Last post until next year?

Probably. If so, I wish anyone who exercizes the poor judgement to visit this site a sublime holiday, and while you’re donning your party hats and clinking your champagne glasses, think of me, alone and miserable and wearing a ridiculous splint in a hospital in Bangkok. One more unique experience in this soup of experience we call life.

Thanks for all the kind emails and comments this week, and I’ll certainly be back next year. And who knows, depending on how I feel in a couple of days, I may even put in a surprise appearance before it becomes 2004. I sure hope so.


“The rule of law” in action in Shanghai

The best chapter in Jasper Becker’s book The Chinese is titled “The Rule of Law,” in which he raises the rhetorical question of whether the phrase refers to laws that impose limits on government powers, or laws that are used to keep the citizens subservient to leaders who are, needless to say, totally above any laws at all. We all know the answer to the question.

Ever since the end of 1979, when Deng announced with great fanfare that China would live under “the rule of law,” there’s been an awful lot of noise about this catch-phrase, and it’s interesting (if utterly unsurprising) to see how it works when put to the test. A fascinating, funny and scary article looks at The Rule of Law in action as it traces the arbitration case of a US firm trying to chase the China dream in Shanghai.

It’s too long and complex a story for me to distill here, especially as I’m getting ready to pack for the hospital, but this gives you an idea of what the process of arbitration in China can be like:

In April, more than a year after the arbitrators heard the case, Origon’s attorneys in China sent a letter to the arbitration commission alleging that officials from the Shanghai People’s Court had “improperly interfered.” The attorneys urged commission officials to “eradicate interference … to ensure an early impartial arbitration to this case.”

Two months later, Origon got an answer: Go elsewhere to resolve this dispute.

Yuan, Origon’s Beijing attorney, was furious. Not only had the arbitration panel refused to rule, but it also asked Origon to pay 95% of the arbitration fees, which could be tens of thousands of dollars.

“This is ridiculous,” Yuan said. “The reason we applied for arbitration is we want a resolution…. The ruling means nothing.”

Zhang Yue, an official at the arbitration center in Shanghai, said he couldn’t comment on the specifics of the case or the accusation of judicial interference. But he insisted that the panel was impartial and that the “rule of arbitration will protect the rights of both parties.”

It cannot be overemphasized: If you want to do business in China and you are expecting anything even faintly resembling traditional globally accepted business practices and standards you may be in for a serious shock. And don’t think that membership in the WTO has made much of a difference. And don’t think that that the much-touted Rule of Law b.s. will save your skin from unfairness, no matter how brazen or outrageous.

For now, as the article points out, you are at the mercy of mysterious forces (usually the Party or one of its officials), and if you try to control them or seek a fair resolution, you’ll most likely end up frustrated. And poor.

I also love the article’s ending, a rehash of the same old argument: The shell-shocked business owner says he has to be in China, it’s simply too big a market to ignore. And considering the nature of his business, he probably will make a profit eventually. But oh, the surprises and landmines along the way to reaching the China Dream.


Laughing so hard I can’t breathe

I am in a crowded Internet cafe and everyone is wondering why I am laughing like an idiot. Maybe it’s just that I’m so depressed over what the rest of my week is going to be like, but when I saw these proposed covers for Sean Hannity’s new book I just couldn’t stop laughing. It was therapeutic; I needed to laugh today.


My Christmas Day

It’s Christmas in Bangkok, and I’m pretty miserable. Yesterday I spent much of my time at Bangkok’s snazzy Bumrungrad Hospital, getting an MRI of my shoulder and speaking with various specialists.

Today I returned to discuss the MRI results and was left pretty miserable by what they told me. I knew my day would be a bad one when the doctor started the discussion saying, “I had no idea from our earlier talk that the tear in your shoulder was anything like what the MRI is telling me.”

I don’t know much about anatomy, but I know enough to make me depressed. Two orthopedic surgeons went over all the MRI images with me to point out that the suprascapular (sp?) tendon is not simply damaged, it is absolutely gone, retracted into some cave where it’s become totally atrophied. The biceps tendon also seems irreparable so they’re just going to remove it.

That’s the good part. The upsetting thing about the procedure is that in order to replace the suprascapular, they need to do a graft, slicing up generous portions of my back and leg to borrow muscles for the replacement. Once that’s been done, I need to wear some special device for two months to keep the arm in a splint. It’s hard to describe, but the bottom line is that for 8 weeks I’ll appear to be holding up my right hand to take an oath. How I am going to survive like this for two months is beyond me. I won’t be able to type, and my whole life is about writing.

Okay, sorry to bitch and moan so much. It’s Christmas Day and I have 36 hours before I check into my new home so I’ll try to look at the bright side of things. But this has been one hell of an ordeal, and it’s far from over. Six months of therapy follow the removal of the splint. Can’t wait.

Needless to say, come Saturday my blogging is going to come to a screeching halt. Shit.

Have a wonderful Holiday, and thanks for visiting.


Heritage Foundation blasts “myth” of Chinese cooperation

When I was working as a reporter in DC I used to call the Heritage Foundation whenever I needed to balance my story with a quote from the conservative side. Extremely well heeled and to the right, the Heritage Foundation may be one of my least favorite think tanks. Yet its new position paper on the various rosy myths that have sprung up about the “new China” is certainly worth looking at. As the best funded and most vocal think tank in the country, you can bet a lot of Republicans in and around the beltway will be reading this.

It’s a long piece, summed up in a single paragraph toward the end:

A dispassionate examination of how China has approached key foreign policy, trade, and national security issues over the past two years suggests that, far more often than not, China has opposed U.S. interests or, at the very least, has remained neutral or aloof. China has provided little support in the war on terrorism, did not simply “stand by” during the Iraq War, has hampered efforts to ease the reconstruction of Iraq, and has not helped to bring North Korea around to dismantling its nuclear weapons programs.

I always take the HF’s reports with a big grain of sea salt, but the arguments here are pretty rational and well backed up. It is especially outspoken on Bush’s recent betrayal of Taiwan and China’s continuing to export WMDs to the DPRK, Iran, Pakistan, etc. It’s definitely worth scanning whether you agree with its conclusions or not.


Some vacation

Tomorrow I go to Bumrungrad Hospital, supposedly Bangkok’s best, for an MRI to see the status of my shoulder since the failed operation of last July. The next day I meet with a doctor to analyze the results, and hopefully they’ll be able to operate right away. If so, I’ll be here for at least another 8 or 9 days afterward, in bed. Luckily, it’s the slowest time of the year for work and the best possible time to take care of this nightmare.

The weather in Bangkok is spectacular, sunny and breezy and warm, not hot. The Thai people never cease to amaze me, with their irrepressible enthusiasm and friendliness. Still, I’m not in the mood to be by myself. So I’m going to make practical use of this holiday week when my office is closed. If it goes to plan, I’ll check into the hospital in 48 hours or so, have the operation done and get back to Singapore in the first week of January.

The misery of this is that I have to pay for it out of my own pocket. My company’s pitiful health insurance won’t help me, so it’ll be just one more financial setback. What can you do?


Escaping Singapore

Thanks to ceaseless procrastination, inertia and an inability to make up my mind about what to do for the Christmas holiday, I ended up going to Thailand even though it’s not where I want to be. But I had to get out of Singapore. Everybody has to get out of Singapore on a regular basis or else go nuts.

I plan to go to Pattaya for a couple of days with an old friend to escape Bangkok’s noise and pollution and vegetate on the beach

The only reason I went to Bangkok is that I had a pre-paid ticket and managed to get on a flight. But I didn’t manage to get a return ticket. Everything is sold out. Hotels too. So I’m in a little “guest house” dive with no ticket back to Singapore, and I’m just not in the mood for Amazing Thailand. I’d rather be in a quiet little village with a beautiful pool or a lake, surrounded by mountains and Buddhist temples, so I could read and meditate and relax. I guess maybe next time.

I won’t be able to post much, so once again my site traffic will plunge.
What can you do? In case I don’t get back for a few days, Happy Holidays to all.


Mr. Brown

Yesterday, when I was commenting on the Asian Blog Awards procedures, I asked aloud why Popagandhi was lagging so far behind Mr. Brown?

Being new to Singapore, I was unaware of Mr. Brown’s popularity, and after reading through it more carefully, I want to apologize if I sounded at all deprecatory. It’s a sweet site that sort of reminds me of a Singapore version of Big White Guy. So again, sorry for speaking too soon.

(Popagandhi is still more my type of blog, but variety is the spice of life.)


Queer Eye for the Straight Tyrant


This must be all over the Net by now, but I can’t resist.


The staggering magnificence of China

It is almost beyond belief: China is in its blossom and no sight could be more gorgeous. As you walk the streets of its capital, there is a wonderful mood of joy and optimism, even invincibility. The restaurants are crowded, and smiling, well-dressed people seem to be everywhere. Who would believe that not that many years ago this nation was suffering from seemingly insurmountable upheavals and crises, political, social and economic –all swept away by a focused, strong and determined leadership the likes of which the nation (and the world) had never seen before?

Yes, people who were here just 10 years ago and who are returning for the first time are calling it a miracle, and indeed it is. This is an engine that simply cannot be slowed, let alone stopped. And it all came about thanks to the vision of one man and one party that knew exactly where China should go and how it should get there. From an isolated and humiliated nation, China has emerged as a true superpower.

The transition hasn’t been easy nor has it always been gentle. The truth is, to keep the momentum going and achieve its high goals, the government has had to be strict. At times, protestors have been dealt with harshly, and many were imprisoned. But when you have an entire nation to watch over, it is simply impractical and impossible to allow dissent and criticism to get in the way. And the Chinese people agree. This is their day in the sun, and they have expressed a sincere love of their government, a love that is utterly without precedent. They have simply never known such success, such glory.

Some on the outside have complained about the persecution of “unfriendly” religious groups, and even acts of violence against them. That cannot be denied, but I’m sure it will improve. Many Chinese see these groups as dangeorus cults, and are only too happy to see them dealt with firmly and efficiently. But these are little things, far overshadowed by the greatness of the economy and all of the benefits it brings.

Some have also said that government spending is behind much of the prosperity. This is true to a certain extent, but other nations have dipped into the state coffers before, and as the economy grows the debts will be paid. The massive spending is worthwhile and will bear results.

As proof of just how high China’s star has soared, the country has been chosen to host the Olympics! Can you believe it, looking back at the relative chaos of 20 years ago? How fast and how explosive this growth has been! The Olympics – this gives China and its regime a patina of respectability and validation like nothing else could. It is a sign of international respect and has elevated national pride to new pinnacles.

Possibly the most extraordinary aspect of the new China is the sheer irrepressible optimism of the people. They are boisterous and proud. They can do anything, they can even help make China a master of the world! They know about the criticisms of the government, the charges of suppression, but it’s water off a duck’s back.

Now is a very, very good time to be Chinese, and they respect the rules. China is a country of laws. You understand and respect the need to not call for changes in the government or to stir up trouble. Yes, the government is everywhere and watches everything, but it’s a tiny price to pay for its pulling China up by its bootstraps. And as long as you mind your own affairs and leave the government free to do its vital busines, your prosperity will continue.

So let’s give China in the year 2003 all of the praise and recognition it deserves.

But wait a minute. There is one big lie in the tribute above: It is not about China and it has nothing to do with the year 2003.

It is all about Nazi Germany in the year 1936. Every word. Go back and see. Just substitute Germany for China and Germans for Chinese.

So what’s Richard’s point? Only to point out the irony of how something that seemed so picture-perfect in 1936 not long afterward was perceived as something very different. Some of us who are critical of right-wing regimes tend to allow the glare of China’s successes to blind us to the inequities and iniquities inherent to any police state. I was blinded about it myself for some years. I am not drawing any direct comparisons of the CCP to the Nazis, tempting though it may be. The CCP is at least showing dramatic signs of continuing reform. But there are still interesting historical parallels.

Meanwhile, I want to see China continue to grow and prosper, because I care a lot about the people there. Looking at all that prosperity and success, it is so easy to forget that it’s a country still in the iron grip of tyranny. You wouldn’t know that from the smiling faces and jubilant mood in Beijing and Shanghai. But it is.

UPDATED 6:14pm Singapore time