Announcement postponed

I know, I teased everyone with the promise of a major announcement this afternoon, but under the circumstances it will be smarter for me to hold off. Yes, there will be an announcement soon about big changes, but until I can tell you the details I’d rather not let the word out. Thanks for your patience.


China’s desperate college graduates

This story really pulls at the heartstrings. For so many years, a degree was your ticket to success in China, and a huge number of newly minted college grads are finding that the jobs they’d set their hearts on simply aren’t there.

A tide of more than 30,000 students with polished resumes and high hopes surged into a job fair here so eager to meet with employers that they shattered four glass doors and splayed the side walls of an escalator in what became a near riot.

As the crowd of youths swelled out of control, students and security guards said, police tried to beat back the throng but to no avail. Pushing, screaming and climbing over one another, the students charged on, heading for the booths inside the Zhongyuan International Exhibition Center, where company recruiters waited with the keys to China’s new economy.

“You didn’t even need to walk in the main hall, because people were sweeping you along all the time,” said Hou Shuangshuang, 23, an e-commerce major with long hair who was among the students who overflowed the job fair when it opened Sunday. “At some points, your feet couldn’t even touch the ground.”

The fact that all these kids are graduating from college is a sign of how things in China are booming. But the economy simply can’t absorb all the new degree holders, and soon there are going to be lots of angry hamburger flippers who feel disenfranchised from all the success. And according to an article that just came out in Business Week, graduates with MBAs, once a sure-fire ticket to heaven, are faring no better – although in their case, the main reason seems to be that the quality of China’s MBA graduates is relatively wretched.

Despite the explosion in Chinese B-schools, most corporate recruiters give graduates middling to poor marks, according to a BusinessWeek survey of 173 corporate recruiters at both Chinese and multinational companies with operations on the mainland.

In our survey, undertaken by recruitment consulting firm Universum Communications Inc., fewer than 20% of respondents described Chinese MBA graduates as either good or excellent, and only 34% said students’ quality had improved over the past three years. “Students lack confidence and have no idea how to express themselves,” said Nona Kang, of aig Business Consulting, in a typical comment. “Short on the spirit of risk-taking,” said Teresa Li, group director of human resources and administration at Tristate Holdings Ltd., a Hong Kong garment manufacturer.

It sounds as if, at least for now, business graduates from Taiwan and Hong Kong and elsewhere will still be in demand over on the Mainland, as China’s own MBA grads simply can’t cut it:

Why are potential employers dissatisfied? One issue is that the lure of big bucks from MBA tuitions, which in China can run as high as $27,500 for a 20-month course of study, has led to a flood of less reputable programs. “Many entrepreneurs and companies have set up their own universities, and the quality has gone down,” says Wang Fanghua, dean of the Antai College of Economics & Management at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, a top-rated school in our survey.

That means many companies are thinking twice about hiring newly minted MBA grads. Some employers also note that an educational system emphasizing rote memorization and deference to authority doesn’t turn out take-charge managers. “In the classroom, we can get students to analyze the heck out of a problem, but to get them to make a decision is very difficult,” says Lydia J. Price, associate dean at the MBA program at China Europe International Business School, a joint venture between the Shanghai government and the European Union.

No wonder many employers prefer Chinese grads from B-schools outside China such as Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton. “The strength of instruction that they get in these programs, plus the experience they get studying overseas, makes [these] graduates very attractive,” says Emre Demokan, senior manager of staffing for Microsoft China.

I know, it’s a cruel and competitive world, and those who are best educated and best fit should get the best jobs. But it’s still hard not to feel sorry for these Chinese graduates whose dreams, once so ambitious, have cracked and crumbled upon their encounter with reality.


“God Bless America”

Could this type of shit happen anywhere else? And could it happen in America under any other administration?

A homeowners association in the southwestern Colorado town of Pagosa Springs has told one of its residents to take down a Christmas wreath shaped as a peace sign, because it’s “divisive.”

The association’s president says three or four residents have complained the wreath is an anti-Iraq war protest or a symbol of Satan. He says some of those complaining have children serving in Iraq. The association has threatened Lisa Jensen with a fine of 25-dollars a day until she complies.

Jensen says she wasn’t thinking about the war when she hung the wreath, calling it “a spiritual thing.” She says she doesn’t want to be bullied and won’t take it down until after Christmas. Jensen says she doubts the association will be able to make her pay the fine.

What would Jesus do? Would Jesus see the wreath shaped as a peace sign as a symbol of satan? Would he sentence the woman to eternal damnation? And finally, why are so many Americans determined to make us appear to the outside world like true jackasses?


China AIDS acivist “missing” after a meeting with the friendly neighborhood security police

One area where I’ve given China more and more credit over the years has been AIDS awareness. One of the very first posts I wrote that received attention from anyone aside from myself was a lengthy critique of China’s (non-)policy on AIDS back in early 2003. But since then I have put up numerous posts on how the situation was improving (though granted, it couldn’t have gotten any worse). So it hurts whenever I see China take big steps backwards on this urgent issue.

A prominent Chinese AIDS activist has gone missing after meeting with police, the activist’s organization said Saturday, in a suspected clampdown ahead of World AIDS Day.

Four police officers showed up at the Beijing offices of Aizhi, an AIDS advocacy group, Friday morning and questioned Wan Yanhai for much of the day, the group said in a statement on its Web site. Around noon, Wan, with police still present, ordered colleagues to cancel a symposium on AIDS, blood safety and legal rights that was scheduled for Sunday, the group said.

He has not been heard from since 6 p.m. when he had a brief mobile phone conversation with a colleague, the statement said.

“The colleague asked Wan Yanhai his whereabouts, and Wan Yanhai replied that he was being questioned. Since then, his colleagues and family have lost contact with Wan Yanhai,” the group said. His mobile phone has been switched off.

Wan has been one of China’s most dogged campaigners for AIDS awareness, frequently angering the communist government, which ignored the spread of the disease until a few years ago, and often drawing harassment from the security forces.

His apparent disappearance comes just days before World AIDS Day on December 1 and highlights the government’s uncomfortable relationship with activists, even on an issue it acknowledges is a problem.

This notion that the best way to deal with “activists” – dangerous people like an AIDS activist and the blind human rights lawyer and Hao Wu – is to lock them up reflects my deepest concerns about China, concerns that I’ve expressed so many times on this blog I often wonder if it’s worth mentioning yet again. But these are flesh and blood people being thrown into prison, so yes, it is worth bringing up again and again. For many years the slogan of AIDS activists has been “Silence equals death.” That applies equally to abuses of power by Chinese officials, and by Bush officials et. al. Somebody has to call them on it. Criticizing the arrest of a decent man trying to raise awareness of a lethal disease that threatens millions of innocent Chinese doesn’t make me a “China hater.” Quite the opposite, I think.

China’s back on my mind again, like never before.

Update: According to this blog (in Chinese) he’s been released. I certainly hope it’s true.


There are times…

…as you know, when each of us, even the most prolific and irrepressible of bloggers, simply feels he has nothing to say. For me, this is such a time. Not only is there nothing in the news that I find particularly inspiring lately, there are also a number of potential changes whirling around me and until they stop whirling and crystallize, I think the best strategy is silence. This shouldn’t take too long: on Monday afternoon, I expect to have some really big news about…well, I don’t want to spoil things. Let’s just say I’m expecting to post a true bombshell on Monday evening. (Consider yourself teased.)

The other issue – my recent trips to the hospital – increasingly resembles a Franz Kafka novella, in that the more times I see the doctor the less information I seem to get. Bottom line: it’s nothing too serious, but they still have to figure out what to do about it. And I’ll continue to be incapacitated with long waits at the hospital and a seemingly endless series of tests – at least another week, thanks to the nature of sociaized medicine. (Yes, I think socialized medicine is the way to go, but Americans are going to have a hard time giving up the notion of Marcus Welby, M.D., the Family Doctor who lives and works down the street.)


James Fallows in China

(I know, I said I wasn’t going to post, but I’m compulsive…)

One of my long-time journalistic heroes, James Fallows of the Atlantic Monthly, has been living in Shanghai with his family, and he’s finally come out with the sweeping, all-encompassing wrap-up article about life in China that I’ve been waiting for. Tragically, the article is behind a firewall that I cannot violate, but will probably become accessible to all in short order. The price of beer, the wizardry of the new Shanghai subway system, the “bare branches” phenomenon, the skimpy amounts the Chinese government invests in education, the construction boom, the new conspicuous wealth in the cities, the censorship – these and myriad other topics of interest are covered in surprising detail for a single article,

Picking a graf or two from this massive essay to offer up as evidence is difficult, since it’s all delightful reading. So allow me to randomly cut and paste two totally unrelated sections on topics close to my heart: 1.) China’s burning obsession with Japan, oddly contrasted with its willful amnesia of the Cultural Revolution, and 2.) America’s idiotic policy of discouraging Chinese students to study in America. Here goes:

There is one tantalizing further twist to the [anti-Japan] syndrome. When I have asked young people why they should be so wrapped up with events seventy years in the past, the reply is some variant of: ‘We Chinese are students of history.’ There are certain phrases you hear so often that you know they can’t be true, at least not at face value. Yes, China’s years of subjugation by Western countries and Japan obviously still matter. But the history that is more recent but less often discussed is that of the Cultural Revolution, from 1966 to 1976, when the parents of today’s college students were sent into the countryside and often forced to denounce their own parents. In an eloquent new book called Chinese Lessons, John Pomfret of The Washington Post recounts the ways that his classmates from Nanjing University, where he was an exchange student in the early 1980s, bore the emotional and even moral imprint of those years. They’d been made to do things they knew were wrong, and they found ways to rationalize away that knowledge. So far every student gathering I’ve been to has included a volunteered reference to the evil Japanese, and none has included a reference to the evils of Chairman Mao (whose picture is still on every denomination of paper money) and his Cultural Revolution.


If I were China/s economic czar, I would recycle as many of the country’s dollar holdings as possible on grad-school fees in the United States. And if I were America’s immigration czar, I would issue visas to Chinese applicants as fast as I could, recognizing that they will create more jobs, opportunities, and friends for America than the United States could produce any other way for such modest cost. Many Americans will nod along with this point in principle. I would have, too, a few weeks ago. I’m saying that I feel it viscerally now, having met some of these people and begun to see their role in China. And to hear them say that their younger counterparts are going instead to Australia, England, or even Japan because of U.S. visa restrictions makes me want to say: America, wake up and watch out!

If you subscribe, you can (and must) read the whole thing. Fallows is, with Pomfret, one of my idols and mentors, and whenever he speaks I listen. You should, too.



It’s hospital time again. Little to no posts from me until Friday. Full report at that time.


Santa’s House in Moscow

The season is almost upon us. Here’s a charming photo of the official residence of Santa Claus (“Ded Moroz”) in Moscow:


The Moscow residence of Ded Moroz – Russia’s answer to Santa Claus, whose name means Grandfather Frost – was formally opened in Kuzminki Park on Wednesday. Starting Dec. 1, visitors to the residence will be able to go on excursions and meet Ded Moroz and his sidekick, Snegurochka. The residence appeared in December 2003 and has hosted children every winter since then. Among the new additions this year is an ice-skating rink. The nearest metro stations are Kuzminki and Ryazansky Prospekt. Photograph by Vladimir Filonov.

(Richard, sorry for the blast of cold air, but that’s the price we all have to pay for Santa Claus.)

ETA: For your further edification, Russian Santa’s sidekick, “Snegurochka’s” name means “Snow Maiden.” I’ve searched for a good representative photo of her, and found this one from Ukraine:


Talk Talk China lives!

Well, it may not be Talk Talk China exactly, but TTC’s spirit certainly seems to be alive and well over here. For those of you who miss the three D’s, this new site seems to hold promise.


On Notice, China Edition: 11/20


South Vietnam: Before Bush visited Vietnam, the White House website managed to use the flag of the former South Vietnamese government! Is there some strategist in the White House who says the key to dealing with Asian Communist countries is to identify them as the losing American-backed side from half a century ago? Seriously, first Hu Jintao is president of the “Republic of China” and now Hanoi is the seat of the Republic of Vietnam. What is this, some sort of preemptive face strike?

Drive-Bys: But hey, what does it matter? Bush didn’t even get out of the limo in Hanoi. Bill Clinton, we’re reminded, went to the Temple of Literature, hit the noodle shops and helped dig for the remains of US airmen. Of course, Clinton was being hounded about Vietnam at the time. Republicans today seem happy that Bush is out of town, and probably prefer he not come back. Bush could have at least acknowledge he was in Vietnam at the anniversary of Lt. Calley’s My Lai trial.

Blueberries: Wong Kar-wai is banging out a movie in America, Blueberry Nights starring Norah Jones. Hmmm… that has me in the mood for blueberry pie. Has anyone ever seen fresh blueberries in China? Or raspberries?

Alternate Side of the Street Rules: China’s making more cars than they know what to do with. “The demand will tend to shift toward fuel-efficient and middle-class vehicles,â€? said Xu Ping, the chairman of Dongfeng Motor, a large Chinese automaker. Right. That’s why everybody is unveiling more SUVs this year. Maybe the compacts are the bulk of demand, but it seems the moolah is in the Hummer with headrest flatscreens. How’s this for an emerging market in China: multi-story parking garages. ‘Cause one day there won’t even be room on the sidewalk.

Baby Blood: I’m surprised, since Guatemala is a baby farm, that no one has built an underground industry for Asian egg donation. One Chinese woman wants an Asian looking baby because she doesn’t want people asking if it’s hers. A Chinese student in NYC is donating, but doesn’t tell her family because “Chinese people pay very much attention to the blood relationship,” Serena said. “They think that’s a very, almost sacred thing. So they cannot allow that their blood is somewhere else.” Meanwhile, white Americans adopt various color babies from all over the place, as long as they aren’t from the US. Older black boys spend the longest time in the U.S. adoption system bouncing through multiple foster arrangements. Madonna really didn’t have to go all the way to Malawi to find a black kid who needed a home; she could’ve gone back to New Jersey.

Retarded Big Brother: Britain has new RFID passports, and the American ones are being printed as we speak! And the British encryption has already been cracked, by guys who already demonstrated that with a boarding pass from a dustbin, they can steal your entire identity. The British government says there’s nothing to worry about, and we all know the US government is way more competent with this sort of thing, right? Of course, you could get a World Passport and all your troubles are over – recognized by 150 countries to date!

Faces: there’s some big noises over Holland’s proposed burqa ban, but it’s really a ban against face coverings of all kinds – part of Rita Verdonk’s Giuliani-esque crackdown. The Netherlands may not have as many surveillance cameras as Britain, but obviously burqas and ski masks would screw the pooch. Imagine a similar law in China: all those clinical masks, gone! Meanwhile, as usual, no one is paying attention to the controversy about the Egyptian Culture Minister Farouq Hosni calling hijabs (not burqas, but just head wrapping!) backwards, which led to a calm hijab-ed television anchor professionally interviewing an aggressive Hosni on Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera, the voice of reason, Arabs slamming the qitab, Dutch going Big Brother, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!

Newsom Newbies: Slate has the review and clips of a the awesome Joanna Newsom’s new album. Go check out her first album, The Milk-Eyed Meander.. Coolest harp player ever.