Thursday, December 28, 2006

OK, OK, OK. I know. I went to Vietnam and didn't write about. And then I went to Hawaii, and didn't mention it. I promise to write about these things...later.

Until then, this is too good not to post.


China: Tallest Man to the Rescue of 2 Dolphins

The long arms of Bao Xishun, the world’s tallest man, reached in and saved two dolphins by pulling plastic from their stomachs, state news media and an aquarium official said. The dolphins got sick after eating plastic that fell into their aquarium pool in Liaoning Province. Attempts to remove the plastic surgically failed, The China Daily reported, and veterinarians decided to ask for help from Mr. Bao, a 7-foot-9 herdsman from Inner Mongolia with 41.7-inch arms. “He did it successfully yesterday,” said Chen Lujun, the manager at Royal Jidi Ocean World. “The two dolphins are in very good condition now.” Mr. Bao, 54, was declared the world’s tallest living man by Guinness World Records last year.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

China must be the best place in the world to be a Eurasian. Of all the stereotypes fostered in China--Americans are rich, French people are romantic, Russians have big noses, to give a few--none compare to what is nearly universally said about mixed-blooded babies: They are clever AND beautiful. CLEVER and BEAUTIFUL. Any Beijing taxi driver will tell you this is a fact. Even Michael, my similarily mixed-blooded former flatmate, was once told by one of his students, "It is scientifically proven that hun xue'er (Chinese for mixed blood) are smarter than ordinary people!" Of course, both Michael and I knew this all along...

So, today I had to call the States to sort out an issue with my credit card bill. For reasons unknown to me, my call was transferred to a woman who spoke very good English, but with a distinct Chinese accent. We chatted a bit and once my payment situation was resolved, I asked her if she was Chinese. She told me she was. I told her I was in China and that my mother was Chinese and she said, "But you don't sound like a Chinese." I explained that I was born and raised in the States, but now I live in China, and that my father is an American. "I'm a hun xue'er," I declared. "Oh! Hun xue'er!," she exclaimed over the phone, from somewhere in the U.S. to my home office in Beijing, "you must be very beautiful!"

Obviously, my reputation precedes me.

Friday, November 10, 2006

My mother was just in town. She came to China for business, and spent a few days in Beijing, at the end of her trip. I met up with her and some of her colleagues, and the question I got asked most often was, "How is your life in China?"

This question came to me from Americans, and one Czech, who were rounding up a rather long, poorly organized, and sometimes uncomfortable trip. It was a very "Chinese" trip, from what I gathered, and even my mother, who came along to serve as interpreter, was fed up with China, at the end. (**Note: My mother is Chinese, and speaks the language as her first, however she has never lived on the mainland, and no longer has close family ties to it. Aside from me, of course).

Despite sympathizing with the woes of these travellers, all I could say, in candor, without the slightest bit of exaggeration, was, "My life is excellent." And it is.

Work is good. I have plenty of friends. There is lots to do, and I am never bored. NEVER BORED. Which is something I would never, ever say, about being in Kona, or Los Angeles. (I was rarely bored in Boston, so that's why it's not on the list.)

What people who haven't spent time significant time in China--including the Chinese in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, the States, or wherever--don't understand is that you cannot expect it to be anything more than what it is: a massive, diverse, developing country that is densely populated with a people that are grappling with trying to embrace to their own culture, equipped only with an understanding of the world borne out of more than 50 years of government-controlled information, in the face of lightning-speed economic and technological advancements resulting from communication prying in from the outside. While a 7-year-old Beijinger might easily be able to attach a photo to an e-mail and send it off in English, it wouldn't be fair to assume that the salesgirl at the market, who can speak basic English, French, Russian and Korean will be able to read a map, or even tell you which way is North. Kids at concerts have spiked, dyed hair and wear chains, but precious few have ever heard of Sid Vicious, and people apologize when they bump into you in the mosh pit. Rich kids can go overseas for university, but most would starve to death lying next to a frying pan and eggs. In the provincial areas, people who never got past grammar school lead villages, and in the cities, parents who have devoted their lives to their only child's education go to job fairs on behalf of them when they are unable or unambitious enough to find jobs themselves.

To sit comfortably, and to see all this happen, is never boring. There is a "New China" Zeitgeist that can only truly be appreciated here on the ground, and only after one gets past the spitting, the food poisoning, the incompetence of the average person, the disorganization and the general dysfunction of the place.

My friends back home just don't get how I could possibly give up Hawaii for China, and I just can't see why any young person would ever want to live in America. Despite the chaos, corruption, mismanagement and backward thinking, China's economic growth averages nearly 10% per annum. TEN PERCENT! America knows well the importance of China to the global economy, but only now is the concept of it as a political power appearing in the mainstream. France gets it, Russia gets it, Africa seems to dig it, Japan is always on the alert, but the average American is only now starting to consider it. Imagine what people will think when, or if, China manages to get really its shit together.

Tom Friedman of the New York Times is in China now, and I will go to see him talk at one of the local bookstores tomorrow. This is what he wrote yesterday. He gets it too.

China: Scapegoat or Sputnik
November 10, 2006

As I was saying, Mr. Rove, Americans aren’t as stupid as you think.

Now that we’ve settled that, and now that we’ve had an election that clarified which country is most important in shaping U.S. politics in 2006 — Iraq — I’ve come to visit the country that’s most likely to shape U.S. politics in 2008: China.

The civil war in the Republican Party, which you are about to see, will be all about Iraq — whom to blame and how to withdraw before the issue wipes out more Republican candidates in 2008. But the coming civil war among the Democrats will be all about China.

I still believe that when the history of this era is written, the trend that historians will cite as the most significant will not be 9/11 and the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. It will be the rise of China and India. How the world accommodates itself to these rising powers, and how America manages the economic opportunities and challenges they pose, is still the most important global trend to watch.

It really hits you when you see the supersize buildings sprouting in Shanghai, or when you look at the world through non-American eyes. Kishore Mahbubani, the dean of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, told me the other day that Asia right now “is the most optimistic place in the world.” More people have come out of poverty faster there — particularly in India and China — than at any time in the history of the world, and as a result, he notes, more people in Asia than anywhere else in the world today “wake up every morning sure that tomorrow is going to be better than yesterday.”

But one person’s optimism can be another person’s flat wages. And that is why the Democrats and China are almost certain to butt heads. The Bush team’s focus on Iraq and terrorism, coupled with the Democrats’ lack of control over either house of Congress, has kept China-U.S. relations largely out of the headlines and on a relatively even keel during the Bush II years.

But two things will change that. One is the Democrats’ return to control of both the House and Senate — powered by politicians like Nancy Pelosi, who has long taken a hard line vis-à-vis China on both economics and human rights, and Sherrod Brown, the newly elected senator from Ohio, who comes to D.C. with strong protectionist leanings from a state that has lost thousands of manufacturing jobs to Asia.

The other is the mood reflected in a Nov. 2 analysis in The Financial Times, headlined: “Anxious Middle: Why Ordinary Americans Have Missed Out on the Benefits of Growth.”

Technology and globalization are flattening the global economic playing field today, enabling many more developing nations to compete for white-collar and blue-collar jobs once reserved for the developed world. This is one reason why growth in wages for the average U.S. worker has not been keeping pace with our growth in productivity and G.D.P.

“Economists call this phenomenon median wage stagnation,” noted The Financial Times. “Median measures give the best picture of what is happening to the middle class because, unlike mean or average wages, median wages are not pulled upwards by rapid gains at the top. As the joke goes: Bill Gates walks into a bar and, on average, everyone there becomes a millionaire. But the median does not change.”

Many Americans lately have started to get that joke, and it is one reason that with this new Democrat-led Congress we are likely to see a surge in protectionist legislation, more Wal-Mart bashing, a slowdown in free-trade expansion and increased calls for punitive actions if China doesn’t reduce its trade surplus — which surged to a record in October.

China, in other words, is inevitably going to move back to the center of U.S. politics, because it crystallizes the economic challenges faced by U.S. workers in the 21st century. The big question for me is, how will President Bush and the Democratic Congress use China: as a scapegoat or a Sputnik?

Will they use it as an excuse to avoid doing the hard things, because it’s all just China’s fault, or as an excuse to rally the country — as we did after the Soviets leapt ahead of us in the space race and launched Sputnik — to make the kind of comprehensive changes in health care, portability of pensions, entitlements and lifelong learning to give America’s middle class the best tools possible to thrive? A lot of history is going to turn on that answer, because if people don’t feel they have the tools or skills to thrive in a world without walls, the pressure to put up walls, especially against China, will steadily mount.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Three things happened yesterday that have renewed my faith in humanity. Just a little. (Which is a lot.)

Here they are:

1. The Democrats got control of the Senate and the House! and 1a., on a related note, Rummy stepped down. Christ, he must have a lot of skeletons in his closet!

Now, as I have mentioned before, I no longer consider myself a Democrat. However, the United States government is a two party system, and with that in mind, I'd rather have the Dems in power than the GOP. A colleague of mine, an ill-informed-on-this-topic non-American said, "yeah, but it's not like anything will change just because the party in control has changed", and this irritated me. For sure, I recognize that our two parties are more similar than differing parties in other countries, but to say it doesn't matter is simply not true. Had Clinton, or Kerry, or Gore, or say, even John McCain, been in charge when the Twin Towers went down, I confidently believe that the fiasco which is now Iraq, would not have gone down the way it did. That's not to say we wouldn't have gotten into conflict, but with little question in my mind, Clinton would have been a lot smoother about the whole thing, and he probably would have been a hell of a lot quicker to nip the Gitmo situation in the bud. Conspiracy theorists might even argue that 9/11 wouldn't have happened at all, if Bush were never elected...

Also, as I believe that this change in power will result in a withdrawal from Iraq, sooner than later, and possibly before Bush ends his term, I forsee a shift policy focus, from foreign to domestic. This would be good for America, and it also means that Hilary, who may in fact, be on the Democratic ticket for 2008, could stand a chance of winning. (I simply don't believe America in war would ever elect its first woman president.) Not that I love Hilary, but I do think it would be interesting if she were elected, especially given that Germany has Merkel, and Royal may very well take power in France.

2. I found out that Britney Spears has filed for divorce. OK, so this is not high up on the list of things that matter in the world, but shit, even 24-year-old popstar Britney has enough sense to see what the rest of the media sees and get rid of her useless, and not really very good-looking leech of a husband.

3. I lost my mobile phone in a taxi AND it was returned to me. Every morning, I have to take a cab across town to get to work. Yesterday, I had it with me in the car, but not in my office, so when I got home, I called the number on the receipt (ALWAYS, ALWAYS keep the receipt!). Through my broken Chinese, I conveyed that I left my phone in the cab whose license number was on the slip. The woman at the dispatch station called the driver, he confirmed that I did, in fact, leave the phone in his car, and as luck would have it, he was in my neighborhood. He brought it to me ten minutes later, and when I offered him the cab fare to get to me, he refused. I had brought down a bottle of Samuel Adams, thinking he'd probably be near the end of his shift--which he was--and might like a cold one, and after a half-hearted refusal, he accepted the beer. (This was after I explained, "Shi mei guo de pi jiu! Ba shi dun de pi jiu! Hen hao he le! It is American beer! From Boston! It's excellent!")

So, at the end of the day, not all people are stupid bastards and life is pretty good!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

I am still at Carden...


This situation may soon change, however, and then I will write more.

But until then, check out another blog by a guy called Drew. He is a current teacher at Carden, and a very good, very observant and very humorous writer.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Here's another one... God bless the thinking American, for I know they do exist, if only in small and scattered quantities...

Insulting Our Troops, and Our Intelligence
November 3, 2006

George Bush, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld think you’re stupid. Yes, they do.

They think they can take a mangled quip about President Bush and Iraq by John Kerry — a man who is not even running for office but who, unlike Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, never ran away from combat service — and get you to vote against all Democrats in this election.

Every time you hear Mr. Bush or Mr. Cheney lash out against Mr. Kerry, I hope you will say to yourself, “They must think I’m stupid.” Because they surely do.

They think that they can get you to overlook all of the Bush team’s real and deadly insults to the U.S. military over the past six years by hyping and exaggerating Mr. Kerry’s mangled gibe at the president.

What could possibly be more injurious and insulting to the U.S. military than to send it into combat in Iraq without enough men — to launch an invasion of a foreign country not by the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force, but by the Rumsfeld Doctrine of just enough troops to lose? What could be a bigger insult than that?

What could possibly be more injurious and insulting to our men and women in uniform than sending them off to war without the proper equipment, so that some soldiers in the field were left to buy their own body armor and to retrofit their own jeeps with scrap metal so that roadside bombs in Iraq would only maim them for life and not kill them? And what could be more injurious and insulting than Don Rumsfeld’s response to criticism that he sent our troops off in haste and unprepared: Hey, you go to war with the army you’ve got — get over it.

What could possibly be more injurious and insulting to our men and women in uniform than to send them off to war in Iraq without any coherent postwar plan for political reconstruction there, so that the U.S. military has had to assume not only security responsibilities for all of Iraq but the political rebuilding as well? The Bush team has created a veritable library of military histories — from “Cobra II” to “Fiasco” to “State of Denial” — all of which contain the same damning conclusion offered by the very soldiers and officers who fought this war: This administration never had a plan for the morning after, and we’ve been making it up — and paying the price — ever since.

And what could possibly be more injurious and insulting to our men and women in Iraq than to send them off to war and then go out and finance the very people they’re fighting against with our gluttonous consumption of oil? Sure, George Bush told us we’re addicted to oil, but he has not done one single significant thing — demanded higher mileage standards from Detroit, imposed a gasoline tax or even used the bully pulpit of the White House to drive conservation — to end that addiction. So we continue to finance the U.S. military with our tax dollars, while we finance Iran, Syria, Wahhabi mosques and Al Qaeda madrassas with our energy purchases.

Everyone says that Karl Rove is a genius. Yeah, right. So are cigarette companies. They get you to buy cigarettes even though we know they cause cancer. That is the kind of genius Karl Rove is. He is not a man who has designed a strategy to reunite our country around an agenda of renewal for the 21st century — to bring out the best in us. His “genius” is taking some irrelevant aside by John Kerry and twisting it to bring out the worst in us, so you will ignore the mess that the Bush team has visited on this country.

And Karl Rove has succeeded at that in the past because he was sure that he could sell just enough Bush cigarettes, even though people knew they caused cancer. Please, please, for our country’s health, prove him wrong this time.

Let Karl know that you’re not stupid. Let him know that you know that the most patriotic thing to do in this election is to vote against an administration that has — through sheer incompetence — brought us to a point in Iraq that was not inevitable but is now unwinnable.

Let Karl know that you think this is a critical election, because you know as a citizen that if the Bush team can behave with the level of deadly incompetence it has exhibited in Iraq — and then get away with it by holding on to the House and the Senate — it means our country has become a banana republic. It means our democracy is in tatters because it is so gerrymandered, so polluted by money, and so divided by professional political hacks that we can no longer hold the ruling party to account.

It means we’re as stupid as Karl thinks we are.

I, for one, don’t think we’re that stupid. Next Tuesday we’ll see.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Being a dedicated New York Times reader, I have subscribed to their extended member services. Part of this package includes being able to set up a list of topics that are most interesting to you, and then, when something involving one of those topics is published, an alert is sent to you e-mail address. Among my topics of interest are China, RMB revalution, South America and Cuba. (Not that I'm a communist, but rather an interested observer of transitional and/or planned economies.)

I got this headline in my inbox this morning, and far and away, it is the funniest I have read this year:

Though Frail, Castro Denies He’s Dead

Published: October 29, 2006

HAVANA, Oct. 28 (Reuters) — Fidel Castro, looking thin and tired, appeared Saturday on television and defiantly dismissed rumors that he was dead, as images showed him walking, talking on the telephone and reading the day’s newspaper.

Mr. Castro said he was taking part in government decisions, following the news and making regular phone calls as he recovers from emergency intestinal surgery in late July.

“Now that our enemies have prematurely declared me dying or dead, I am happy to send my compatriots and friends around the world this short film material,” he said. “Now let’s see what they say. They will have to resurrect me.”

The last public image of him was released in mid-September, when he was shown in photos with world leaders at a summit meeting in Havana.


What can you say other than "Viva Fidel!"

Sunday, October 08, 2006

OK. I take back all the things I said about French people being slow and me, an American, being punctual and efficient. The French are slow, and so am I! I did an interview last week, and it has taken me a week to complete! Putain. I am such a slacker.

But this interview was really something else. I don't think I can write terribly much about it here, as I am being paid to write about it for the magazine, but let me tell you just a bit about it. A friend of mine, while drunk at a party last year, told me about these Americans living on farm outside of Beijing who came to China to join the communist revolution. After many e-mails and phone calls, I found this woman. She was out in the city at a dinner event with Wen Jiabao when I called, but much to my surprise, she returned my call later that night. She asked me what I wanted and told me that all sorts of people were bothering her for interviews and that she had camera crews at her place following her around all the time. I told her I was interested in talking to her about what she's been up to recently and she asked bluntly, "How much time do you need?" I told her I didn't know, just a couple of hours, and then, in my usual tact, I said "I've not writing the book of your life, it's just a magazine article." She laughed at this and said she would give me two hours, "but no more!", and that I would have to come the next morning.

I called my editor and told him we had to move quickly and that this woman, Joan Hinton, was waiting for my call. We arranged to catch a cab together the next day, and I called Ms. Hinton back to let her know we would be there.

Gregoire and I, after some minor delay, made it to the farm WAY OUT in the countryside. Ms. Hinton brought out a notebook for us to sign--she keeps track of all her interviews--and she said, "So, what do you want to know."

For 85, Ms. Hinton is in pretty decent shape. She talks slowly, and her memory was perhaps not as sharp as it once was, but man, she flew across the room when the phone rang, or when she went to recover a piece of personal history to show me.

This woman came to China in 1948! She was a nuclear physicist with the Manhattan project, and after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, she left Los Alamos and tried to get the technology into civil hands. Of course, that failed. Then she came to China to join the communists! She married her husband, another American here, and had three children. They worked on dairies, and lived like everyone else.

Needless to say, interviews like this leave me a little starry-eyed. There are heaps more details to share, but I'm afraid that I'll have to leave them until after the magazine is published.

But wow. China is awesome.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Today is officially the second day of the October 1 holiday week. All of my students have cancelled on me, my school has closed (to be explained), IELTS will not be given until the weekend of the 14th, and while I still have writing work to do, all this has left me feeling exceptionally underwhelmed. I do now have an opportunity to put down a proper entry about what I've been up to, however.

The biggest news is that I've decided to put my masters on hold. I sent in the application for a one year's leave of absence last month, and while I have had word that it was received, I am awaiting final approval. Reasons for this decision were many, but the most salient was that I realized every spare second I had, along with every other spare penny I made, went into this program, and by the time I got to my year end finals (remember, this is a British course, so it all comes down to essays), I was really questioning whether or not it was worth it all in the end. I know this might sound like a weak attempt to cover up slack, or laziness on my part, but really, after a long think, a bit of screaming, and one moment of crying, I came to the conclusion that, while the material I was covering was highly engaging, two more years and another $8,000, might not bring me very much closer to my ultimate aims.

(And the crowds cry out, "Tell us, Maile! Tell us! What are those ultimate aims?!")

So like many a spoiled, middle-class, college educated, over-confident, under-skilled come recovering manic-depressive, yoga/insert your own brand of spirituality found brat, I, too, have wrestled with the great question of "What am I going to do with my life?!". This question, the quest for whose answer seems to best even the very best of us at around 24 or 25 (I believe someone who must have thought himself clever dubbed this ailment the "quarter-century crisis"), has consumed, or is presently consuming, most of the people I know in my age group, and even those older (they do say boys take longer to mature than girls). This affliction does seem to target a certain economic group (kids whose parents paid for their higher education), but culture offers no protection; I have met German, French, English, Chinese, Korean and Mexican sufferers.

Since I got out of school rather early--can you believe it's been more than 6 years already?!--I was fortunate to start this vicious process earlier, and as such, I am now sooner to feel its grip loosening. I concede, I'm not quite out of the woods completely, but I have found hope, and I do see light breaking through. Oddly enough, after all the agonizing, day dreaming, empire building and scrapping, soul-searching and expensive trips to the shrink, the elusive panacea we seem all struggle for, is actually something rather simple: just pick something. Pick something, something that hovers within the realm of reality, and then stick to it.

I want to be a journalist. Journalists are cool. They meet lots of interesting people, they get new things to do all the time and they work at different hours of the day, often in different places, and all of this appeals to me. What's more, I used to be a journalist, so I can with confidence say I know a bit about the work, and I know that I am competent enough to do it well enough to get paid for it. All of these are important considerations. The other thing I want to do is work in Asia. Lucky for me, I am already living here. (Actually, the desire came after the fact.) So, to put it succinctly, I want to be a journalist in Asia.

Once I made that decision, all the other decisions were easy to make. I started my masters (it is in Chinese business and international relations) because I felt it would give me the background necessary to look for jobs in journalism, here in China. (Research yielded that most of the journalism jobs in Asia are business and/or politics related.) I blew off my plans to go to France because I felt I could achieve more staying in here. I quit my regular job and found part-time work so I could focus on my ambitions. I also looked into getting internships, and here is where I found problems: 1. I was competing against recent journalism graduates who 2. maybe had better (foreign) language skills than me. Here was my dilemma. I was working so much that I didn't have time to study Chinese, and I didn't have time to write. I barely had time to sleep. So, I took the year off.

Very ironically, shortly after I quit my masters, my most generous employer, decided that my services were no longer needed. Ariston, the little boy I taught everyday for two hours, had reached the ripe old age of two and was good and ready for full-day kindergarten. To elaborate, what had happened was that a new brother came home, a cook got fired, the nanny took over all domestic duties, on top of managing the baby and the older brother who had a very serious case of sibling rivalry, Mom went back to work, so the tot was sent to school, and I was out of a cushy and reliable job.

There I was, no school, one job shy (I still had other students, plus the IELTS job, so I wasn't yet in a panic), and then something even more ironic, or rather fortuitous, happened: my pal Abel called me and offered me a job writing for a magazine. No shit.

Abel is one of the coolest people I have met in Beijing. At the tender age of 30, he's the bureau chief of Radio France International. He's been here years and years already, and he's very familiar with how the city works. One of his pals, Gregoire (these guys are all French, by the way) is the editor-in-chief of Colors Magazine (started by the Benetton people), and they were in need of writers for their upcoming issue profiling the issue.

Now, I'll tell you the difference between someone at the age of 20, and someone at the age of 26. At 20, you sincerely believe you'll make you're first million by 23, but if someone asks you to fax a document to a number in another city, and you don't already know how to do it, you panic, try to avoid the assignment, and then try to get someone else to do if for you. At 26, all you want is a job that doesn't suck too much, ideally one that has health benefits, and when someone offers you a job anywhere remotely in your area of interest, you say, in full confidence, "Yes. Yes. Gimme. Gimme. I can do it. No problem." Even if you know full well that you might not know exactly what you are doing, all of the silliness that you endure in your early 20s, assuming you overcome it, has the effect of making all obstacles look pretty similar, and eventually you realize, if you can conquer one, you can conquer them all.

So, I got the job. It's only a one-time, freelance gig, but I'm over the moon for it.

But let me tell you about French people. They are slow. I love them, but they are slow. Last summer, I worked with Germans, which was interesting. Germans are punctual to the point of absurdity ("OK, we will meet for breakfast at 9:32. Then we will start our meeting at 10:07"), but generally, their work practices are very compatible with Americans. French people, on the other hand, while very easy going, attentive, and passionate about their work, don't see the harm in having a cigarette and a cup of coffee before getting to an appointment. It's only life, after all.

When it comes to work, I am VERY American. Prolific communication is paramount, and I need to know what is happening at all times. If you tell me to call tomorrow, I will call tomorrow before noon. If I don't reach you, I will send an e-mail, and then call again before the day is out. Of course, I cut my teeth in the entertainment industry where everything is fast and one false step can get you fired, but I believe these are good work habits to have learned. If you're American, that is. French people are a bit different. Once they say they want you, that's it, they want you. But then you have to wait for their call. Or that how it seems to work, anyway.

Abel took more than a week to get back to me, and during that time, another funny thing happened. I was talking with an old colleague of mine who now is the director at the first school I taught at in Beijing. I mentioned that I was no longer teaching the two-year old, and I told him casually that if he ever needed someone to fill in if a teacher was ill, I'd be glad to do it. He called me the next day. Apparently, one of their teachers was very unhappy, so unhappy that she packed up her things and ran off like a thief in the night. She didn't tell her roommate, another teacher, about her plans. The next morning, the same morning they called me, they discovered what had happened when the roommate came to work and told them there wasn't a trace of the girl in the apartment. They asked me if I could come in to cover until a new teacher was produced, and I agreed to do so, on a part time basis, but at my current hourly rate, plus taxi fare (Ha! Ha! Ha! The power of scarce supply in high demand!)

So now, I'm back at Carden, teaching third grade (I must say, after two years, I'm much better at it), working for the magazine (they did call, but after a cigarette, or two), tutoring three students privately in the evenings, and working for the British Council on the weekends. I am thankful that I no longer have the demands of my masters course, and I am really quite impressed at how quickly I got busy, despite all the changes.

Dad once told me that he saw life as lugging around a sack. Throughout your life, you've got the same sack, and it's almost always full. Every time you think you've lightened your load by getting rid of something in the sack, you will inevitably quickly find something of equal mass to fill it up again. I don't know if this applies to all people, but I reckon I've inherited Dad's sack. It seems to be a big sack, and I seem to be forever yanking things out and stuffing in new ones, but at least it's quite clearly MY sack.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

My dad's birthday was yesterday (in the States; it was two days ago on Chinese time), and he turned 82! (I can hear the collective gasp, "82?! Christ that's old!" And as my dad would, and did, say, "Christ, that IS old!"

My dad's an interesting cat, and he runs with an interesting crowd. Most of his friends are dirty, old men. Brilliant, dirty, old men, but dirty, old men, nonetheless. One of my dad's oldest and greatest friends is a guy called Sandy Singleton (really, that's his name). I have known Sandy since I can remember, and he's known Dad longer than I have, by a lot. Sandy also has a daughter who is either two weeks older, or younger than me (I can't remember).

Sandy has always been a controversial figure in my family. My mother hates him with a venomous pith, and for a very long time, he was banned from the house. When he would call, just looking for Dad, my mother would hang up on him. I am not sure about all the details that explain my mother's reaction to this guy--I can only assume that a good number of them lie within her own unreasonableness and extremist behavior--but I can tell you this: My mother and Sandy have a hell of a lot in common. Both are impulsive and self-righteous, and both are aggressive self-promoters. They are both sharp as tacks, but both also suffer from a similar physiological ailment: The wire that connects the brain to the mouth and prevents people from saying inappropriate things at inappropriate times has been irrevocably severed.

My mother has been known to comment on how ugly someone's baby is, within earshot of the parents, and she has never been shy about expressing her great disdain for Mormons. Sandy, likewise, finds intolerance for certain sections of humanity. Fat people, for instance, especially suffer under his scrutiny. (Sandy believes that all fat people should be rounded up and sent to labor camps until they work off their excess adipose and have body shapes more to his liking.) My mother's name for Sandy during my growing up years, was "Monkey" or "Swingleton", and Sandy found such choice ways to describe my mother, beyond the most obvious "Dragon Lady", as "Maoist nazi."

Since my parents divorced, Sandy has reentered my father's life and, indirectly mine. Having already found great patience for my own mother's strange behavior, I find Sandy to be generally interesting, if not at least, amusing. Sandy is actually quite a brilliant guy with a very active mind, and imagination. While I was last living in Hawaii, he would buy the New York Times Sunday edition every week, as well as the Economist, and then he would pass them both to Dad and me, for a read. And despite everything, Sandy has been an excellent friend to my dad. When Dad had his stroke and broke his hip, Sandy helped him get around Honolulu, in the hospitals and airports. And, to this day, he is one of the few to brutally remind my father that he shouldn't eat shit like danish donuts, and that despite his predicament, he should make some attempt at exercise.

So the other day, I got an e-mail from Sandy, a rare occurrence, indeed. This is what it was:

I asked this learned type lady I met at Starbucks if she thought all the world's problems were caused by ignorance and apathy.

She told me that not only did she not know, but that she didn't give a shit.

I told Cannon. He could not stop laughing. He called two days later and said he keeps thinking about it and can't stop chortling, or something akin to laughing, again.

(I think the actual actual answer was: I don't know, and I don't care. I like to add my street wit to things.)

In any event, this is the first time I have ever come up w/ something to tell Cannon he did not already know. It has made my year... Ah, such simple things can bring such inner peace...

I told Dad that Sandy e-mailed me this, and he was amused. At his age, Pop should know that it's the simple stuff that keeps you going.

Here's a picture of the old man. It was taken on the last trip to Hawaii, but I doctored it up to look artsy and pretentious. Once Dad writes the book of his life, we will use for the jacket cover.

Friday, September 22, 2006

For all intents and purposes, I speak Chinese. It's not pretty, it's rarely accurate and it often requires elaboration with hand gestures and sound effects--but I speak it, and more often than not, I get my point across.

However, after two and a half years in this mad place, I have learned that there are two places where I should never ever try to impress anyone with my rudimentary grasp of the Mandarin language: airports and police stations.

With my new job, I fly a lot, so I'm always in and out of airports. If you speak Chinese, especially if you've got a face like mine, you are simply subject to more rules, regulations and inspection. My asthma inhaler always raises questions at security, and I have found, that instead of trying to explain what it is, it is far easier just to ramble away quickly in English. Nine times out of ten, the English of the person on the receiving end is far too limited to understand any explanation employing higher level medical terminology, and they know this, so rather than even making an attempt to interrogate me, they just wave me through.

Police stations, in any country, can be intimidating, and I think in China, they are more so. But police stations here are everywhere, and they are very much an integral part of Chinese life. Beyond maintaining law and order, police here get involved in people's daily lives. All residents, including foreigners, must register with the local police station when moving house. Police stations manage the distribution of identity cards, and children, once born, must also have a record on file with the police.

Today, I went to my local branch of the Public Safety Bureau to reregister after getting a new visa. The last time I did it, it was a snap, and everyone at the station was very happy to chat with the new American girl who looks Chinese, but can't speak the language very well. (But they did tell me that I spoke well enough to be understood, and that with time I would improve.)

This time around however, it was a completely different story. The woman beyond the counter, in a stiff blue blouse with navy epaulettes, her long black hair pulled back from her small, clean face meticulously, refused to register me. She explained, with the help from a guy in the queue that I had violated a regulation requiring foreigners to register within 24 hours of arrival.


It was at least a month between the time I moved into my new place and the time I actually made my way down to the police station to formalize everything. What the hell was this woman going on about?

She then grilled me as to why I had taken nearly three weeks since the renewal of my visa to come into the station. The truth of it was 1. I'm a busy kid. I travel all over hell and gone, and when I'm in town, my time is usually stretched to the limit, and 2. I didn't think it was that big of a deal.

"Wo you shi," I said. It's the Chinese catch all phrase for, "I was busy. I was too lazy. I didn't feel like it..." It works in every situation, and no matter what the truth is, no one will question it. Except at the police station.

Madame Civil Servant, with her small lips painted carefully with red lipstick, told me that since I hadn't come in time, I would have to go to the district station, which was located somewhere deep in the hutong.


So off I went in a cab, meandering along the small alleyways of the old part of town in search of my Public Safety fate.

But this time, I got smart.

"Where do I register?" I asked the guard who looked as though his grasp of Mandarin may have been questionable, let alone his familiarity with English.

"She's a foreigner!" he yelled to his colleagues.

So at the gate I waited until they produced someone who could speak English. A guy came out, told me I did something wrong, I apologized like a bumbling foreign idiot, and then he went, with all my documents, back into the massive district office. He came back about fifteen minutes later with a handwritten piece of paper and said, "Sign this."

"What is it?" I asked, like every good American girl born to a lawyer father. He gave me a slightly irritated "how-dare-you-ask" look, but then said, "It's a warning!"

I signed it, apologized profusely, promised never to be so negligent again, and then made my way back to the first place. On the way, I stopped for a sesame bun from a street vendor, and we chatted a bit about why I look Chinese, but speak Chinese with an accent.

Back at the station, the Heavy Hand of Bureaucracy had been replaced by a very pleasant middle-aged woman. I handed her all of my papers, and made no mention of my written warning. She processed everything quickly, and with a smile, and asked me some basic questions about where I was from. Very much to my surprise, she gave me my registation form, valid for the year, and made no reference to the discrepancy between today's date, and the one found on my visa, and then sent me on my way.

If only I had come later in the day, in the first place! That's local bureaucracy for you! Man, you win some and you lose some.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Life remains status quo: work, study, work, study, worry. As usual, I'm coming down with something (the weather is changing unusually rapid this year--I was roasting two weeks ago and now I'm well under my duvet at night) and as usual, I am consuming copious amounts of smelly Chinese herbs. I am taking the written portion of the GRE Friday morning, and I will write more about my reasons for that in a later post.

Today, all I have to offer is a very interesting article about China and its growing role in contemporary world order. It's lengthy, true, but well worth the read. Here it is in its entirety.

The World According to China

Published: September 3, 2006

In Late July, as the United Nations Security Council argued long into the night over the wording of a so-called presidential statement castigating Israel for the bombing attack that killed four U.N. observers in southern Lebanon, Wang Guangya, the Chinese ambassador, blew his stack. This was almost unprecedented: Wang, a veteran diplomat, typically comports himself with unnerving calm. But one of the four fatalities had been Chinese, and Wang had grown increasingly frustrated with the refusal of the United States to condemn Israel outright for the bombing. Worse still, the United States was represented not by Ambassador John Bolton but by a junior diplomat, a breach of etiquette that Wang apparently took to be a calculated insult.

Without naming any countries — he lost his temper, not his grip — Wang lashed out at “a tyranny of the minority in the council” and vowed that there would be “implications for future discussions” on other subjects. Once the meeting ended, Wang planted himself before the U.N. beat reporters and engaged in 10 minutes of robust public diplomacy, complaining that the presidential statement had been “watered down,” observing in several different formulations that “we have to take into account the concerns of other countries” and predicting that the “frustration” his country felt “will affect working relations somewhat.”

It was a delicately calibrated performance. In an earlier era, when the People’s Republic of China tended to conduct diplomacy by tantrum, this might have been the signal for a real breach. But China cares too much about the international order for such revolutionary shenanigans.

Actually, in an earlier era Chinese nationals would not have served in an observer mission in Lebanon, and the People’s Republic would have taken a pass on the whole subject. But China now aspires to play an active role on the global stage, which is why it sends skilled diplomats like Wang Guangya to the U.N. That’s the good news. The bad news is that China’s view of “the international order” is very different from that of the United States, or of the West, and has led it to frustrate much of the agenda that makes the U.N. worth caring about. The People’s Republic has used its position as a permanent, veto-bearing member of the Security Council to protect abusive regimes with which it is on friendly terms, including those of Sudan, Zimbabwe, Eritrea, Myanmar and North Korea. And in the showdown with Iran that is now consuming the Security Council, and indeed the West itself, China is prepared to play the role of spoiler, blocking attempts to levy sanctions against the intransigent regime in Tehran.

It’s a truism that the Security Council can function only insofar as the United States lets it. The adage may soon be applied to China as well.

t was only in 1971 that the People’s Republic of China supplanted Taiwan as the representative of China in the United Nations. During the remaining years of the cold war, the hermetic Communist regime was generally content to follow the lead of the Soviet Union. Little changed even after the fall of the Berlin Wall: China’s permanent representative in the early 90’s, Li Daoyu, was known around the U.N. as Ambassador Look Out the Window. The Chinese stirred to action only in order to block peacekeeping missions to countries that had been so foolish as to recognize Taiwan.

Beijing sleeps no longer. The astonishing growth of China’s economy has made it a global force, and the accompanying need for resources has pushed it to forge new ties throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America. The old revolutionary ardor is gone, and China surveys the world with increasing pragmatism and confidence. China is now a status quo power — “an exporter of good will and consumer durables instead of revolution and weapons,” as David Shambaugh, a China scholar at George Washington University, remarked in a recent essay. Unlike the United States and the West generally, China views the current global situation as fundamentally benign and malleable — a setting conducive to diplomacy.

China has chosen to enmesh itself in global bodies like the World Trade Organization, regional groupings like the six-member, security-oriented Shanghai Cooperation Organization and a vast range of bilateral partnerships. China has begun routinely signing arms-control agreements and antiterrorism conventions. And it has begun playing a more active role at the U.N., contributing troops — almost all of whom provide medical or engineering services rather than front-line patrolling — as well as policemen to U.N. peacekeeping operations.

Wang Guangya, at 56, is a senior member of a new generation of Chinese diplomats vastly more sophisticated and better educated than the party ideologues of old. His English is quite good, and he so relishes speaking to the U.N. press corps that he sometimes keeps answering questions even as he edges away from the pack while graciously thanking the reporters. Still, he doesn’t often attend diplomatic functions, and the occasional dinner in his Trump Tower apartment is normally limited to Asian diplomats. Earlier this summer, I became the first Western reporter to whom he agreed to speak at length.

Wang greeted me in a cheerless reception room in the Chinese mission and invited me to sit parallel to him, as though we were a pair of notables at a reviewing stand. (I took a corner chair instead.) The embassy spokesman and a political counselor seated themselves at a respectful distance across the room. At first the ambassador dutifully recited China’s history at the U.N. But once we got on subjects that exercised him, like Japan’s bid for Security Council membership, he dispensed with the abstractions and assumed the forthright and confident manner that seems natural to him. Throughout our conversation, Wang chain-smoked Chinese cigarettes — Zhonghuas — a habit that had turned his teeth slightly brown.

Wang is bespectacled and slight and has little of the artful smoothness of the more Westernized Asian diplomats. He grew up in Shanghai, the son of a worker, he says, with a low-level position in the Communist Party. Wang graduated from high school in the midst of the Cultural Revolution and along with tens of millions of other Chinese was sent out to the countryside for “re-education.” But after President Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, the leadership recognized that it needed trained officials to exploit the new opening to the West. Wang passed a test that gained him entry to one of the country’s 11 foreign-language schools. In 1974, he was selected as part of a group of 140 to go to England for further study, making him among the very first citizens of postrevolutionary China to receive a Western education. “You think it’s a good thing or a bad thing?” Wang asked me, with a disarming grin.

Apparently, it was a good thing. At the London School of Economics, Wang met Cong Jun, a student from the Beijing foreign-language school and the daughter of Chen Yi, one of Mao’s great comrades. They married soon thereafter. (Cong Jun now works as a minister counselor in the mission and has served as co-president, with the wife of the British ambassador, Emyr Jones Parry, of a discussion group called the Women’s International Forum.) In 1977 Wang was sent to New York as a junior diplomat and stayed for six years. He returned as a political counselor in 1988, remaining until 1992. He became director of international-organizations policy in the Foreign Ministry, ultimately rising to the position of vice foreign minister before returning to New York as ambassador in 2003. Wang is considered the favored candidate to replace China’s foreign minister, Li Zhaoxing, when he steps down a year from now.

Wang is one of the U.N.’s most adroit diplomats. Ambassador Jones Parry says that his Chinese colleague has a trick he’s never seen anyone else perform: “In the council, he speaks in Chinese, but at the same time he listens to the English translation. Sometimes he pauses, and then he’ll switch into English to say something similar to the translation but nuanced from it.” Wang operates by suggestion, by indirection — often by silence. “They play a very skillful game at the U.N.,” says Vanu Gopala Menon, the Singaporean ambassador. “They make their opinions felt without much talking. They never come in first and make a statement. They always listen first and then make a statement which captures the main thrust of what the developing world wants.”

But the game the Chinese play virtually ensures the U.N.’s regular failure in the face of humanitarian crisis. Indeed, the combination of Wang’s deft diplomacy and China’s willingness to defend nations it does business with from allegations of even the grossest abuse has made a mockery of all the pious exclamations of “never again” that came in the wake of the Security Council’s passive response to Rwanda’s genocide in 1994. The most notorious example of China’s new activism in this regard is Darfur. While none of the major powers, with the intermittent exception of the United States, have shown any appetite for robust action to protect the people of this Sudanese province from the atrocities visited upon them by the government and its proxy force, known as janjaweed, the Chinese, who buy much of the oil Sudan exports, have appointed themselves Khartoum’s chief protector.

China first worked to keep the issue of Darfur off the council agenda when both Kofi Annan and Jan Egeland, the U.N.’s humanitarian coordinator, tried to mount a publicity campaign in early 2004. When this failed and Egeland publicly described the horrors there, Wang — along with the ambassador of Pakistan, a regular ally — diluted the ensuing press statement so that the council simply called on “the parties concerned to fully cooperate in order to address the grave situation prevailing in the region.” In the summer, after Congress had declared the ruthless assault on unarmed villagers “genocide,” China vowed to veto an American resolution threatening (not even imposing) sanctions against Khartoum.

And yet, according to Munir Akram, the ambassador of Pakistan: “China was not nearly as active on Darfur as people think. The proposals came from us or from Algeria.” The Islamic countries then serving on the council, as well as several African nations, considered any interference in Sudan’s affairs a violation of its national sovereignty, even though the citizens being abused were Islamic and African. Wang was more circumspect. At moments of friction, according to a Western diplomat, he would quietly insist, “You cannot alienate the Sudan government; without them, the U.N. mission will fail.” Akram is the kind of bombastic figure who suits Chinese purposes to a tee. “Their national style is different from the style of other people, including India and Pakistan,” as Akram puts it. “We are an oral people; the Chinese are not. They make their position clear, and they stand by it.”

And then, when it no longer suits their purposes, they change their position. Several years ago, China joined India in principled repudiation of the chlorofluorocarbon reductions mandated by the Montreal Protocol. But when the international community offered to pay for the technology needed to reduce emissions, China decided that global regulation of pollution did not, in fact, constitute a violation of national sovereignty, leaving the Indians all alone in their principled opposition. On Darfur, as well, China has seen the virtue of bending before the wind, if ever so slightly. As the hopelessly overmatched troops of the African Union failed to stem atrocities throughout 2005, China (along with Russia) continued to block a resolution authorizing a U.N. peacekeeping force. Then this past May, the Sudanese regime and one of the rebel armies signed a cease-fire pact, increasing the pressure for U.N. intervention. China’s position was looking increasingly untenable. And so Beijing agreed to withhold its veto from — though not actually endorse — a resolution authorizing a U.N. military-planning mission.

The great issue that divides the U.N. is no longer Communism versus capitalism, as it once was; it is sovereignty. Ever since the catastrophes of Bosnia and Rwanda, and increasingly in recent years, the Security Council has been asked to defend individuals against an abusive state. When critics in the West deride the U.N. as a failed institution, they almost always mean that the Security Council cannot find the will to do so, whether through intervention, sanctions or merely opprobrium. But this failing is a Western preoccupation: most developing nations, with their history of colonial rule and often their wish to abuse their own citizens without interference, object to all such inroads on sovereign rights. And in China, where memory of “the century of humiliation” at the hands of Western imperialists runs deep — and where the state’s right to abuse its own citizens is not to be questioned — sovereignty has long been a fighting word. During the 90’s, the Chinese abstained on, or publicly criticized, key resolutions authorizing the use of force to dislodge Saddam Hussein from Kuwait and establishing or fortifying peacekeeping missions in Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Haiti. China is now more flexible in practice, but the doctrine of absolute sovereign rights remains central to its foreign policy.

My conversations with Wang kept looping back to this fraught topic. “Each country has to provide the well-being of their own people,” Wang said to me. “In some countries there is a problem, where the protection of their own people is” — here the diplomatic diplomat searched for the right word — “neglected. The U.N. can come in a quiet way, providing help, providing advice. But the role to play is not to impose it when the government is functioning. Of course there are cases where you can say that the country is a failed country. But wherever there is a government, I think the best way to do it is by giving good advice wherever you can, tough way or soft way, to let the government pick up its main responsibility.”

China has, for example, engaged in some gentle prodding of Myanmar — the former Burma — whose authoritarian regime depends on Beijing for weapons and trade. But the generals who run the country have shown no signs of releasing their grip or of ending the house arrest of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Nevertheless, Wang says that he has “firm” instructions to block a U.S. resolution, now circulating in draft form, that would condemn the regime and threaten sanctions. China does not feel that this issue belongs in the Security Council. “In our contact with the United States,” he says, “their argument is that of course they have the human rights problem, they have the problem of drugs, they have the problem of AIDS. And then may I ask: ‘The U.S. doesn’t have the problem of AIDS, doesn’t have the problem of human rights, doesn’t have the problem of drugs? Then you ask the Security Council to be involved?’ I don’t think that is the case.” I said that I didn’t think John Bolton would be much impressed by this claim of moral equivalency. Wang waved this away.

In another conversation, held a week later in the U.N.’s Delegates Lounge, where Wang blithely violated the no-smoking rules, the ambassador insisted that the right to exercise sovereignty free from outside interference was enshrined in international law. But, I asked, when the world’s heads of state, gathered at the U.N.’s 60th-anniversary summit last September, approved the principle of “the responsibility to protect,” didn’t this, too, become a matter of international law?

This was true, Wang conceded — even though China has strong reservations about the doctrine — “but you have to decide how to apply this.” And since this new obligation applied only to genocide or “massive systematic violations of human rights,” it had no bearing on Darfur. Wang had just returned from a Security Council visit to the region, where he had concluded that the situation was very complicated and that the government had been unfairly criticized. China still stood by Khartoum. After abstaining on the peacekeeping resolution, Wang had asked for the floor in order to reiterate China’s position that U.N. peacekeepers could deploy only with the government’s consent.

Unfortunately, I observed, President Omar Hassan el-Bashir of Sudan had just flatly rejected the proposed peacekeeping force.

The African Union “is doing a good job on the ground,” Wang insisted. “The U.N. force would be a good way to help them, but if in their judgment the Sudan government thinks the A.U. forces are enough, that is their decision.” And second, the Sudanese had agreed to disarm the janjaweed.

“And if they can’t?”

Wang ground a cigarette into his ashtray. “If you are not sure that it will not be successful, then why impose a solution on them before you prove that they will not be able to do it?”

hina has become so influential a country, such an object of imitation, respect and fear, that you can no longer talk about an “international community” that does not include it. The West has a profound interest in China’s development as a global power and its acceptance, however gradual and grudging, of the rules by which the West has defined global citizenship. As Mark Malloch Brown, the deputy secretary general of the U.N., puts it, “How much less intractable so many issues would be if China was as fully engaged in the management and leadership of the United Nations as so many Western nations are.” Malloch Brown takes the optimistic, or perhaps wishful, view that China will find itself inevitably adopting Western rules as it seeks to join the global club, arguing that “as soon as you start grappling with global issues, you find that things like human rights and development and legitimate government are things you come to care about as vital to international stability.”

You can see why a high-ranking U.N. official would wish for such a denouement. If, alternatively, China continues to insist that the Enlightenment principles enshrined in the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights are little more than a Western hobbyhorse, then the great issues will remain intractable, and they will be resolved elsewhere than the U.N. In recent years, both liberal interventionists and conservative unilateralists have begun to call for some new body, or new mechanism, that will not sit idly by during the next Darfur (or more problematically, the next Iraq). This new entity would not include obstructive nations like China and Russia. But excluding China from the world’s foremost decision-making body could have very grave consequences, since it might well rekindle the Middle Kingdom’s old sense of encirclement and exclusion. You’d have to save a great many lives to compensate for that kind of damage.

China plainly wishes to join the international community on its own terms. The People’s Republic is a singular entity, a world-class power almost wholly preoccupied with harnessing its internal energies and preventing domestic conflict. Unlike Russia, for example, China has little wish to use the power at its disposal, save to establish a harmonious environment for its “peaceful rise.” And in any case, China has progressed so rapidly from an insular and impoverished state to a confident and immensely influential one that it has not had time to figure out what to do with its power, or even fully to acknowledge it. China thus cares a very great deal about matters of little concern in the West — “territorial integrity,” for example — and very little about the burning issues in Washington, London and Paris. China has, for example, played almost no affirmative role in the reform debate that has exercised the U.N. over the last year. China is a member of the bloc of developing nations known as the Group of 77 — the group’s formal name is “the G77 plus China,” even though the 77 have grown to 131 — and it shares the organization’s view that the U.N. should pay more attention to economic and social issues and less to matters of peace and security. But even on these questions, according to Ambassador Menon of Singapore, “They were basically just going with the tide.”

Even with its negative agenda — the reforms it wanted to prevent — Ambassador Wang was happy to remain in the shadows. China had spent more than a decade fighting off resolutions introduced in the U.N.’s Human Rights Commission, and it implacably opposed Kofi Annan’s proposal to replace the toothless commission with a much tougher body. But in the crucial final days last September, it was Munir Akram, not Wang, who produced a vague plan supposedly designed to break the deadlock. Western diplomats theorized that China allowed Pakistan to show good faith, intending all the while to block any substantive reforms. Akram, not surprisingly, denies this and says that he does not generally coordinate tactics with Wang. In the end, the General Assembly established a new Human Rights Council with membership standards sufficiently lax that Iran, Cuba, Russia and, of course, China were elected members.

The one issue that roused China to fury was Japan’s bid for permanent membership on the Security Council. China’s all-hands-on-deck mobilization was a reminder that propriety goes out the window on matters China deems to be of national interest, just as had been the case a decade earlier when it openly tried to kill peacekeeping missions in Guatemala, Haiti and Macedonia to punish those countries for their dealings with Taiwan. The merits were plainly not on China’s side. No other country so self-evidently belongs on the council as Japan, which pays 19 percent of the U.N.’s budget, slightly below the U.S. assessment. (China pays 2 percent, and Russia 1 percent.) But Japan is China’s chief competitor in Asia, as well as America’s staunchest ally in the region.

Even more important, though, is China’s deep sense of historical grievance over Japan’s notorious invasion of Nanking in 1937 and its aggression in World War II. Wang explained to me that Japan’s wealth and generosity could not erase this blot: “The current five has been selected not because of their economic power but because of the role they played during the Second World War. China played an important role, and also we didn’t occupy other people’s territory” — unlike you-know-who. (It seemed too niggling to point out that the regime that had fought with the Allies now held sway in Taipei, not Beijing.) China’s bitterness at Japan’s alleged lack of repentance has only been sharpened by the annual visits of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to the Yasukuni shrine, popularly seen to be a symbol of militarism. “For the last couple of years,” as Wang expressed this in his oblique manner, “the signal from Tokyo is not that positive.”

In April 2005, soon after Japan, Germany, India and Brazil formalized their candidacy for an expanded Security Council, anti-Japanese demonstrations sprang up in China. Japanese missions and businesses were trashed. The Japanese were shocked both by the virulence of the demonstrations and by the obvious signs of high-level toleration, if not approval. Meanwhile, Wang and several of his lieutenants worked on the ambassadors of wavering countries. Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, the permanent representative of Jordan, which was considering becoming a co-sponsor of the resolution expanding the council’s permanent membership, says that he was called to a caucus room at the Security Council to meet with a Chinese diplomat. “The guy was apoplectic,” Prince Zeid recalls. “He said, ‘How can a great power refuse to accept essential, fundamental truths and yet take pride in the good works it does across the globe?’ ” He later sent Prince Zeid a copy of a book titled “The Rape of Nanking: An Undeniable History in Photographs.” Jordan continued to support the resolution but declined to become a sponsor.

China failed to persuade African countries to reject Security Council expansion as such, yet it still delivered the coup de grâce at a meeting of the African Union in Libya in early August, where heads of state met to choose two nations that would join the other four in seeking permanent membership. Several weeks earlier, China was the host of a lavish state visit for Robert Mugabe, the increasingly tyrannical and eccentric Zimbabwean strongman and a longtime Chinese client. Soon after returning, Mugabe declared that African countries must insist not only on permanent representation in the Security Council but also on the veto. This demand was obviously self-defeating, since neither China nor the four other permanent members would agree to dilute the value of their veto. Nevertheless, vast shoals of Chinese diplomats roamed the halls in Tripoli, appealing to African pride, to the imperative of global parity and so on. The demand for an African veto carried the day, and with that, Security Council expansion died. The corpse bore no sign of Chinese fingerprints.

Last month, the U.N. began the process of selecting a successor to Secretary General Kofi Annan. Asian countries feel that it is their “turn” for the job, and China has promised to deliver an Asian. Any potential successor must survive both American and Chinese scrutiny. The Americans will reject too open an advocate for the third world agenda; China will reject an aspirant from too close an ally of Washington. Other difficulties will arise. China may be happy to firm up its ties with India by backing Shashi Tharoor, a career U.N. official who is India’s candidate, but Pakistan, a close ally, may object strenuously. China may, for once, have to disappoint or even anger some fraternal members of the G77 — a situation it tries very hard to avoid.

The Chinese are much too subtle to throw their support behind a single candidate, but it is widely assumed that they want a technocrat who will put aside Annan’s (admittedly tarnished) mantle of moral authority. Wang, of course, disclaims any such ambition, but he does express the hope that Annan’s successor “might bring some perspective from Asia.” By this, he explained, he meant “patience over rush” and an emphasis on collective rights — those of the state — rather than individual ones. If China succeeds in this regard, the U.S. might find the U.N. an even less hospitable place than it is now.

China and the United States are the twin bêtes noires of the U.N.: the U.S. insists on enlisting the organization in its crusades, while China refuses to let any crusade get in the way of national interest. Washington is all blustering moralism; Beijing, all circumspect mercantilism. Both can afford to defy the consensus view. The emissaries of the two capitals are united by a wary mutual regard and understanding. Bolton and Wang met as midlevel diplomats in the early 90’s and worked together on nonproliferation issues in 2001 and 2002. In their first meeting in this latter capacity, according to an American diplomat, who agreed to talk with me only if he remained unnamed, as he was not authorized to speak publicly, Bolton and Wang talked for four and a half hours without finding much common ground. As the discussion drew to a close, the time came for the inevitable speech on China’s inalienable claims to Taiwan. Wang, who knew Bolton to be impervious to all such oratory, simply said, “Taiwan.” And Bolton nodded and said, “And Taiwan.”

Relations between the two are strictly professional. But Bolton, who declined to be interviewed for this article, is said to appreciate his counterpart’s pragmatism and lack of polemics. China and Russia take the same view on issues involving sovereignty, but whereas Russia, with a home audience to play to, likes to snap Uncle Sam’s suspenders, China, with no wish to harm its relations with Washington, looks for common ground. While Russia openly threatened to veto any resolution authorizing war in Iraq, for example, China stated its opposition as undemonstratively as possible. More recently, both Russia and China have resisted any Security Council condemnation of Iran’s nuclear program, but China has proved far more accommodating of White House concerns. “The Russians spent 45 minutes arguing over the meaning of consult,” the American diplomat recalls. “Wang finally said, ‘Consult is fine.’ ” Wang also earned points when he and the “director” of Taiwan’s unofficial mission to the U.N. happened to arrive simultaneously at the Saudi mission to sign the condolence book after the death of King Fahd; Wang walked over and shook the hand of his diplomatic nemesis.

Wang talked with me about Bolton, and about America diplomacy generally, with the faint irony and mellow wisdom of an antique culture. “I can talk to many people,” he said equably, “those who wish to have nice discussion or those who wish to quarrel.” Wang is, of course, a partisan of the nice discussion. “I do not want to give advice to my good friend,” he went on to say, delicately, “but I believe that sometimes the way that you work, especially the way that your work is respected by others as showing due respect for others, is where common ground can be found.” But what exactly does Wang mean by “common ground”? The consensus that China has sought on Darfur looks like a formula for paralysis. And China’s insistence on showing “due respect” for Iran seems designed less to persuade Tehran to end its nuclear program than to preclude any of the punitive actions currently being contemplated by the West.

Wang told me he believed that blunderbuss diplomacy is the American way “because America is a superpower, so America has a big say.” China would appear to have a big say of its own, but that’s not Wang’s view. At the end of our second conversation, he returned to a favorite theme. “The Americans have muscle and exercise this muscle,” he said. “China has no muscle and has no intention of exercising this muscle.”

I said that, in fact, China had a great deal of muscle but punched below its weight. Wang smiled at the expression and said, “It’s not good?” Well, I said, that depends. And then Wang said something quite startling: “China always regards itself as a weak, small, less powerful country. My feeling is that for the next 30 years, China will remain like this. China likes to punch underweight, as you put it.”

Why was that? Why did China want to punch underweight? Wang spoke of China’s peaceful rise, of the need to reassure all who fear its growing clout. “We don’t,” he said, “want to make anyone feel uncomfortable.”

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Alive. Yes. Busy. Very. School. Too much. Work. Also too much.

Me and Papa. Kona. Ain't we cute?

Monday, July 03, 2006

I am in Hawaii. I will write something about it when the ideas about which I wish to write present themselves in good proximity to a computer. It hasn't happened just yet.

But here is an article about Hawaii that I found in the Economist. It is very loosely related to ideas of my will have to suffice until the next post.


Embarras de richesse
Apr 7th 2005 | WAIKIKI
From The Economist print edition

Visitors to the Aloha State are both a boon and a bane

THE hotels are full, Japanese tourists throng the designer stores of Waikiki, and the unemployment rate is a mere 3% of the workforce. So what could possibly knock Hawaii, the “aloha” or “welcome” state, off its wave? The answer, according to Rex Johnson, the president of the Hawaii Tourist Authority, is that Hawaii's 1.2m residents may one day get fed up with playing host to overseas visitors, 7m of them this year. “Once we lose this thing called aloha and the residents no longer think of tourism as a wonderful industry, we'll be like any other sand and surf destination, but farther away.”

Indeed, some residents are already fed up. KAHEA, an alliance of environmentalists and defenders of native Hawaiian culture, bemoans the pollution caused by the cruise ships and the risk posed by the tourist hordes to creatures such as the dark-rumped petrel and the Oahu tree snail, or to plants like the Marsilea villosa fern. KAHEA has a point: the US Fish & Wildlife Service currently lists some 317 species, including 273 plants, in the Hawaiian islands as threatened or endangered—the highest number of any state in the nation. Even the state flower, the hibiscus brackenridgei, is on the danger list. The loss of species, says one government report, has been “staggering”. As for the impact of tourism on Hawaiian culture, a KAHEA spokeswoman wryly notes the element of exploitation: “Native Hawaiian culture is used as a selling point—come to this paradise where beautiful women are doing the hula on your dinner plate.”

So what else is new? Hawaii's environment and culture have been under threat ever since Captain Cook and his germ-carrying sailors dropped anchor in 1778. Foreign imports, from the Dole pineapple plantation on Oahu to the Parker cattle ranch on the Big Island, have inevitably had an impact on species that evolved over the millennia in isolation. Moreover, with up to 25 non-native species arriving each year, the impact will continue. But, as the US Geological Survey argues, the impact can add to biodiversity as well as lessen it. The real challenge, therefore, is for Hawaii to find a balance between the costs and the benefits of development in general and tourism in particular.

The benefits are not to be sneezed at. The state's unemployment rate has been below the national average for the past two-and-a-half years (at the moment, only Wyoming, at 2.9%, has a lower rate). Economists at the University of Hawaii reckon that Hawaiians' real personal income rose by 2.8% last year, will rise by 2.7% this year and will continue through 2007 at 2.5%. According to the state's “strategic plan” for the next decade, tourism should take much of the credit, accounting directly and indirectly for some 22% of the state's jobs by 2007, more than 17% of its economic output and around 26% of its tax revenues. Only the presence of the armed forces comes close in economic importance.

The trouble is that the costs can be high, too. As one economist puts it, “We have a Manhattan cost of living and Peoria wage rates.” That translates into a median house price today on the island of Oahu, home to three-quarters of the state's population, of $500,000, and a need for many workers to take on more than one job. Social activists point to the disparity between the modest homes of most Hawaiians and the gated communities and resort complexes that provide second homes for visitors from the American mainland. A 2002 survey of Hawaii residents found that 50% of the sample thought tourism had been “mostly good” for themselves and their families—but this was down from 58% in 1999, and 54% blamed tourism for the increased traffic that clogs Hawaii's few roads.

So should Mr Johnson and his pals in tourism be worried? Though the 2000 census reckoned native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders were a mere 9% of the population (Asians, notably Filipinos and Japanese, made up 42%, whites 24%), probably a fifth of the population has some native Hawaiian blood, and virtually everyone, regardless of race, professes to care for Polynesian culture.

This means that the University of Hawaii, which has managed the star-gazing observatory on the summit of the Mauna Kea volcano since the late 1960s, is now seeking forgiveness for desecrating what turns out to be sacred native Hawaiian land. It also means widespread support for the “Akaka bill”, a move by Hawaii's politicians in Washington, led by Senator Daniel Akaka, to secure federal recognition of a “native Hawaiian governing entity”. The bill deliberately does not envision independence, the demand of some in the “sovereignty movement”. For too many Hawaii residents that evokes alarming thoughts of a loss of their American passports, or American-Indian-style casinos. Instead, it would give native Hawaiians their own office within the federal government, more control over their lands and protection from legal challenge for any affirmative-action programmes.

Such sensitivities should, in the end, be an asset to Hawaii's tourism, forcing it to go for quality rather than quantity in its choice of visitors. In a sense, that choice has already been made. Flights to Hawaii are expensive; Waikiki, the main attraction for February's 122,500 visitors from Japan (a fifth of the total), is a tiny area wedged between the beach and a canal, and so cannot expand; and every development project has to get local political approval. In their darker moments Hawaii's economic planners may worry about airline bankruptcies, a return of SARS or a Pacific tsunami—but the fact is that the sun shines, the surf is clean and over 60% of tourists are repeat visitors. In other words, so far at least, that aloha spirit is alive and well.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Those of you who have known me for some time know that I had a previous life in the entertainment business. For five years, I worked on films, television shows, documentaries, commercials and music videos. On small projects, I took on various production roles, such as 1st, 2nd and 2nd 2nd assistant director and production manager; on big, professional projects, I worked as a general piss on, getting yelled at by and making coffee for people with much less education, or even intellectual curiosity, than ego and sense of self-importance.

Today, I got an e-mail from an old associate in Los Angeles. The subject of the message was "YOU ARE GOING TO BE FAMOUS!!!" (count them, THREE exclamation points). Before I left Hell-A, I worked with this guy, and his crew, on a television pilot for a reality show called Spotcha!. The show was something of a Candid Camera meets Girls Gone Wild, and I had a bit part as the eccentric "director" of the show. Shortly after the pilot was finished, I left LA, and to be honest, I haven't given a lot of thought to the show.

So I was surprised to get this e-mail:


You're going to be famous!!! SPOTCHA! is blowingup! Spread the word - we think we have the heat for real this

Tell everyone you know to become a friend!

- Brian

Much to my amazement, this guy is still peddling the pilot. He and his partner have found an agent and they have been pushing this project, as well as a number of other ideas.

Now, I have certain reservations about ever becoming famous, and my life has changed so much that I highly doubt I will be famous in the Hollywood sense (I would much rather be known for a byline, now). But I wish these guys the best of luck. If anything, they deserve success for their perseverance alone.

So go check out the page:

There are some video clips and you'll even get to see a much heavier Maile bounce about in front of the camera.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Nicholas D. Kristof put this up on his blog (although he didn't write it). Silly.
The flood of American liberals sneaking across the border into Canada has intensified in the past week, sparking calls for increased patrols to stop the illegal immigration. The actions of President Bush are prompting the exodus among left-leaning citizens who fear they'll soon be required to hunt, pray, and agree with Bill O'Reilly.

Canadian border farmers say it's not uncommon to see dozens of sociology professors, animal-rights activists and Unitarians crossing their fields at night.

"I went out to milk the cows the other day, and there was a Hollywood producer huddled in the barn," said Manitoba farmer Red Greenfield,whose acreage borders North Dakota. The producer was cold, exhausted and hungry. "He asked me if I could spare a latte and some free-range chicken. When I said I didn't have any, he left. Didn't even get a chance to show him my screenplay, eh?"

In an effort to stop the illegal aliens, Greenfield erected higher fences, but the liberals scaled them. So he tried installing speakers that blare Rush Limbaugh across the fields. "Not real effective," he said. "The liberals still got through, and Rush annoyed the cows so much they wouldn't give milk."

Officials are particularly concerned about smugglers who meet liberals near the Canadian border, pack them into Volvo station wagons, drive them across the border and leave them to fend for themselves.

"A lot of these people are not prepared for rugged conditions," an Ontario border patrolman said. "I found one carload without a drop of drinking water. "They did have a nice little Napa Valley cabernet, though."

Saturday, June 17, 2006

As dear old Dad has told me time and time again, "in adversity we conquer."

I have found a new place to live, and I will have it all to myself. Yes, I will be paying more money, but I will have it all to myself. The location is not quite as good as the place I've got, but, did I mention, I WILL HAVE IT ALL TO MYSELF.

Woo-hoo! I am moving up in the world!

Photos forthcoming.

In other news. No word yet on the job for which I had the interview mentioned in the last post. The interview went very well, but it does not seem I'm quite the right fit for what they need. There are two posts: one to be the boss's personal assistant, and the other to be a consultant. After spending my formative young adult years in Hollywood, taking a personal assistant job feels a bit like walking into a fire, but at the same time, my Chinese is simply not good enough to be a consultant. But even is a position was found for me, I'd have to quit my masters to take it, and I don't know if I would do that. I am rather keen to stay the course...

The British Council gig is really turning out to be a kick (good thing). I've got the hang of it now and I just go in on the weekends and make 33 dollars an hour! For sure, in the States, for someone my age, 33 dollars an hour is nothing to sneeze at. In China...I'm bourgeois. To be fair, I only work a few hours per week, but still, it's an awesome gig. Plus, I get to travel. I am going to Wuhan next weekend.

Photos forthcoming.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Forgive the last post. I'm clearly a bit frazzled...

OK. Kona people, I will be making a return on the 28th of June. See you then.

In other news, it's a gorgeous day in Beijing. It rained last night, so today is clear, sunny, blue and breezy. Here is the view from my living room. Hardly a Hawaiian sunset, but it's still quite nice. The tall building center-right is the new Poly Plaza, currently under construction.

Also, I have an interview on Friday with a business strategy consulting firm. I don't know much about them, but a friend referred me, and based on my CV alone, they were interested. (Ironically, it was the same CV I sent the international school who rejected me.) From what I understand, they do research for big foreign companies looking to get into China. It's foreign-run, which is reassuring and the office is located in the swank Dashanzi art district. We shall see how it goes...

You know, non-Americans here often talk about the "great American dream". I guess, to a certain extent, we really do believe that hard work, smarts and diligence will take us anywhere we want to go, but I must admit, at the present, I don't know anyone my age getting ahead. Most of the people I know who have finished college are either barely scraping by, or barely scraping by and living with their parents. Few of them are working in the field that they want to work in, and if they are, they work far too many hours per week, for less than a living wage, with few or no benefits and no vacation (standards based on "civilized Western nations"). To me, China truly is a land of opportunity. In just two years time, I'm making 6 or 7 times what I did when I first started. Very basic competence has taken me all over, and opportunities, while not always stable, abound. I have held jobs not only in teaching, but in marketing, media and voice work. I take holidays, usually when I want to, and I have travelled to Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and various cities in China, both for work and pleasure. I spoke one and a half languages when I arrived here, and now I speak three, at the very least to "survival" level.
Maybe I have an unfair advantage here: native English skills and an American, and a, in the near future, British degree. I can't imagine the opportunities are so wide from everyone in China, but to be sure, even the Chinese are doing much better than they ever have before.

Despite my pain in the ass is pretty good.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

I need to bitch.

I have been uber-stressed lately. School and work has taken its toll, the weather is changing violently (a weak excuse...maybe, but everyone I know has been sick at least once in the past month, myself included), and a bunch of people I know are leaving--among them, a handsome, young man who announced to me that he thought I was the coolest thing since sliced bread, just before he hopped a plane for a three-year contract in Hong Kong. On top of all this, I will be making a return back to the island at the end of this month. While I know most people would be thanking their lucky stars for a trip to Hawaii, for me, the thought of a return to my hometown causes nothing but anxiety and indigestion.

Living with roommates is starting to bug the shit out of me. Since living with messy people, I've become rather tidy. (OK, maybe not in my room, but the public parts of the house are usually quite in order.) I don't like to see piles of dishes in the sink, so I do most of the washing. We have had endless discussions where everyone has promised to do more, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to the person who cares the most--me. But more than just the mess, my roommates have become like siblings. And I'm the big sister. I look after all the bills and I make all the repairs in the house. It seems that I am the only one who grasps the relationship between going to the grocery store and having food in the house, though they still recognize the need to eat, and since they know I'm always up early, I get asked to wake them up in the morning. They come in, when they can clearly see I am working, to share with me the smallest of details as to why they think their boss hates them, and they don't understand why I look irritated when I come home, intent on studying, to find them attached to my computer. Indeed, it's nice to have people around, and my roommates really are good people, but I realize more and more, that I'd rather just be on my own. To be fair, it makes sense that I should just delegate more responsibility (though I have tried with limited success) and be more upfront about personal boundaries, but I feel that these people are adults and it's not my place to educate them. What's more, I don't want the situation to escalate into anti-social behavior where I hide in my room when I'm home and put my name on all of my food, nor do I want to sit in the dark because someone has failed, even with several reminders, to pay the electricity bill. The new guy is a lot better than the girl who was here previously--he takes instruction well and has generally a strong sense of hygiene--but it seems that the other girl, has slacked off to compensate.

It's all just pissing me off.

I wake up very early in the mornings, sometimes at 3 or 4 o'clock, especially when I'm irritated. I really enjoy the quiet mornings and I find it's the only time that I have to myself. I can study, read, think and listen to music interruption free. I also can tidy up around the house without anyone getting in my way, whilst feigning guilt for allowing me to look after things.

This morning I was up at half four. I read the newspaper, and then I went into the kitchen to do the dishes. I studied for a bit, then, feeling bored with that, I went back to the kitchen, deciding to undertake a kim bap project.

Not so many people know this about me, but I really, really like the process of preparing food, and I especially like anything where I can chop anything into very small pieces. Really. For some reason, I find it exceptionally relaxing. I also find it interesting to devise new methods for chopping. (Yes, I know, really, I am going off the deep end.) But there's a lot more to chopping than hacking something to pieces. Using a good knife, you can julienne carrots, dice pineapple, mince ginger and put zucchini in to perfect french fry strips.

Making kim bap is a very involved process that requires a lot of patience for cutting, cooling and wrapping. It's basically a Korean sushi roll, and today I used cucumber, egg, spinach, sesame seeds and shitake mushrooms for the filling. In a nutshell, this is how it goes:

1. Cook the rice. Let it cool.
2. While the rice is cooking, use the steamer basket in the cooker to steam the mushrooms and spinach.
3. Cut the cucumber into strips, salt them, let them soak, and then rinse and dry.
4. Beat an egg and fry it thin like a crepe.
5. Cut the spinach, mushrooms and egg into fine strips.
6. Mix the rice with vinegar, sugar and a dash of salt.

Once everything is cool and into appropriate pieces, lay out seaweed on a bamboo roller, put down some rice, smear the rice with sesame oil, add the filling, and then roll firmly.

That's it. The finished project:

Here are some of the things I used to make the kim bap. One of the great things about living in Beijing is that products come from a variety of places. Here, I have Korean vinegar, Chinese sesame seeds and sesame oil, Japanese seaweed and sea salt, in the grinder, from Australia. Michael bought the rice cooker. Being a good member of the club of those who have a Chinese parent, he was shocked and appalled to find that our kitchen was lacking one when he arrived.
And then, when it was all done, I did all the dishes. Mom and Dad would be so proud; possibly more surprised.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

On Tuesday, Ariston's dad came home while I was giving Ariston his lesson. Usually, when either of the parents come home early, I cut the lesson short because Ariston is no longer interested in anything I can offer; Mom and Dad are much cooler than me.

So Ariston runs off to play with Dad and I go back to his room to tidy up. Five minutes later I hear screams to high heaven.

"Give it to me, Ariston," I hear his dad plead. Ariston just went on wailing. Then Dad comes into the room carrying the screaming, tearing, red-faced kid.

"What's wrong, Ariston?" I ask. In one fist he's got a red one-hundred yuan note. "I had some money out, he took it, and now, he won't let go of it," his father explained. "Ariston, give it back!" the father asked. Ariston would not give up the bill to save his life.

"Give it to Maile, then," Dad said, hoping I would be enough of a diversion to loosen his son's grip. Ariston gave me one look, paused, then continued screaming and crying.

One hundred yuan is about $12. It's the largest denomination of money available in China. For a kid in China, 100 yuan is easily as valuable as a hundred dollars for a kid in the States. There was precious little coming between the 20-month old Ariston and the money.

The expression "tight-fisted Chinaman" came to mind and I burst into laughter. "He's learned early," I told his dad. "Money and the ABCs...the basics are covered," his dad said.

I went into the other room, got my things together and when I went back to say goodbye, Ariston was being fed by his nanny and the cook. He still had his fist wrapped around the red bill. I laughed again, and said "goodbye". Ariston looked up from his lunch, smiled, and in perfect English, said, "money".