Another week

Sorry, but this site will be dark for yet another week or so. Then I’ll be back with an unprecedented burst of creative, enlightening, impeccably written posts. At least I hope so.


Sign in a Chinese Men’s Room

at work 010.jpg

This was sent to me by a reader who swears it’s for real (click to enlarge, but the Chinese is still hard to read – it’s the diagram that says it all). Is it possible?

And on that note, I am departing for a much anticipated trip home in about 18 hours, so expect a few days of radio silence. Happy pre-Holidays.


Life out of Balance


Check out this stunning set of B&W photos of life in China as the country seeks to follow the model set by the West.

Via this blog.


David Brooks: The Obama-Clinton Issue

I stopped long ago cutting/pasting entire articles, but this one is too interesting for me not to point you to. David Brooks, one of my least favorite columnists, writes a tribute to Barrack Obama that can only be described as an anointment. I mean, it sounds as if he is describing a saint. And Brooks used to write for Weekly Standard. Very strange, because the column is a major win for Obama and a serious slap in the face to Hillary Clinton, the one great hope the GOP has to remain in power Why is Brooks doing this? Has he had a rare blast of conscience? If not, it’s unfathomable.

You can read the entire mystifying column here. [Word file.]



Yesterday at one stressful point in the day I got really irritated at a whole groups of new commenters and deleted a batch of comments, which I rarely do. I didn’t even think it through – I just felt so annoyed I clicked the boxes and hit the delete button. The main offense was the personal stuff, seeking to ridicule others and be a smart-ass. I apologize if I hit “delete” too quickly, and request that you tone down the personal rhetoric when addressing one another, and me. Thanks for commenting.


From the craptacular to the sublime

It’s big! It’s boisterous! It’s boring as hell! It’s totally CRAPTACULAR!

First, let’s start with definitions. For the best description of what constitutes China’s unique form of the Craptacular, there’s no better place to go than here. I don’t know if China is the only place where you can find this phenomenon, and I’ve seen schlocky entertainment in lots of places. However, what separates the gauche from the craptacular, to me, is the scale. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is on a scale with China’s truly craptacular mega-spectacles – at least not in my experience.

A few weeks ago I had the dubious honor of being immersed in an event of immeasurable craptacularness, and it would be a disservice if I didn’t recount the experience here. (The photos here are from that event, and you can click on the images to see enlarged versions, if you really want to.)

I was down in Guangzhou for a big event; one of the big Western firms that does its manufacturing there was celebrating a milestone, and no expense was being spared to show the workers the company’s gratitude. An all-day celebration, it culminated in a huge entertainment extravaganza. Six thousand workers assembled in a vast field on which was assembled a gargantuan stage and skyscraper-high lighting towers. Three-story high video displays stood on each side of the stage, and videographers atop special platforms captured every craptacular moment.

This amazing singer can shift her voice instantly from high soprano to deep bass. Unfortunately, her earpiece fell out at one point and she stopped moving her lips – but the singing kept on going. In other words, the whole big show was lip-synched. All of that amazing entertainment was canned, and the audience conned.

I had seen craptaculicious extravaganzas on CCTV of course, and was always struck by how similar they all seemed – the lights, the costumes, the dance spectacles, the music, the Las Vegas cheesiness, everybody smiling so wide you fear they’ll get some kind of lip infection…. But seeing it up front was intense. I have to admit, I was mesmerized and in awe; it’ so overwhelming, you’ve little choice but to be in awe – – at least for a while. The performing isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, some of the singers were quite talented, and the comedian with the odd bald head with a splotch of hair on the side had an amazing ability to imitate the sounds of animals and whistles of birds.

That said, this went on for more than four hours. I only stayed for the first two hours and was totally saturated, my shlock-o-meter ready to burst. The other 5,998 people stayed on. Most of them were dancing and singing and loving every instant. And it wasn’t just the 6,000 workers. On all the buildings surrounding the immense field, hordes of townspeople had assembled and were watching the show with us. I don’t mean a few people standing on rooftops. I mean throngs of people, hundreds and hundreds (if not thousands), packed together on roofs as far as the eye could see, swaying with the music and laughing with the crowd. At one point the emcee acknowledged and welcomed them; the spotlights focused on them, and we all turned around to see just how huge this second audience was. There was a frenzy to the sticky Guandong night; these thousands of people were thrilled; there was electricity in the air as they swayed and shouted on the rooftops.

The night was strange (a profound understatement) and it was also wonderful. As we watched the spectacle, the music ringing in our heads, my business associate from Europe turned to me and said, in a very serious voice, “How can I explain this to anyone back home? How can I describe what we are seeing right now? Can anyone put this into words?”

The joker. Quite funny, actually.

This was a valid question, and it was also what inspired me to write this post – to see if words really could convey the true experience, the unique essence of craptacular . I suspect I will fail – crapatacular has to be seen, has to be experienced to be understood.

Yes, the entertainment was ostentatious, boring and fake. But the miracle for me was the reaction of the workers, their utterly irrepressible enthusiasm and delight. It was this more than anything that made My Craptacular Night so unforgettable.

The night was also a defining moment of my experience in China because it confirmed one opinion I had formed after moving back here, namely that for all the sins and depravities of the Chinese one-party system, many of the working classes are nearly delirious with joy at the opportunities afforded them compared with the wasteland of just 30 years ago. Now, these people may be wrong, they may be delusional, they may be brainwashed, and the government might be screwing them behind their backs, but that isn’t my point. The point here is simply the fact that they are indeed excited about the prospects for their future, and feel they are doing okay now and will do even better soon up the road. Tragically, several readers of this site feel that simply acknowledging that some people are thrilled with their opportunities (real or perceived) is in some ways an endorsement of the CCP. Hardly. It is simply a reality that you must understand if you really want to claim knowledge of this country (and I, by the way, claim none). If you see it only as a mountain of misery and a hole, you are only seeing what you want to see. I see the misery and I see the holes. I also see an incredibly ambitious and hopeful group of people who want to do better with their lives, and it would be heartbreaking to see those dreams shattered. And so I wish them the best, not the worst, and I am glad that in my own insignificant way I can help let the world know these people are really there, flesh and blood human beings with lofty dreams and a whole lot of hope. People who have been given hope not by their pig-headed government but by the freedom of free enterprise. Even if they can sit through four hours of craptacular entertainment, I still love them.



Re-evaluation trebles number of Chinese on $1 a day or less

Harsh life for China’s hill farmers

Another excellent article on the division between rural and urban China. For those of you that may have missed it, the following is vindication for those of us that doubted whether so many Chinese really have been lifted out of poverty as is often claimed.

For two decades, commentators have talked with pride about how many people were being pulled out of poverty. But last summer the authoritative Asian Development Bank published an official survey showing that China’s economy was actually smaller and poorer than hitherto thought.

It estimated that the number of people living below the World Bank’s poverty line was three times previous estimates: 300 million people living on $1 a day or less, about 50p.

When you take into account that the definition of poverty is relative to each country and that prices have been going up for many years (rapidly in recent times) in China, there will be many more Chinese with a higher income that are still struggling to make ends meet even for basics and should be considered impoverished.

Another warning for foreigners not to be blinded by the obvious changes visible in Chinese cities – China is fast becoming more economically divided than a lot of developed nations.


Toxic Fish

Another of the NY Times’s excellent series on China titled “Choking on Growth,” this article might make you think long and hard about that seafood you love ordering at the local restaurant in China. Unfortunately, it’s also being shipped all over the world and its full of carcinogens and other poisons, byproducts of China’s GDP, which keeps on growing at the expense of the environment. Whenever I eat shrimp or fish here I have to block out of my mind where it came from – filthy water full of chemicals, pesticides and other goodies that keep the economy on a tear. The short-sightedness here is simply mind boggling: there’s only so much poison you can keep pouring into the water before life is virtually unsustainable. Just one more train-wreck to worry about as China continues its campaign against nature.

My one hope is an emerging awareness of the benefits of “green” among Chinese young people – I think they are beginning to get it. I sure hope so, because they don’t have a lot of time, and I fear that a lot of the damage done is irreversible.



Yes, another program for learning Chinese at your computer with your own teacher – only this one sounds like it’s got a lot of weight behind it (as in, the company’s got money and is publicly traded).

Could the claim made in the cited blog post – that 30 million foreigners are now studying Chinese – be true? Staggering. Maybe there really is room for all the competitors.

Anyway, I’ve gone and checked the TargetChinese site out, and as the blogger says, it’s still “rough around the edges.” I am having some serious issues with buttons that don’t work, but maybe that’s because they just opened shop 48 hours ago.


China Daily, fair and balanced

Quite simply one of the best and most devastating posts I’ve ever read. I always knew China Daily totally sucked, but this goes beyond mere sucking. This is “journalism” at its most bizarre. You can’t miss it. Just go there now, and read to the last sentence (which really says it all).

China’s propaganda department is still one sick and twisted puppy. I want to say they are self-parodying, but there is nothing funny about this story. Nothing at all. Scary, creepy, deranged, but not funny.

Via eswn.

Update: Just to clarify: I am not saying CD is lying about anything. I am saying it’s amazing to me how they’ve spun a story about a shockingly savage murder and turned it into a sympathy piece on the stresses Chinese students face when studying abroad. It’s a great post in every way, especially its dry wit and irony. Try to get inside the minds of the editors and reporters at China Daily and figure out what was in their minds when they took the story in its final direction. I find it bizarre, some seem to think it’s just fine. Macabre might be a better descriptor.