Archive for September, 2007

The China You Didn’t See

30 September 07

There are many sides to China. It is a complicated place.

To view a glimpse of the “Unseen China” – the laid off workers, the land-less farmers, the have nots, visit The Shanghaiist and watch the 30 minute documentary by Jiang Xueqin, Liu Yuan & Brian Keeley. It is a powerful and sad indictment of the so-called economic miracle. The truth is this angry and marginalized segment of society cannot stay quiet much longer.

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Choking on Growth

30 September 07

New York Times is featuring a special series on the devastating impact of China’s “epic pollution crisis.” It is worth reading, although I feel like I’ve read all of this before. It is painfully obvious to anyone living in the PRC just how degraded the environment is, or how at risk many areas are for degradation. If you are new to China or need a good overview of the crisis, this is for you. Let me summarize it for you:

  • China’s environment = very, very bad
  • Effects on Chinese people’s health = very, very terrible (and mine too!)
  • Measures needed to prevent environmental disaster = too many, too late?

Part 2 of the series discusses water scarcity and focuses on my former haunt of Shijiazhuang. I can definitely confirm that it was dry, dry, dry there. The DH says that from the air, the whole area looked like desert to him. I was very glad to leave Shijiazhuang for the relatively clean air of Linyi. I hope it stays that way.

The DH comes from a part of Spain that was once terribly polluted by mining and steel factories. The air quality was bad and the rivers were all toxic. The good news is now the rivers are recuperating and the air is getting cleaner. Change is possible, although I suspect China is not willing to forgo the economic growth necessary to make a real difference in the environment. (You can see pictures of the transformation of Avilés’ river estuary here.)

A side note: New York Times has done away with that silly “Select” program, and now all content, including opinions, is once again available free of charge.

Celebrate the Freedom to Read

30 September 07

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” Ray Bradbury

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This week is banned books week in the US, and it is all the more pertinent to me since I live in a society where books are frequently banned, movies are censored, protests are squashed, news is propaganda and the Internet is filtered. And if my blog wasn’t blocked before, it probably is now.

Reading over ALA’s (American Library Association – America’s top freedom fighters. Librarians aren’t all grannies in glasses!) banned books website, I am not a bit surprised to see that, once again, we are worried about our kids reading the classics and getting ideas. Scary! To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – perennial guests on the banned books list.

I headed over to google to see what websites are saying about banned books week. Of course, how many pages was I actually able to load? Thanks Great Firewall. Time to turn on the TOR. Actually, I’ve noticed that lately, I am surfing with it on almost all the time. Slows things down a little, but it is good practice with being patient. All good things come in time.

Funny that the website I was able to open without the proxy was a “pro-family”, ultra-conservative, conspiracy theory website condemning the ALA as an organization that wants to turn America’s youth gay. Not sure how that one made it past the GFW! The ironic thing is that librarians are taught – at least at my school – to be so pro-freedom to read, that they would never deny anyone the right to read that website, even as they bad mouth the profession. A library is a place for everyone, and all views should be evenly represented. Not that this happens in all libraries, but it is what librarians should strive for and what the ALA recommends. Another thing the ALA recommends is that parents take responsibility for what their children read, not the librarians.

The very idea of freedom to read and freedom to access information involve no value judgment on what people choose, however, librarians are human too and some cannot separate their own personal values and beliefs from the professional. And that is truly a shame. I’m not afraid to say that maybe they shouldn’t be librarians.

“Banned Books Week is about upholding a fundamental American value,” says Gorman. [Michael Gorman is a former ALA president.] “We don’t believe in suppressing other peoples’ right to read. I’m a university librarian in a large-ish institution, so it’s very easy for me. The whole institution believes in access of information and freedom of inquiry. People working in a small rural library, where the most challenges are issued, can be very isolated. And we tend to want them to do the whole Gregory Peck act and stand up and defy their challengers. The dilemma is a lot more complicated. Banned Books Week says to those rural librarians, ‘You’re not alone.’ ”

Garden [Nancy Garden, banned author] sympathizes with the librarians facing those challenges, too, and considers a book challenge a good time to talk. “Librarians have to listen to the objections that people have to books,” says Garden. “But I think it’s important to say things like, ‘Well, look, we can’t remove this stuff, but if you want to tell us materials that you would like us to put in the library, which represent your viewpoint, we can put those in, too.’ ”

Conversation is often a good starting point for Ball [Miranda Ball, a library director in rural Alabama], who has intervened when kids check out books she thinks are too advanced for them—when a ten-year-old came to her with Stephen King’s Carrie, Ball explained to her that the book might be too advanced. “So then she wanted to read Anne Rice, and I said ‘I don’t think you want to read that either, honey,’ ” says Ball. “But I told her, ‘If you want to get it out, then go ahead.’ ”

“I am a conservative Christian, and I have a two-year-old daughter, and there are things I won’t want her reading. But I don’t want anyone else telling me what she can read,” says Ball. “And I’m sure not going to tell other people what they can read.”

The Book Standard – September 2005

The top banned books of the 21st century?
1. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
2. “The Chocolate War” by Robert Cormier
3. Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
4. “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck
5. “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou
6. “Fallen Angels” by Walter Dean Myers
7. “It’s Perfectly Normal” by Robie Harris
8. Scary Stories series by Alvin Schwartz
9. Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey
10. “Forever” by Judy Blume

What can you do to observe banned books week?

For further reading:
Amnesty International remembers the authors persecuted for sharing information. (Not available in China without a proxy.)
The Forbidden Library
Top 100 Banned Books – 1990 to 2000

“Censorship, like charity, should begin at home; but unlike charity, it should end there.”  — Clare Booth Luce

Flying Anytime Soon?

29 September 07

China’s National Day is just around the corner, which means the trains, buses and airports will be busy, busy, busy. Planning a flight in China anytime soon? If it is your first time flying in the PRC, there are a few things you should know:

• The captain never speaks – Don’t worry if you never hear from the flight deck during the flight. They don’t come on the overhead speaker to “welcome you aboard” or point out any cool landmarks down below, like they do in the West. Wouldn’t you rather they concentrate on flying the plane, anyway?

• The flight attendants all look identical – Well, much more than you would find on a western airline. They will all be of similar height and weight. This is really not all that noticeable until you later fly on a western airline. On my flight back to the US to visit family, it seemed really odd that the flight attendants were all so diverse! They were all shapes and sizes, old and young.

• There is always turbulence when approaching the airport or climbing away – Just be prepared for a sometimes bumpy flight. I don’t know why this is, maybe I should ask DH the pilot. It always happens to me, and I’ve flown on over 15 flights in China. Keep your seatbelt fastened.

• Don’t bother looking out the window – This is not always the case, but usually there is just too much smog to see much.

• Instead of peanuts, you will get a bag of dried squid bits. I love ’em, but my sister-in-law nearly ralphed them all over me.

• Upon landing, don’t be too surprised if your fellow passengers jump up and start taking out their carry-on bags – even if you are still on the runway. This one really surprised me the first time, but now it is just routine. Everyone will want to get off the plane as quickly as possible. It is the same thing you find on the train. I’m just waiting for the day the plane brakes suddenly and everyone goes flying forward. I wait until everyone has made their mad dash off before I de-plane. They’ll just be waiting at the baggage carousel anyway.

• Someone will use their cell phone when they are not supposed to (not really a big deal anyway, but..)

• You will pass through passport control even on domestic flights – I think that China must have the best passport control in the world. Be ready to present your passport, boarding pass and ticket receipt before going through security, and be sure to smile for the camera. Don’t try to bring a water bottle or anything like that. (No alcohol allowed in carry-on. They always sniff the water to make sure it is not booze. Do yourself a favor and finish it before security.)

The good thing:
• Jets in China are all shiny and new – complete with sophisticated computer systems that can fly the airplane automatically. China probably has the youngest fleet of airliners anywhere in the world.

Anything I miss? Any funny Chinese airport/airplane stories to share?

Love/Hate

29 September 07

love/hate

Another blogger in China – a famous one who has tons of readers – has started a group writing project on the love/hate dichotomy that is China. Since I am trying to be a better blogger and live up to my credo of community involvement, I’m going to join in the project. This topic is not new to me anyway, I write about my love/hate relationship with China on a regular basis.

It’s a daily ritual for me to wake up and assess my feelings toward China. Today – love China. This afternoon for the 2 minutes I had to be in the company bathroom – hate China. The hotpot dinner I will be sharing with DH and friends later – love China. The staring I will endure all during dinner and the rest of my life in China – hate China. The cool air through my hair as I sit on the rooftop of local bar – love China. The crazy traffic I will barely survive on my way home – hate China. All the people in the square dancing and banging drums – love China. The guy driving the BMW, narrowly missing the old farmer – hate China. The men sitting outside their house on the sidewalk swapping stories or playing cards – love China. The ditch full of foul, black water and trash in front of my apartment – hate China. The man who sells me fresh, hot sweet potatoes on the street – love China. The fruit woman who always overcharges and then refuses to bargain – hate China. The little neighborhood girls who shyly tell me hello and then run screaming when I say hello back – love China. The veil of smoke that descends over the city in winter – hate China. When I wear a skirt and get complemented on my pale, white skin – love China. Discrimination because of a peasant’s darker skin – hate China. The sound of airplanes flying overhead and the excitement on our students’ faces – love China. The “harmony fees” related to doing business – hate China.

Good friends, great food, and a life less ordinary – love China and the expat life!

Real Live Pirates

28 September 07

I missed International Talk Like a Pirate Day. And I’m really sad about that. The DH will tell you it is for the better, because he has heard me try to talk like a pirate.

Despite not honoring their special day, I am actually fascinated by pirates. Who isn’t after Mr. Depp brought his special touch to the genre. (I read somewhere that the Chinese government was not pleased with the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie and actually cut some scenes out because they thought that Chow Yun-Fat played up Chinese stereotypes that they would rather the world forget about. No clue where I read this, though.)

Pirates are on my mind because I’ve been reading National Geographic online again. This month they are featuring an article on the modern pirates of the straits of Malacca, the narrow shipping channel between Malaysia and Indonesia where millions of dollars worth of cargo travels each day. Great reading.

I’m infinitely tickled at saying “Malacca” ever since I visited the city last year and later found out malaka is a nasty word in Greek.

Making Progress

28 September 07

First it was Out With the Old. Then it was In With the New.

Now they’re making progress:

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At ground zero of Linyi’s newest construction explosion.

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Whether or not it will actually look like this when complete is debatable…

Glad It’s Friday

28 September 07

Fall is here. (Even though by the Chinese calendar we are in mid-autumn already.) I’m wearing a jacket. It is windy and cool. It is even cool enough for my favorite treat – green tea oatmeal. (It’s way more delicious than it sounds!) How long will this last?

As predicted by our local meteorologist, September is turning out to be sensational flying weather. Despite the fact that today is a little rainy, visibility is great and the planes are in the air. The DH has been flying everyday for the past week. This is what we came to China to do, and it is a huge relief to see the instructors doing it!

I’m writing some posts about the challenges of flight training in China and some other aviation in China themed stories. I should be posting them this weekend or next week, and then on a regular basis after that. It’ll be my “Aviation in China” series.

In the meantime, I’m swamped with lots of reading and studying. When I left my last nursing job, I was so burned out that I never wanted to see a hospital or a sick person ever again, but I have to admit I’m really enjoying my medical librarian courses. I’m reading about infectious disease for a course, instead of my own pleasure, (I know, I’m twisted.) which is a huge change. I’ve never enjoyed reading a textbook before. Does this mean I have found my career? What I want to be when I grow up? I’m even watching medical dramas for fun. (House – Season 1) And sometimes, when I’m deep into an episode of House, and I have to turn to the DH and translate some of the medico-speak, somewhere down in a corner of my mind, I actually miss the hospital, just a little, tiny bit. Smiley

It is a little frustrating that I am studying about libraries in a country where I can’t actually read a book. In Linyi, there is no public library, and even if there were, I’m sure the English section would be minute. It’s times like these when I wish I was in a big cosmopolitan city like Beijing, Shanghai or Hong Kong. There I might have possibilities of working in a library. Still, I have some outlets here. I want to build a virtual aviation library for our school and I’ve been reading about an interesting library project going on in China. Library Project is an organization that donates books and libraries to school and orphanages in developing countries. If there is a way I can be involved in this project, I’d love to be. More on that later.

Have a great weekend, wherever you are!

It’s Mid-Autumn!

26 September 07

I should’ve known something was up when all the bread disappeared from the supermarket and was replaced by mooncakes.

It’s that time again: Mid-Autumn Festival! This is the day that the Chinese traditionally celebrate the end of the harvest and admire the full moon. It also means that it is time to eat mooncakes.

Mooncakes are little round pastries that are given as gifts to family, friends and business acquaintances. I remember when we first arrived in Beijing, two years ago. Boxes of four mooncakes were on display everywhere – hotel lobbies, supermarkets, businesses. We thought it odd, but had no idea that in the month of September, mooncakes take over China. Mooncakes can vary in flavor from delicious to gag-worthy. Usually that depends on whether or not they are moist and sweet or dry and odd. They can be filled with paste made from lotus root, red bean or who knows what. Sometimes they have an egg yolk inside, to represent the moon, as can be seen above. The Washington Post has an interesting article on what those Beijing folk are doing with mooncakes. Green tea ice cream mooncakes? I looonnggg to be in Beijing!!

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I had some mooncake last night at our company party, and it wasn’t bad. Yes, I did say company party. Did you read about our last company party? Well, this was more of the same: lots of food, lots of toasting, some puke and some passing out, but not too crazy as we were all home by 10PM. The highlight of the evening for me was when two of the company managers told me I am really fat. I know. Gotta love that tact. I wanted to tell them they were ugly, but since I don’t know how to say that in Chinese, and they don’t speak English, I just walked away. (Or waddled..)

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The infamous mooncakes – with lotus paste & red bean paste

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Our students at the party.

Nerd News

26 September 07

Excuse me, I’m about to have a huge nerd moment.

Have you ever felt like spending your free time doing some independent university study? Really!? Me too!

The wait is over! Check out MIT’s open courseware. MIT is offering courses for free. Of course, you have to do all the work, but they offer the syllabus, lecture notes, handouts, and some have video of lectures and readings. I’m working through the Chinese I course and looking at the Medical Anthropology course.