Chinese officials said yesterday.

Wei Chuanzhong, deputy director of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (GAQSIQ), described the chain of events uncovered in an investigation:

11,349 kilograms of “TD” glycerin, which can be used as a substitute for glycerin in industrial use, was sold to a Spanish company in 2003 before being forwarded to a Panamanian trader the same year.

It contained 15 percent diethylene glycol, an industrial solvent used in paint and antifreeze, while glycerin is a similar but more expensive compound frequently used as syrup in medicines and in toothpastes.

The Panamanian merchant later renamed the solvent as “pure glycerin”, tweaked the expiry date to indicate it would be valid for another three years, and sold it to a cough syrup manufacturer.

“The two trades were separate and the Chinese companies were not informed of the resale,” Wei told a press conference organized by the State Council Information Office.

“The Panamanian trading company is mainly responsible because it changed the scope of use and shelf-life of the product.

“By the time the Panamanian drug manufacturer used the chemical, it had been expired for two years.”

The Chinese companies had made it clear in their export paperwork that the material was for industrial, not medical, use.

The deaths started last summer; and in October, China launched an investigation at the request of Panama. A preliminary probe result was submitted by the year-end but some foreign media have recently raised the issue, holding China directly responsible for the deaths.

Some other scandals involving Chinese exports, such as the “toxic” toothpaste and wheat gluten tainted with the chemical melamine, have also shaken confidence in made-in-China products.

China launched another investigation last month, whose results Wei unveiled yesterday.

He also dismissed concerns about exported Chinese toothpaste containing diethylene glycol, saying there was “no sound evidence” to show that the chemical was dangerous in low concentrations.

Thousands of tubes of made-in-China “Mr. Cool” and “Excell” branded toothpaste have been seized in the Dominican Republic, Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua for containing diethylene glycol ranging from 2.5 percent to 4.6 percent.

But he cited research by Chinese doctors which says toothpaste containing up to 15.6 percent of diethylene glycol has been found safe even after prolonged use.

“But to better safeguard the health of the public, we’ll issue clear guidelines for the use of diethylene glycol in toothpaste,” he said.

Li Yuanping, director of the AQSIQ’s food safety bureau, also criticized some foreign media for stoking fears about the safety of Chinese food and drugs.

He said they had “wantonly” reported on so-called unsafe Chinese food products, but records show that more than 99 percent of Chinese food exports to the United States in the last three years had met quality standards about the same, or even higher, than the equivalent figure for US food exports to China during the same time.

He said China had found at least 35 shipments of frozen meat from the US to China containing the salmonella bacteria and veterinary medicine residue since last April.

“But one company’s problem doesn’t make it a country’s problem,” he said. “If some food is below standard, you can’t say all the country’s food is unsafe – just like aircraft are believed to be the safest mode of transport, but we do see air crashes some times.”

Kid Cuisine?

1 June 07

Note that I am not a parent, so maybe I don’t have the right to judge, but I think this article is incredible, and should be read by everyone who has kids. Because kids cannot live by chicken fingers and pizza and french fries alone. This is not how I was raised, how about you?

Don’t Point That Menu at My Child, Please

Burning Books is Not the Answer

1 June 07

Is burning books ever a good idea? I’m not sure how I feel about this. A bookstore owner in Kansas City had a warehouse full of books he was unable to sell – close to 20,000 books. After libraries and thrift shops refused the books, he decided to hold a monthly book bonfire. He views the burnings as a protest against society’s declining support of books.

I am actually cringing as I write these words. When I think of book burnings, I imagine that scene in Indiana Jones, when the nazis are burning all the books and Indy “runs into” Hitler. Book burnings = fascism, fear, totalitarianism, prison state, loss of freedom, censorship, closed-mindedness. In the nazi concentration camps, the motto work makes you free hung over the gates. I think a more appropriate motto for our day and age would be information makes you free.

The bookstore owner fears that most people are getting their reading in through newspapers and the Internet, that people don’t care about books anymore. I can think of nothing more sad. I spend countless hours on the Internet, reading as much as I can, but at the end of the day, I need books. There is nothing quite like the feel of the pages, the heft of the words. I seek information in as many forms as I can get – audiobooks, ebooks, Internet web pages, the old fashioned book. For me, information is my most valuable tool for surviving in this world. Maybe that is why I have chosen to spend the next year studying information science. A librarian’s world is filled with information.

When I read the article about the book burning, I immediately thought of a photo slide show (#1 on the search list) I had seen on the New York Times website a few weeks ago. The pictures were of university campuses in Africa. They showed the students living in cramped and dilapidated dormitories, as many as can fit in one room. They showed science classes using broken beakers and test tubes to perform lab experiments. They showed classrooms literally falling apart. They showed long lines of students desperate to get into the library to study. In America, one man burns books because no one seems to want them. In Africa, young people yearn for any kind of access to the information that could give them a better life.

The New York Times has excellent multimedia reports available on their site. This is by no means a recommendation to spend all your time surfing the Internet. Embrace a real live book if you have the chance!