Life in Pyongyang

A grim and grimly amusing article, beautifully written, about a “vacation” spent in the utopian paradise that is North Korea’s capitol. Some samples:

If you are very lucky and honored, you may penetrate the Kumsusan Memorial Palace. This was the home of the Great Leader when he was ordinarily alive, kept going in his later years by a special diet of extra-long dog penises. Today, it is his mausoleum, where he lives forever in the extraordinary fashion devised for him by whoever actually controls this country. This is no mere Lenin’s Tomb but a temple of awe, where devotees must have the dust blasted from their clothes and shoes before approaching the sacred body and bowing deeply.

I was not considered worthy to go there, but was allowed to lay flowers at, and bow to, the bronze image of Kim that gleams on a hill above the city – and used to gleam a great deal more before the gold leaf that once adorned it was stripped off. It is widely believed that the extravagant coating was removed in one night after the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping remarked dryly that if North Korea could afford such a display, it surely did not really need the Chinese economic aid for which it was asking.

North Korea is a small, isolated, stagnant pond left over from the flood of Marxism-Leninism, which long ago receded. But it has nowhere to drain away. Far too many people, not all of them in Pyongyang, have an interest in keeping it as it is. It still has the capacity to do terrible things but mainly to its own citizens. A serious policy would aim to find a way to help it escape from the political and economic trap in which it finds itself. Threats, name-calling, and the pretence that this shambles of a country is a serious world power are unlikely to achieve this. It is more to be pitied than to be feared.

Do read it all; it’s long and there’s lots of good stuff. Yes, we all know already how surreal life is over there, but this is a good reminder that it’s still just as god-awful as ever, and maybe even a bit worse than the last time we checked.


Feeling too happy?

If so, you may want to read this to remember what life can be like out there in “the other China.” Devastating. And those pictures…

That said, the response of the local population and the attention this has received in the media are truly encouraging.


Is the rush to study Chinese a time-wasting fad?

The great Ken ( Carroll takes on the mighty Economist in an outspoken and entertaining post on his brand new blog. He actually makes the poor reporter look pretty ridiculous.

I love the Economist, but it ran an incredibly weak article today – False Eastern promise whose sub-heading tells us that the ‘craze for teaching Chinese may be a misguided fad’. The craze for teaching Chinese may just be a fad? May be a fad?

Of course it’s possible that this is a fad, but what precisely is that saying? There’s a lot of things that may or may not happen out there, that may or may not be fads, no end of things we could speculate wildly upon without providing data. Why this particular issue? The premise is so vague, speculative, unsubstantiated, and out of the blue, that you have to wonder where the author suddenly got the idea from. It’s bizarre.

That said, I think for many people caught up in the “we must learn Chinese” mass movement it really is a time-wasting fad, because there is no love for the language and no deep-hearted commitment to it: Based on wildly exaggerated articles they’ve read about China being on the verge of becoming the next superpower, they think it’s a necessary business decision, that by the time their kids grow up all business will be conducted in Mandarin and those who can’t read a Chinese newspaper with perfect tones will be left in the cold. Which is a complete snow job.

Learning Chinese is great. It is hard for most people, but not at all impossible. Everyone who is interested in China and who wants to live here or who loves languages and wants to expand their horizons should give it a try. But if you’re jumping onto the bandwagon because you think Chinese is the way of the future, you’re in for a double surprise. 1. Chinese is not going to become the international business language anytime while we’re still alive (if ever); 2. If your heart isn’t really in it, little of the language will stick and you will give up frustrated and annoyed at yourself for wasting so much time you could have spent learning macrame or other more practical things.

I only have time nowadays for about two hours of Chinese lessons a week. At this rate, I’ll probably never be above an elementary level. But every day I spend at least an hour studying, and I have Chinese Pod and other lessons playing in my apartment rather constantly. Over the past year I learned a few hundred characters and doubled my vocabulary on my own. Because I love the language and feel that with each phrase I learn the more rich my experience here can be. I have no illusions that I will ever conduct business in Chinese or write proposals in hanzi. But I am still completely committed to it, and I spend the majority of my time when I’m not working studying Chinese.

So yes, there is a fad element to the learn-Chinese stampede. But it’s also a great undertaking and everyone who really wants to learn it should go for it. If, however, you think it’s going to make you rich, or if you think it’s a magic bullet for survival in the age of “China rising,” you’re going at it for the wrong reason and will most likely give it up and feeling kind of bitter about it.


Reporters in China, watch out

This just out from the Foreign Correspondents Club:

Dear Members,

Recently some foreign correspondents have been detained, harassed and physically roughed up — two incidents Tuesday alone. The FCCC board thought you’d want to hear about what happened. One of the journalists who experienced problems had not been aware of previous problems in the area; information such as this therefore might help you plan your travels.

Here are summaries of yesterday’s developments….

1) Barbara Luthi, correspondent for Swiss TV and her cameraman and local assistant were roughed up and detained for seven hours in Shengyou Village, Dingzhou County, Baoding City, Hebei Province on
20th November. One of their tapes was erased by the authorities. They had been interviewing villagers at the site of a land dispute in 2005 that resulted in a pitched battle that claimed six lives. “I have been interrogated by police before, but this was on a whole different scale,” said Luethi. “It is the first time I have been physically beaten.”

She said six cars drove up containing 10-12 men,who claimed to be local villagers. She believes they were plain
clothes police. Two of their cars did not have number plates. They were “quite brutal”, twisting her arm painfully, grabbing a camera and bags. In the struggle that followed Luethi fell to the ground.

The issue was eventually resolved when the men who detained them called local foreign affairs bureau, who were “ok”.

2) Mathias Braschler & Monika Fischer, Swiss photographers were detained for three hours in Wuchang, southern area of Wuhan on 20 November. They were being told about a property dispute.

Residents told them they had been beaten up and threatened. Braschler and Fischer were only talking to locals. They didn’t even have a chance to even take camera out of the car when uniformed police arrived.They were held in a police station off Heping road. There was no violence, no property confiscated. But they were held back when they tried to return to their car. It was the third time the couple have been detained during their travels around China. They said it was the most unpleasant experience.” They were much rougher in the way they treated us,” said Braschler.

“After two hours, we said we are just going to leave. Then the chief of police came. He was very unfriendly and threatened to detain us for12 hours if we didn’t go back to police station. He seriously threatened us. They said we couldn’t go until they checked us.Eventually someone from foreign affairs department of police came,said all fine, wanted to invite us to lunch to clarify. We said no.Then they got tough again. They said they want to check all our film, cameras and notebook. I said two options – either we are free so we can go. Or we are arrested so we call the swiss embassy. Eventually they let us go.”

It’s a nice place to live over on on this side of the tracks. But it’s still China, it’s still a thugocracy, and there are still huge holes in the legal system that let goons, plunderers and murderers off the hook. It really is getting better (I’ve been tracking these stories for years, and since 2003 there’s been a steady drop in the number), which means it’s maybe gone from zero to three on a scale of zero to ten. Or maybe it just means the media’s gotten complacent.

The Olympics are a stone’s throw away, and stories like this could turn what the government plans to be the most spectacular dog and pony show of all time into a global media roast of heavy-handed old-fashioned communist thuggery. Nine more months. Tick-tock, tick-tock….


What will the Beijing Olympics really be remembered for?


We’ve heard comments that next year’s sporting super-event will be marred by China’s terrible human rights situation, possible protests being suppressed in the full glare of the media, pollution crippling numerous athletes, etc.

But haven’t we forgot maybe the biggest problem of all when it comes to the Olympics? Read the following article from the BBC.

The fight against drugs in sport

Kelly Sotherton believes clean athletes will “definitely” lose out to drugs cheats at next year’s Olympics. The British heptathlete told BBC Radio 5 Live Sport that cheats get away with it and likened doping to stealing. She was reacting to a BBC Sport report that revealed the test for human growth hormone (HGH) was almost useless.

The article is littered with examples of cheats getting away with things until it’s all too late. That’s the thing. If people are caught before events, great. But it damages the credibility of the sport if they are able to compete and deny others of medals and places in finals. Some people will slip through the net, but do some countries try enough – do they prefer to turn a blind eye in the hope their athletes will get away with it? Or, indeed, do they encourage it?. We all remember China’s “Golden Flowers“, the female swimmers with bodies akin to those of the East German women’s team thanks to “a special Chinese diet” according to their coaches. Although countries will squeal that they can’t control the actions of coaches, anyone with half a brain would question why phyically scrawny women could ever gain so much muscle mass in such a short period of time – that or they deliberately didn’t ask the question.

Will Beijing be the time when clean athletes just ask “what’s the point” and decide to take drugs themselves? If the IOC and other sporting bodies continue to run events without sufficiently tight doping tests, what’s the point in staying clean? For those that want to win many (if not most) have to give up their jobs. Not winning means less income and having to spend more time working and less time training. That’s not a problem for rich countries who essentially give their sportsmen and women a wage, but even then athletes with potential but have not become top-ranked can lose out. How are poorer nations supposed to cope? In terms of the moral argument, if other athletes are taking drugs you’d only be levelling the playing field, wouldn’t you? There are health risks, but some people are willing to take the chance.

Perhaps the simple answer is that the sports governing bodies need to get tough. Impose harsher rules so that if you’re caught doping, your career is over. No second chances – one strike and you’re out, forever. If you’re innocent you can appeal, but cheats can’t expect to come back after a few years. Or wouldn’t it make a difference? I don’t know, but certainly these days the question on everyone’s lips when it comes to who wins the gold medal is “did he/she take drugs?” That’s really very sad.


There’s gold in those toilet bowls!

The Chinese really are the world’s most industrious people, able to spot golden opportunities in the most unlikely of places. Amazing.


The Bully

For those of you who wonder why I continuously bring up the malignancies of Michelle Malkin, I’d like to provide at least a partial answer (there’s more to it than I can tell in this post). It was when I read this post that I knew she would be my blood enemy forever. It was, of all things, a call for awareness of the misery that school bullies cause their victims, a call for respect for those weaker than ourselves, that drove Malkin to a new peak of odiousness.

The left-wing Kumbaya crowd is quietly grooming a generation of pushovers in the public schools. At a time of war, when young Americans should be educated about this nation’s resilience and steely resolve, educators are indoctrinating students with saccharine-sticky lessons on “non-violent conflict resolution” and “promoting constructive dialogues.”

Just what we need to combat throat-slitting, suicide plane-flying Islamists: young eunuchs swaying to moldy old folk music while their ‘Peace Place’ signs flap in the wind….Peaceniks are covering our kids from head to toe in emotional bubble wrap. They are creating a nation of namby-pambys.

It was when I saw this rebuttal of Malkin’s Mein Kamp-inspired article that I promptly blogrolled its authors, moving them immediately to the very top. If you really don’t understand why Malkin’s prescription is so depraved (and I choose the word carefully), be sure to check their deconstruction of it.

So why did this one post have such a deep effect on me? Because bullying is no laughing matter, and to condone it as an exercise of our “will” or “virility” or “toughness” is to condone brutality, torture. And I know.

Nearly every morning before getting up to go to school in 7th grade, I would lay in bed crying, afraid to move, afraid to talk to my parents, afraid someone would see the terror on my face. When I arrived at school, I knew that a brute named Arthur Lang would be waiting for me, waiting to push me down in the hall, waiting to kick my books across the hallway, waiting to call me a girl and a weakling. I had no idea why he did it. And I had no way out. I could only accept the humiliation and try to block out the laughter of my schoolmates. Once he pushed me off the schoolbus and I landed face-down in the snow, my nose bleeding. I remember the snow turning red, and my books and my homework soaked in slush, and trying to stand and pick everything up knowing others were watching and laughing, and walking home in a state of mortification and helplessness.

As I remember Arthur Lang now, this description of one of the characters in The Great Gatsby, Tom, rings in my ears:

Two shining arrogant eyes had established dominance over his face and gave him the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward. Not even the effeminate swank of his riding clothes could hide the enormous power of that body – he seemed to fill those glistening boots until he strained the top lacing, and you could see a great pack of muscle shifting when his shoulder moved under his thin coat. It was a body capable of enormous leverage – a cruel body.

A cruel body…. Everything about Arthur Lang was cruel. The nightmare went on for three or four months. And then one day something very strange happened, In gym class, the teacher assigned Arthur Lang and me to be workout partners. I felt consumed by dread when the teacher pointed to me and then to Arthur. How was he going to torture me this time, I wondered. We had to help each other do sit-ups. I was struggling. And suddenly Arthur began to talk to me, for the very first time, like one human being to another. “It would be better if you did it this way,” he said, and he helped me. For about half an hour we worked together, while I waited the whole time for the monster I knew he was to strike again. It never did. And after that day, he never terrorized me again. I still don’t know exactly what happened. I can only guess he saw I was a human being.

But that wasn’t the end of my experience with bullies. In summer camp that year I was fair game because I brought my violin instead of my baseball mitt to the cabin, and I hated sports. One day I came into the cabin to find all the strings on my violin pulled out and the hairs on the bow snipped off. Worst of all, I found the most terrible solution to deal with the emotional torture, to convince myself I was strong, that I was valid: I found someone else weaker than me and I bullied him. Even now I can hear Freddie Cohen crying because I took one of his most beloved possessions (I cannot remember, no matter how hard i try, what it was) and I destroyed it. He lay there sobbing, and I taunted him some more. There was no excuse for what I did; I did it simply because I could. It is one of those moments where you think, if only I could go back and correct what I did and apologize. I would do anything, anything at all to go back and tell him how sorry I am, how I turned on him only because I had been turned on myself….

It all came to a stop when I was 15. Suddenly my tenor voice became a full deep bass and I was the star in my high school musical, I got confident, I got a girlfriend and I became “one of the popular kids.” Arthur Lang melted away, but any time I think about those three nightmare months, even today, I cringe; I feel physically sick.

The idea of one person forcing another through brute force to submit to his will, the idea of kicking and punching someone less powerful than you to show your own strength – the victim’s sense of humiliation can be pushed down, but it never fully goes away. Which is why I can be hyper-sensitive about the brutalities of the CCP, and why I always have to speak out when I see my government use raw, ugly force against perceived enemies, and when monsters like Malkin swoon, seeing this force as an example of virility and strength, as something good. As I read her insidious words confusing bullying with determination, a poem by Sylvia Plath came to mind:

Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

And Michelle is just that type of woman.

There is nothing more terrifying than being a frightened child who knows the bully is coming for you, about to push his boot in your face, and knowing you have nowhere to turn. The experience was probably pivotal in determining the kind of person I’d be, the kind of work I’d do, the attitude I’d take toward politics, toward people who cut lines, toward the little guy persecuted by a thuggish government.

Bullying is a disease, in every way a terrible thing. Malkin’s philosophy is that it’s alright until it reaches the point of being a jailable felony. She is wrong, of course, and it’s pretty clear she wasn’t bullied as a child. There’s nothing wrong with teaching children to respect one another and refrain from acts of sadism. Anyone who says otherwise is probably a bully herself.

Update: There is another splendid take-down of Michelle’s worldview over here:

I imagine that Michelle practices what she preaches, and when her children squabble, she has them fight it out with switchblades and Uzis, in order to prepare them to deal with suicide plane-flying Islamimists.


Yahoo settles out of court

(By Raj)

Yahoo settles its China lawsuit

Yahoo has agreed to settle a lawsuit brought against it on behalf of several Chinese dissidents, according to papers filed in a California court. No details have been given of the settlement but Yahoo will be covering legal costs.

The case alleged that Yahoo had provided information to the Chinese government that had then been used to prosecute the dissidents. Yahoo said it had to comply with Chinese laws to operate in the country. A statement released by the World Organization for Human Rights USA, which brought the case, said Yahoo had decided to settle the case following criticism at a US Congressional hearing on 6 November.

It’s clear that Yahoo’s weak excuse that it had to comply with whatever mysterious Chinese law was thrown at it, otherwise known as “some official told me to do X”, wouldn’t hold water in any reasonable court.

Did Yahoo even consider challenging whichever organisation filed the request for the information? Argue it didn’t have to give it under the Chinese Constitution? Demand a formal request from the relevant minister, or whatever? No, of course not. Can’t rock the boat. No obligation to the customers at all. China’s a place without law or due-process, so Yahoo’s blameless.

(Out of curiosity, did Yahoo even say what law they had to comply with? Or was it really a case of “I was told to do X by someone in authority, so I did it without question”?)

Michael Callahan, Yahoo’s executive vice-president and general counsel, then told a congressional panel in February 2006 that he did not know why the Chinese authorities wanted to trace Shi Tao.

At best Callahan made the Chinese wing of his company look like it’s run by a bunch of morons.

Guys, it’s called join the dots. What possible reason could there have been other than to throw him in jail – to give him a prize?! Anyone with a modicum of understanding of China would have known what they wanted to do with that poor guy. The Chinese government focuses its internet attention on finding out who potential “troublemakers” are so that it can silence them. It’s as simple as that.

If was in charge of HR at Yahoo I’d create a new opening to ensure this problem doesn’t occur again.

Job Description
Yahoo seeks advisor to help run its affairs in the People’s Republic of China. Applicants must demonstrate they do not have their head crammed up their backsides and are capable of rationally processing information brought to their attention.

Anyone up for it?

Yes, the only possible answer is that Yahoo (China) – or whoever they are – really don’t know what they’re doing. That, or Mr Callahan lied to Congress. You decide which it was.


Central Heating

It got turned on yesterday. And it makes all the difference in the world.


Why would anyone call her a racist?

Oh, I dunno…

Yes, I know, she’s just showing us a photo of a guy who may well be a rip-off artist. But here’s the thing: all the photos she ever includes of blacks and Muslims and Mexicans are intended to make us think they are either pimps, terrorists or animals, if not a little of each. Minorities are never portrayed in a positive light on her site, at least not minorities with dark skin.