Friday, November 07, 2008

Yes, we did.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008


UPDATE: A video that works...with English subtitles!

Hello! Currently a slave to the Chinese language and time to sleep (much less blog) is precious, but wanted to post this video. Hopefully you'll get a couple of things out of it, namely:

(1) An early intro to one of the Olympic theme songs ("北京欢迎你" or "Beijing Welcomes You")!
(2) A mini tour of Beijing attractions (Great Wall! Forbidden City! Behai! Peking duck!)
(3) A introduction to the wide world of Chinese pop stars (go, go, Jackie Chan!).
(4) Perhaps your first glimpse at China's YouTube equivalent, YouKu. It's quite good, actually...and perhaps even more functional than YouTube in some respects (at least a prettier interface). Uh, only if you read Chinese, though, I guess. As per the update, you're relegated back to the world of YouTube!

Friday, June 13, 2008

The sun sets on Ürümqi...

My 4-some months living in Ürümqi will soon be finished: my internship has ended, and I will return to Beijing tomorrow.

I really enjoyed my time in Ürümqi and Xinjiang. There are lots of things I will miss.

For one, I'm apparently missing the Olympic Torch Relay, which will pass through Ürümqi (right by my work and apartment!) in just a few days. No one actually knows when it is coming actually, because it's SECRET! In case Uyghur nationalists decide to sabotage the torch relay, I guess. Sigh. Well, at least I get to see the preparations!

Flags are starting to line the entire route of the relay...

And large, tetanus-inducing barriers have been erected along the road, presumably to keep the crowd as far, far away as possible from the Olympic flame.
My coworkers told me not to feel bad about missing the Torch Relay, since I probably wouldn't be able to see anything anyway. I guess I feel better. Plus, they'll just televise the relay anyway (really!).

Honestly, though, there is so much I will miss about Xinjiang. For one, the food! Like my favorite, tomato and egg laghman (hand-pulled noodles), from my favorite little restaurant (only 8 RMB for a huge plate!).

bread from my downstairs nang guy (1 RMB).

Incredible fruit (Xinjiang is a friggin' fruit wonderland...and strawberry and peach season have just passed...).

I'll also miss the diversely beautiful landscapes of Xinjiang, a few of which I've been lucky enough to see in person, such as the deserts of the Turpan basin.

Alpine lakes like Lake Sayram near the Tian Shan Mountains in Northern Xinjiang.

And other beautiful lakes, like Tianchi Lake ("Heaven Lake") closer to Ürümqi.

Heck, I'll even miss the ever-present camels that are (apparently!) supposed to remind me that Xinjiang is a part of the ancient Silk Road. OK, camels=Silk Road. I get it, I get it! ^_^

I'll miss the rose garden that I pass everyday on the way to the office.

I'll miss my dinky little desk.

I'll miss my co-workers and friends.

I'll miss blue skies.

But, most of all, I'll just miss being here.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Social aftershocks

Show me the money.

I was not in China at the time of the recent earthquake in Sichuan, but once I heard that tremors were felt in Beijing, there was no doubt that this was a pretty friggin' big earthquake. Beijing is nearly 1,000 miles away from the epicenter.

The past 2 weeks have been quite a blur. I participated in the national 3 minutes of silence for the victims last Monday, and it was very moving. Truth be told, the government and public response to the disaster has been very moving....particularly when compared with the truly sad response of the Myanmar government to the cyclone disaster in that country. Some of the stories coming out of Sichuan are still hard to listen to without swallowing the urge to cry. This one still makes me tear up. :(

Everyone (East and West) is reading a lot into how the Chinese government's and common people's response to the earthquake reflects upon its continued development, role as a new "superpower", etc. These topics are too much to handle in a simple blog post, but I've observed that some of these social "aftershocks" are quite interesting!

The first is the donations for the disaster victims. They have been overwhelmingly generous, and it is very heartening to see that most of the donations come from the Chinese people themselves. Most people are encouraged to donate money (捐款) at their workplace. This is not uncommon in the West, either. But what's really interesting is that many companies are posting personal donations (with donor names and amounts!!!). Those who who do not donate enough are thus publicly pressured into donating more. You can see many of the red posters above on store fronts and office reception areas. The poster above was posted at the front gate of the Urumqi City Health Department....for all passersby to see!

One of my co-workers has noted that a new word has come into vogue lately on the Chinese internet bulletin boards: "逼捐". This means to force someone into donating. Many Chinese celebrities (NBA Rockets' star Yao Ming) and large corporations (McDonalds, most prominently) have been publicly chastised into giving more and more money, because their original donations were not deemed to be generous enough.

This is so interesting from a Western point of view, because I think people value privacy and the right to give (or not give) to the cause of their choice. I'm currently neutral on the practice. One on hand, with upwards of US$20 billion dollars of damage and countless lives lost, money is definitely needed. And if using competition (or shame) to induce giving is the most effective way to raise money, that isn't altogether different than what we do in the west. I guess the one thing that makes me wary is if people give money for the wrong reason (they are forced to rather than really wanting to), the long-term effects on the development of philanthropy and civil society organizations in China could be more harmful than good.

The second big aftershock is how all this plays into Chinese nationalism...and how all of it is eerily similar to American nationalism. On the news channels (and still-constant coverage of relief efforts), there's even a little icon in the corner of the TV screen that says “众志成城”, which is basically the equivalent of "United We Stand." All this really made me think more about the comparisons between the US and China, and how both sides deal with a lot of their social and political issues. I was especially reminded of criticisms that the US often has toward China (I am not excluded to holding some of those criticisms myself, particularly with regards to Tibet and Xinjiang), and I can't help but feel that so many people - and even "China scholars" - in the US don't really understand how similar China is to our own country.

Lastly, the third big social aftershock is the this:

If you haven't heard about her already, this is a girl from Liaoning venting and saying some awful stuff about the 'quake victims. If anything, it shows that there is at least one spoiled brat out there who is pissed that they couldn't play video games or watch TV during the mourning period. Sure, I understand she's fed up, but her reaction to the quake is shudder-inducing. The video above is Part I of a 5 minute-plus rant with English subtitles, but you can easily find the video in its entirety if you understand Chinese...

I don't know if she was stupid or what, but the video was posted, and, unsurprisingly, Chinese netizens were ready to lynch her. Her personal details (including address, birth year, job, etc.) were posted on Chinese websites. Her parents were forced to make press releases along the lines of of "We failed to raise her well and she is a horrible person...but please don't kill her" and the girl was apparently arrested (or at least taken into custody for her own protection). Yikes.

I wonder what would've happened in the US if someone would have posted a video like that after 9/11. :\

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Ice Festival at Longqing Gorge

Ice sculptures = yet another Olympics advertisement opportunity!

China is just warming up now, but Northern China is really friggin' cold during the winter. Perfect conditions for holding an ice festival or two!! Right before I left for Xinjiang in February, my excellent roommate and I went to the Longqing Gorge Ice Festival just outside of Beijing. It wasn't as fancy as the big festival they have in Harbin , but it was pretty fun all the same, even if it was (a necessarily!) freezing cold. The theme this year was - unsurprisingly - the 2008 Olympics.

The principal hazard of attending ice sculpture festivals.

Olympic rings and...two rats arm wrestling? (It's the Year of the Rat!)

Whole cities of ice! Whoop whoop.

Icey, brightly lit grandeur.

China: the only place where you can have a church at an ice festival but not for realz. Joke, joke! There are churches in China. Uh, quality unknown. Let's just leave that topic as a "No further comment" for now, eh? :)

More ice cathedral...

The Fuwa ice sculptures kinda looked like popsicles. Yum.

Mythical creatures in ice!

Creepy clown.

Giant snow head. I can't quite make out the name at the base of the snow head, but my best guess is that I'm kissing Stalin.

'Nuff ice and snow. Pretending to play soccer (sorry, football) with Fuwa.

Olympics theme. Yes, yes...we get it.

I think they mean "Please Do Not Enter", but this literal translation is cute, too. Just look at that doggy with the snorkel...and the friendly "Hi". Love it.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Journey to the West

The watchful eye of the Colonel follows you in decently-sized Chinese city. Good thing KFC is Halal (note the Arabic name for "KFC")!

First, sorry about the lack of blogging activity! I guess the history of this blog was to document my travels, and so to there has been very little bloggable activity because, well, I haven't been traveling! The fact that I've been just living and working in the past few months, and my existence here is a pretty mundane one.

I guess the one exception to all this that I have been sort of "transferred" to the Foundation's field office in Xinjiang Province, which is basically as far west in China as you can get. Well, I think "transferred" is too formal a term, as it connotes that I actually have a position at the Foundation when, in fact, I'm just a lowly intern. Basically, they needed someone to go help out, and I figured, "What the hey!" So now I spend most of my days in Ürümqi, the provincial capital and apparently the furthest city inland from the sea. Interesting eh! I guess you can call it my own "Journey to the West"! Hehe, that's a play on the Chinese classic, Journey to the West (西游记)...except without the Monkey King (although - fun fact! - did you know that Journey to the West was originally set in Xinjiang! But I digress...).

Sometimes Ürümqi can be even more polluted than Beijing! Hard to believe! The city is surrounded on three sides by mountains, so the pollution often gets trapped. I wish I could say this was fog, but it's pure pollution.

I live next door to this smokestack.

Anyhoo, Ürümqi is a laid-back kind of place compared to Beijing, and relatively small as a sub-3 million population city. Xinjiang is populated by both Han Chinese and Uyghurs (also Uighurs), and the Uyghur culture is very much different from what one would consider Chinese. Uyghur people are Muslim, and so Halal Xinjiang cuisine rules the roost here (luckily, Xinjiang food is awesome). The Uyghur language is derived from Turkish, and the script is also Arabic. Given the recent unrest in other parts of minority-populated China, it should probably be brought to your attention, dear reader, that Uyghur-Han Chinese relations are (and always have been) quite tense. As a Slate feature recently reported, Xinjiang is kinda like Tibet without the Dalai Lama or the Beastie Boys.

Here are just a few views from my limited walks outside the 2 km distance between my apartment and office!

Right by Ürümqi's famous Big Bazaar. It could be Central Asia for all you knew...

Silk Road = Desert = Camels. Whee.

Xinjiang is probably the only place in China where this sign means something.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Beijing/Olympic fever begins...

Betcha didn't know that the 2008 Paralympic Games mascot is even cuter than the Fuwa.

I arrived in Beijing two weeks ago, just a day after this. Indeed, the combination of cold and air pollution has left me with a nasty case of bronchitis...or whatever it is that causes weeks of hacking cough.

Anyhoo, I'm settling in well and have already started work and study. Also, I'm already a bit tired of the Olympics! More updates pending!