Media update: Seems I was

Media update:

Seems I was wrong about my favorite portal, A & L, having been blocked by the Great Firewall of China. I was able to get onto its home page today to learn its servers were down.

And suddenly The NY Times and Google are accessible again, but we’ll see for how long. The Washington Post remains blocked, as do all blogspot sites, of course. (Update: No, NYT is blocked again.)

Apparently PBS’s Frontline has aired a dynamite 112-minute piece on what life is really like in China — and we can actually access it here. It’s called China in the Red. (Courtesy of Chake.)

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Painfully funny insults for the

Painfully funny insults for the office from One Girl’s Life (courtesy of Mark Kleiman):

Office stress relief:

1. I can see your point, but I still think you’re full of shit.

2. I don’t know what your problem is, but I’ll bet it’s hard to

3. How about never? Is never good for you?

4. I see you’ve set aside this special time to humiliate yourself in

5. I’m really easy to get along with once you people learn to worship

6. I’ll try being nicer if you’ll try being smarter.

7. I’m out of my mind, but feel free to leave a message.

8. I don’t work here. I’m a consultant.

9. It sounds like English, but I can’t understand a word you’re

10. Ahhh…I see the screw-up fairy has visited us again…

11. I like you. You remind me of when I was young and stupid.

12. You are validating my inherent mistrust of strangers.

13. I have plenty of talent and vision, I just don’t give a damn.

14. I’m already visualizing the duct tape over your mouth.

15. I will always cherish the initial misconceptions I had about you.

16. Thank you. We’re all refreshed and challenged by your unique point of

17. The fact that no one understands you doesn’t mean you’re an artist.

18. Any connection between your reality and mine is purely coincidental.

19. What am I…Flypaper for freaks??

20. I’m not being rude. You’re just insignificant.

21. And your crybaby whiny-butt opinion would be…

22. Do I look like a people person?

23. This isn’t an office; it’s hell with fluorescent lighting.

24. I started out with nothing and still have most of it left.

25. Sarcasm is just one more service we offer.

26. If I throw a stick, will you leave?

27. Errors have been made; others will be blamed.

28. Whatever kind of look you were going for, you missed.

29. I’m trying to imagine you with a personality.

30. A cubicle is just a padded cell without a door.

31. Can I trade this job for what’s behind door #1?

32. Too many freaks, not enough circuses.

33. Nice perfume. Must you marinate in it?

34. CHAOS, PANIC, AND DISORDER—my work here is done.

35. How do I set a laser printer to stun?


Google works again in China

Google works again in China after four or five days of being blacked out.

Of course, that Google has bought Pyra Labs. is by now ancient history. I am very curious what this will mean for the blogger community. Somehow I am uneasy about it, especially in light of the other Google article that I cited just a few hours ago. But I’ll reserve judgment until I understand it better.

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This anti-American, made-in-the-UK spoof appears

This anti-American, made-in-the-UK spoof appears to be the most popular link in the weblog community (according to Daypop, the site that led me there). Nothing even comes close. Definitely clever, I have a lot of trouble with its theme, which would have us believe Donald Rumsfeld is a more evil and dangerous man than Saddam, the US will occupy and exploit Iraq and blah blah blah.

Is anyone taking note of the extraordinary shift in public perception of this debacle? At first it seemed to be guardedly positive, and now the pendulum of public perception (I like that) has swung to the downright hostile. Maybe it’s because I am here in China, where all I hear about on TV is the peace marches just about everywhere in the world. The aforementioned Daypop site has a list of the top-40 most-cited-in-blogs stories, and the vast majority of Iraq-related stories seem to be virulently anti-American (or at least anti-Bush). What happened? Something seems to have tipped the scales, and as much as I do not like Bush & Co., I feel some sympathy for them — regime change in Iraq truly is a “noble cause,” but going about it just got a whole lot harder. If he ends up going it alone and the worst-case scenarios ensue (e.g., bloody hand-to-hand fighting, burning oil fields, chemical weapons, suicide soldiers, revitalized world-wide terrorism, etc.) he’ll be in a highly unenviable position.

I realize my “punditry” is woefully amateurish. I do it because it helps me to sort out my own thoughts. Blogging in general (and punditry in particular) offers a vehicle for catharsis, for letting go of tension and speaking my mind, a lot like writing a letter to the editor, even if the letter is never published or even sent. Still, I’ll try to keep it to a minimum; there are plenty of pundit sites out there and I wouldn’t even think of competing.

Footnote: I just went through the list again and pulled up this amazing speech by Senator Byrd. Now, I have huge issues with Byrd, the King of Pork, and I don’t agree with all that he says in this speech. But when it comes to the economy, tact and foreign policy, he makes some great points, and whoever wrote the text gets an A+. (I know, I know: This is old news, from Feb. 12, and I presume everyone else in the world has seen this already. Sometimes we in China don’t get these things as quickly or as easily as everyone else, so pardon me for being a couple of days behind everyone else.)

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A really chilling look at

A really chilling look at why Google may not be as good for you as you think.
(Courtesy of Scripting News.)

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Brilliant red lanterns are hanging

Brilliant red lanterns are hanging everywhere tonight, marking the end of the Spring Festival and celebrating the passing of winter to spring. (I will believe that when I see and feel it. Winter is still alive and well here in Beijing.) Fireworks can be heard going off all over town, and it was a day for dragon dances and celebrations everwhere.

Yesterday was a different holiday, but its effects were no less dramatic than today’s. I’m referring to Valentine’s Day, of course, and I was surprised to see just how seriously the Chinese take this most Western of holidays. Restaurants last night were totally booked, and it was quaint seeing just about everybody walking around after work holding either a bouquet of flowers or a single plastic-wrapped red rose. I had no idea the Chinese celebrated Valentine’s Day, and I suspect that of all the Western holidays this is the one that is closest to their hearts.

I am so out of touch with America right now. I see the various Web pundits pounding away, either aggressively in favor of war with Iraq or dead-set against it, and I wish I could experience for myself what the political climate back home feels like. (The latest news blackout here in China isn’t helping any.) I’ve always been conflicted, more than with any other issue, because I do not like our president but I can’t help but wonder whether the liberation of Iraq could be a step toward transforming the Middle East into a kinder, gentler place (to use his father’s words). And yet, now I am reading in fairly moderate zines like Slate of Powell’s “cynical backflips.” Who knows what to think, what to believe? I’ve gone back and forth at times, but am now leaning against the notion of any war in Iraq; it probably would not be liberating and instead would lead to lots of bloodshed. being truly liberating.

What I do know — and pardon me for being redundant on this point — is that had Bush been a kinder, gentler leader pre-911 he wouldn’t be facing this unprecedented vacuum of support today. You really do reap what you sow. After proclaiming America was going to go its own way and to hell with past agreements, how could Bush expect the world to suddenly see him as a team leader and coalition builder? And still, Andrew Sullivan and Instapundit are baffled that the American public, let alone the rest of the world, hasn’t fallen into lockstep with George W. & Co.

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I have been feeling down

I have been feeling down all day, uninspired and mentally sterile. In search of inspiration, I rummaged through my old documents where I rediscovered an “essay” (or something like that) that brought back a flood of memories. I wrote it nearly a year ago when I was still living in Hong Kong. I realize it is similar to my recent post on the plight of China’s gays, but there are marked differences.

I have no idea why I write things like this, which then linger, cobwebbed and ignored, on my hard drive, but it’s definitely compulsive. Now that I’m actively blogging I may, from time to time, drop some of these carbon-dated gems onto this site. Here goes, unedited and unchanged:

Gay in HK: The Agony and the Ecstasy

This is a difficult essay for me to write and I had a lot of concerns about it. Finally, I decided to go ahead with it (obviously), mainly because I have such strong feelings on this subject.

Hong Kong’s is a conservative culture. I met a young man recently who told me his father threw him out of the house at the age of 16 upon learning he was gay. No, that’s not typical. Most parents here do not know, nor do they want to know, if their children are homosexual. Hong Kong families follow a strict “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, even if the parents have recognised that their son never goes out with girls and spends his free time writing poetry instead of playing football. There is no gay rights movement here and no Gay Pride Festival. It’s not a matter of intolerance or closed-mindedness. It’s just that such things would make the people here uncomfortable — the gays and the straights. It is just not part of the cultural landscape. The gays here would not understand why on earth they should cause such “unnecessary disharmony” by letting those around them know their sexuality. That is something you do only at night, in the gay hangouts.

One thing I enjoyed about living and working in New York City was the spirit of sexual toleration. Lots of people were “out” at work and no one minded. Here in Hong Kong, most gays (virtually all I’ve met, including myself) feel they have to live behind a front, and I am finding it uncomfortable and, on occasion, painful. For example: I’ve become friends with a classical music lover who is as fanatical as I am about Wagner, and we’ve gotten into the habit of meeting for lunch on Sundays at CitySuper [a huge eatery at HK’s Times Square]. Hong Kong is a notoriously small place, a village really, and inevitably one of my colleagues bumped into us there one Sunday. Automatically, before I could even think about it, I was making up a story about how this guy is teaching me Chinese and we meet at CitySuper because it is so centrally located. I made up a lie (and a pretty lame one at that) because I feared my colleague would wonder what I was doing alone with another guy. I felt sick, but it was a reflex action — so strong is the “hide your sexuality mentality” that it caused me to lie when, in retrospect, I didn’t even have to. Why didn’t I just say, “This is my friend, and we met for lunch to talk about music.” But it s easy to become paranoid in HK and as I said, the lie was more of an instinctive reaction than a reasoned calculation.

Oh, well. I’m sure it’s much worse in Beijing and other places [I certainly got to discover that for myself!]. It’s just such a shame that people anywhere have to live a secret life and make up lies to perpetuate the disguise. It adds a level of stress and tension that are definitely unhealthy. Still, I realise this is part of the culture and I respect that.

Before I moved here, I was working in one of the most conservative states in America. Still, a young lady at my company kept a photograph of her and her lesbian lover prominently displayed on her desk. I always thought that was wonderful. And I was so happy that the people in my office also thought it was great that she could be so open and proud of her relationship. Of course, it was a high-tech company and most of the people there were 20-somethings, and they were a lot more open-minded than the generation before theirs. Is it that way in Hong Kong, too? Could I put a photo of my lover and me on my desk here, where the staff is also young, and be admired for it? I doubt it, and I’m not in the mood to experiment — as I said, I respect the culture here and would not attempt to change it or criticise it. I am very close friends with some of the people who work with me, and I wish so much that I could read their minds and know how they would react If I told them my secret. These relationships are all incomplete, based on a deception, and therefore they are never fully satisfying.

So I am always on my guard, always cautious about every aspect of my private life. I am always looking over my shoulder, no matter where I am. It’s just a minor heartache that I’ve got to live with. There are many joys in the gay world of Hong Kong, and some pain as well. When it comes to pain, perhaps this aspect — the obligatory double life — is the most painful.

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Google Blocked Again This is

Google Blocked Again

This is just great. You can get onto the Google site, but once you type in your search word and press Enter, nothing happens. For a split-second, you can see the results, then they promptly disappear and you get the Cannot Find Server page. In the past week, they have blocked my four most-visited sites, NY Times, Washington Post, A & L Daily and Google. Just as I was beginning to feel more at home in Beijing (especially as the weather improves) I am forced to reconsider.

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KFC Invades My Space Was

KFC Invades My Space

Was this inspired by my blog? Here’s the headline:

“KFC offers Beijing duck-style entree in China”

I wonder if you have to order it a day in advance….?

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What are they so afraid

What are they so afraid of?

Has anybody else in China noticed that The New York Times, the LA Times and the Washington Post remain blocked by The Great Firewall? And now I can’t get in to the best portal on the Web, Arts & Letters Daily! Some of the English dailies now appear to be blocked as well, and god knows how many other papers are now inaccessible.

This sudden blocking of so many news sites strikes me as unprecedented, though I haven’t been here long enough to state that unequivocally. At least I can get into the Boston Globe (where I’m delighted to see they are running a series of articles exposing the sins of the ultra-secretive company Bechtel), but that doesn’t mitigate the frustration. Yes, I know there’s a way to get around it, but it is tediously slow and a major pain.

So why do they do it? Do they believe this increases the public’s faith in the government and its infinite wisdom? Do they believe it achieves anything aside from generating ill will? A pox on those companies that took money to custom-build this censorship machine (are you listening, John Chambers?), and on the small-minded stooges who are now pushing the buttons.

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