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Archive for July, 2007

The press writes about something -> Government decides to control whatever it is -> Overnight, a new law pops up -> New law is vague and overreaching -> Everyone starts to debate about the law, though really, everyone is trying to get around it -> The new law requires registrations and approvals -> No one knows how to actually get it done -> A steady state will be reached through trial and error -> The steady state is distrupted somehow -> Cycle begins again. 

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on Mao

maoMao Tsedong is certainly a powerful character.  And quite an intriguing one as well.  Most people outside of China will remember Mao for one thing: the Cultural Revolution and the sufferings he imposed on many.  Most intellectuals will certainly despise Mao for destroying thousands of years of history and culture overnight.  Perhaps you’d have heard about how he liberated women… but on balance, the western world views him as negative.

I have yet to meet a native Chinese who will tell me that they despise Mao.  Apparently Mao was a man of many talents, one whom many has and still revere as “God”.    For decades, people see Mao as a protector.  And for many, he was.  As a friend explained to me, the Chinese do not see things as black, or white.  There’s always room for the gray.  Mao is a clear gray. 

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Whale Inside

Back in April, I was coerced into going to this restaurant in Beijing.  The concept is that you’d eat, drink and talk in total darkness; like eating inside a whale I guess.  (The name of the restaurant is “whale inside”).  You order your food outside, and then being led to your table, just like it is in the picture.  Gosh, it looks a bit idiotic… but yes, I did that too.

As for the experience?  Supposedly it allows you to focus more on the taste of the food.  First, I refused to eat there for who knows what you’d be eating if you can’t see what it is!  But we did order drinks.  The review? Well, it certainly breaks the ice… if you bring a date there, for instance.  Interesting experience, but I don’t think I’d be back.  I go to restaurant to enjoy my food, and the look of it is as important as the taste. 

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I was curious to see what reporters of the NYTimes wrote about China back in the days, so I did a search for the keyword “China” – well, the answer is not that much.  Most information back in the days came from missionaries; the rest were from what limited contact there was from global trade.  Apparently, this article made to the papers: the fact that the emperor hired a mechanic to fix his piano, that the ivory keys were dirty and that he preferred to keep it that way.  Well, here’s to your enjoyment.  Quite hilarious.

Emperor’s Piano

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While chatting with friends and acquaintences in China/HK recently, the topic inevitably leads to the erosion of morality in modern Chinese society.  There are many stories we don’t get to hear in the States.  Here are some examples:

1) In Shenzhen, some tourists were mugged…  the robbers forced them into a public toilet and took a kidney (to be sold in the black market).   
2) A supplier of lunch boxes to a primary school deliberately added poison to its competitors’ lunch boxes.  More than 20 kids died as a result.

And, there are many more such stories where you just can’t believe what people will do for money.  For much of the 20th century, China wanted to rid itself of old values and habits.  There’s the perception that new = modern = good.  And that China can only advance if it can renew itself.  The side effect is that the society not only ridded itself of old habits, but also of its culture, values and traditions.  It’s not only a pity, but an emerging social issue. 

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There’s little to brag about in the modern history of China – the country has pretty much been on standstill for the past 200 years until this last decade.  Foreign invasion, WWII, more invasion, civil war, Mao, Deng…  Anyone beyond 30 yrs old would have lived through one or more massive shock one time or another.  The Chinese have thus learnt not to take anything for granted; they just can’t.  Even today, laws and regulations can change overnight, creating a society that’s always on edge.  A society that focuses on the very near term.  A society that always prepares for the worst.  A society that is extremely adaptable to change.  The following are just a few observations on modern day life in China that reflects on this of page history:

1. Anything is negotiable.  Walmart had to adapt and conduct auctions within stores.  Prices of new houses changes daily.  Neighbors join forces and negotiate discounts for oranges bought in bulk from grocery stores.  There’s no such thing as fixed price.

2. Save, and then save more.  We in the U.S. always complain about China not developing enough of a domestic market… and that the Chinese are just saving too much.  If you live in a society with no social security, you’d better save up.  It’s ironic how that’s increasing true for the U.S. too. 

3. Dream but don’t plan.  The concept of planning doesn’t seem to exist.  Scheduling meetings is a foreign concept.  I was told, “what’s the point of planning since you’d have to change your plan later”?  When I visited Beijing or a week last year, all my business contacts told me to give them a call on their mobile when I get in.  That drove me nuts.

All in all, it is a society that is quick to adapt and make the best from any situation.  One can be assured that no opportunity will be left on the table at the end of day.  Afterall, there are 1.2bn+ people over there!

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Apparently Beijing is trying its best to control weather during the 2008 Olympics – this time, to block rain during the opening ceremony, etc.  Supposedly this is much harder than what China has done in the past; i.e., the create rain by shooting chemicals via rockets into the sky.  Doesn’t this sound like science fiction?

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