“Happiness and Luck”

That’s the name of a youtube video (a photo montage, actually) on the tragedy of China’s coal mining disasters. It’s now banned in China, but you can see it here.


Richard’s Announcement

We all have our favorite opening lines from our favorite books. This is mine:

A destiny that leads the English to the Dutch is strange enough; but one that leads from Epsom into Pennsylvania, and thence into the hills that shut in Altamont over the proud coral cry of the cock, and the soft stone smile of an angel, is touched by that dark miracle of chance which makes new magic in a dusty world.

Each of us is all the sums he has not counted: subtract us into nakedness and night again, and you shall see begin in Crete four thousand years ago the love that ended yesterday in Texas.

The seed of our destruction will blossom in the desert, the alexin of our cure grows by a mountain rock, and our lives are haunted by a Georgia slattern, because a London cut-purse went unhung. Each moment is the fruit of forty thousand years. The minute-winning days, like flies, buzz home to death, and every moment is a window
on all time.

Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel

For the past few weeks, hardly a day has gone by when I didn’t think of these lines, especially the part about the London cut purse, a rich symbol of the quirkiness of fate. I was talking many months ago with one of the founders of Talk Talk China, who told me how an unexpected phone call transported him from his world in America to his new world in Asia, and how he had no idea how much that phone call would alter literally every aspect of his life. Those little moments that at the time seem not so extraordinary, that then change everything. This was a moment:

I met my Chinese teacher at a local Starbucks for our daily lesson a month ago, and as we were finishing up the phone began to ring. Not wanting to be interrupted, I let it go. A few minutes later, when I was alone on the street a text message appeared from my colleague in Beijing: “Richard, can you get to Beijing immediately? This is urgent.” Why it was urgent and what it was about isn’t really relevant and I can’t go into that for the sake of my company’s privacy. Let’s just say I didn’t think too much of it; it wasn’t the first time I’d been asked to drop everything and travel. I was excited to be invited to spend a few days in Beijing, and within a few hours I had my ticket in hand.

About three weeks ago I wrote to two readers of this blog about what a sad trip it was. This was when I got sick and could scarcely walk. When the weekend came, I couldn’t get out of bed. I wrote to these people about how alone I felt in Beijing, even though I have so many friends there. When you are sick, you don’t want to bother your friends; that’s what family is for. Never did I miss my family as I did that week. Never did I so want to leave Asia and just go back to the safety and warmth of my own home, my own bed, my own cats and family. It was then that I decided it was time for me to leave Asia and go home for good.

For a couple of weeks I was intent on going home and was making the necessary plans. But fate plays tricks. Suffice it to say that as a result of the meetings I flew up for, I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse: to return to Beijing to work on a most important project. Slowly, bit by bit, the plans solidified, approvals came by email and by phone, and suddenly it appeared that I had a whole new life mapped out. I felt deeply conflicted. The recent memories of my weekend in Beijing drove home to me how harsh that city can feel when you’re down and out. The lure of all that I have in America is as strong now as it was a month ago, when I decided I had to go home. But suddenly the deck was rearranged, and I felt there was no choice whatsoever: this was literally a dream opportunity and I couldn’t say no.

Conflicted, but also certain. That’s how I feel. I’ll be moving back in less than four weeks and the whole situation has an almost dream-like quality. When I explained the situation to my family, they understood, and agreed I had to do it. This wasn’t what I expected. I was certain the next stop would be Shanghai and then home. Four weeks ago, i was ready to skip Shanghai altogether and just get back to my loved ones. And now, my reality is something very different. I have to buy a winter coat and gloves. I have to stock up on chapstix and facial moisturizers, and prepare psychologically for dealing once again with Beijing’s ruthless January cold.

For all the jokes we make about Beijing’s weather, it’s actually a very serious issue for me. It’s not by accident that I own a house in Phoenix, Arizona. In 1984, O’Brien explains to Winston how each of us has his one huge fear. For Winston, it was rats. For me, it is the cold. I can deal with it, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a major source of anxiety for me at the moment. It’s nearly all I can think about – the joy of the opportunity tempered by the fact that the last time I lived in Beijing, the cold made me miserable. The one difference this time is that unlike then, I now have friends, even a small community, in Beijing. Back then I had no one – or practically no one – and nothing made the loneliness more intense and nasty than those slicing winds and frozen fingers.

Still, I am optimistic, even thrilled. I’ve always wanted to go back, and I’ll be doing the kind of work I love most and working with people I know and trust. So this is it. I’m moving back to China. It’s finally approved and on paper, and I haven’t felt this excited in many months, despite the doubts and fears and memories. Ever since I left I was dying to get back for reasons I still can’t fully fathom. My last few times in Beijing (aside from my days in bed last month) were among the happiest trips of my life, and each time I felt the city’s mysterious appeal wooing me. And now I am going back. In just a month, once again I will truly be The Peking Duck. I am still in shock and amazement. It hasn’t penetrated 100 percent.

To those of you who I love so much in China’s capital, all I can say is I can’t wait to see you again, this time as a resident and not a visitor. Quirks of fate…unexpected phone calls….those are the things that life is all about. Actually they are the rule more than the exception. Life is full of these unexpected twists and turns; maybe life is simply a series of unexpecteds. (Sorry for all the armchair philosophising; I’m in a very contemplative mood.)

I’ll need help; I need to find a place to live. I have to get reacquainted with a vast metropolis that has changed like a chameleon since I lived there three years ago. I’ll also have to learn simplified characters after spending 12 painstaking months studying traditional Chinese. So I’m nervous as all hell while at the same time feeling totally high. I’ll see you all very soon. I’m taking a much-needed three week vacation back to America, leaving next weekend. When I get back to Taipei I’ll have just two or three days to gather my stuff and catch a flight to Beijing, and to a new life. I’ll be recording every step of my new journey here.



20 years old, tried and executed in total secrecy and without representation for standing up to corrupt tyrants. This was the doing of provincial authorities, and the one glint of optimism in the whole thing is that perhaps the central powers will take notice and demand justice. At least that’s what the young man’s attorneys are hoping. Someone should pay a very heavy price for what amounts to murder.


Sorry for the silence

It’s been one of those weeks, and I’ve had to put The Peking Duck on the back burner. I’ll try to get back into form over the weekend, but for now I have to deal with too many little headachces to even think about blogging. It’s almost time for the “big announcement” I promised a couple of weeks ago, so don’t go away.


And Then The Buddha Threw Up in His Own Mouth

The New York Times, much as it did in the summer of 2001, knows what the priority is in Afghanistan: a couple of blown up statues. Never mind the 50,000 families hit by a flash flood this week. Never mind the Taliban killed 3,500 people this year and Afghanistan’s government is calling for more aid. Never mind the latest issue of Foreign Affairs has these nuggets:

It is the poorest country in the world outside of sub-Saharan Africa, and its government remains weak and ineffective. Last year, it raised domestic revenue of about $13 per capita — hardly enough to buy each of its citizens one case of Coca-Cola from the recently opened bottling plant near Kabul, let alone take on all of the important tasks at hand.

Real estate prices and rents are dropping in Kabul, and occupancy rates are down. Fruit and vegetable sellers report a decline in demand of about 20 percent, and construction companies in Kabul report significant falls in employment and wages. A drought in some parts of the country has also led to displacement and a decline in agricultural employment, for which the record opium poppy crop has only partially compensated.

Oh yeah, the opium boom. Did I forget to mention that?

Moreover, the lack of electricity continues to be a major problem. No major new power projects have been completed, and Kabulis today have less electricity than they did five years ago. While foreigners and wealthy Afghans power air conditioners, hot-water heaters, computers, and satellite televisions with private generators, average Kabulis suffered a summer without fans and face a winter without heaters. Kabul got through the past two winters with generators powered by diesel fuel purchased by the United States; this year the United States made no such allocation.

It goes on and on. Meanwhile, what’s the New York Times got to tell us? We can rebuild the Buddhas. We can make them stronger, faster, better… with LASERS!!!! Yeah!!!!

But reassembling pieces that can weigh up to 90 tons would be extremely difficult; Afghanistan does not even have a crane strong enough to hoist them, Mr. Melzl said. The reconstruction project, which the governor of Bamiyan Province has estimated would cost $50 million, would probably also become a political issue in this impoverished Muslim country, where more than 10 percent of the population remains in need of food aid.

Nevertheless, the provincial governor, Habiba Sarabi, favors rebuilding the Buddhas using anastylosis, and said she would propose that the central government make a formal request to Unesco. Professor Maeda said he supports the idea of reassembling one of the Buddhas and leaving the other destroyed as a testament to the crime.

The government also approved the proposal of the Japanese artist Hiro Yamagata to mount a $64 million sound-and-laser show starting in 2009 that would project Buddha images at Bamiyan, powered by hundreds of windmills that would also supply electricity to surrounding residents.

And the villagers fled in panic as MechaSiddhartha vaporized huge swaths of the countryside with his laser beam eyes.

$64 million dollars that could go to… oh, I dunno, mine removal, food aid (the one issue the Times does mention), transitioning opium to alternate crops, building electricity plants, repairing a corrupt and inept police force, blah blah blah. I want lasers! A laser light show? That’s what Turkmenistan does with the rotating laser-enabled Rukhnama book statue.

Mr. Yamagata’s website, Bamiyanlaser.org, says its sponsors are “Beverly Hills Mercedes Benz etc.” In the FAQ, he answers this question, which is apparently “frequently asked”:

Under the project members, there are names of celebrities such as Sharon Stone and Dennis Hopper, what kind of role do they play in the project? Are they going to be taking any part in the PR for the project?

Answer by Yamagata:
They are both my very close friends. In the future, in LA, they will actively play part in promoting this project. Moreover, in different occasions, we are scheduled to promote about this project in great detail and will actively take actions to gain support from many organisations.

*Ahem* You know, there’s a reason Buddhists wipe away sand mandalas and carve butter sculptures. It’s because they believe in the impermanence of things, and that human lives are more important than big rocks. I’m gonna go out on a limb here, and say that Buddha himself would say the statues had a good run, but quit weeping over them (especially since Japanese archaeologists did sophisticated modeling of them thirty years ago so they still exist virtually) and GO FEED SOMEBODY. WTF?


Gordon Chang’s “China in Revolt”

Gordon Chang – yes, he of “The Coming Collapse of China” fame – has penned a damning overview of the history of the CCP in the conservative (to put it mildly) rag, Commentary. It’s actually a pretty clear-headed piece and I can’t take issue with any of its key points. (It’s quaint to see how they make no reference to The Coming Collapse in Chang’s bio below the article – maybe because Chang’s predictions haven’t panned out – yet?)

Last graf as a teaser:

Leaving China a half-decade ago, an American banker remarked: “There’s a billion people here who don’t like following instructions.” If anything, Chinese society since then has become even more willful. It may not always be defiant, but it is frequently disobedient. For better and also for worse, we have entered a period marked by the emergence of a great people from millennia of autocratic rule. For better – because a nation that can barely govern itself will not be capable of dominating the other 200 countries on the planet. For worse – because so turbulent and fretful a society is unlikely to rise peacefully, or to accept its role as a great power in orderly fashion. Thirty years after the death of Mao, the Chinese people have unfinished business to conduct, and their transition into the future is unlikely to be smooth.

It’s one you’ll want to read to the end.

Update: I wrote this post and read the Chang aticle too fast. In the comments Dave gives it the fisking it deserves.


Instapundit’s Iraq War Wisdom

Warblogger Glenn Reynolds is holding a “symposium” on the Iraq War, a topic of which Reynolds can claim unmatched knowledge and stunning prescience. After all, look at all his past predictions and analyses of The Great War. Is this guy a genius or what? And could anyone doubt that his role as king of the blogs isn’t fully deserved? (And you simply must click on that link and see for yourself.)

Look, all you need to do is check what the nutty professor said in the past and what’s happening here and now in the real world to see that he’s just an irresponsible and reckless windbag. He’s still up at the top because he was first to market and has brand recognition. Other than that, he’s got nothing.


A great step for mankind

I just heard breaking news on CNN that John Bolton has resigned as US ambassador to the UN. This was expected and inevitable, but it’s still wonderful news. Good riddance to the walrus.


Killer viagra!

Unfortunately, that is literally what it is. China seems to lead the way in pirated drugs, along with India and Russia.

Via CDT.


Why it’s great to live in China

I’m really glad I saw this post today. Really. I’m going to have to spend a bit of time in Beijing this winter and have been freaking out as usual over the winter weather. The post reminded me that there’s more to China in general and Beijing in particular than the weather.